Punjab and Haryana High Court last week set aside four orders by which the government of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had regularised the services of contact/ad hoc staff, “merely”, the court said, “to please the voters as the State (Haryana) was in election mode…”.
In April 2017, the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad directed the Telangana government to not regularise services of contract employees appointed after a certain cut-off date. Both HCs based their orders on the Supreme Court’s famous Umadevi verdict of 2006, which laid down the framework for dealing with irregular appointments by the state.
What happened in Haryana, and what issues are involved in regularising irregular appointments?
Between June 16 and July 7, 2014, Haryana’s then Congress government regularised the services of several categories of contract/ad hoc employees. On June 16, Group B staff who had worked for not less than three years as on May 28, 2014, were regularised; two days later, Group C and D staff in the same situation were regularised as well. Subsequently, Group B, C and D employees who had completed, or would complete by December 31, 2018, 10 years of service, were regularised.
The government action came after the High Court, on February 10, 2014, directed it to complete the process of appointment of assistant professors by December 31, 2014. The government’s attempt to get around the HC’s order by using back-to-back orders of regularisation attracted a flood of litigation — both against the orders, and by the contractual employees. The HC bunched 144 petitions together, and decided the matter on May 31.
The political fallout
The striking down of the four regularisation orders will impact at least 4,654 individuals as per lists compiled by the state government. The court has given the government six months to act on the order. The state is likely to appeal in the Supreme Court; it also has the option to pass an ordinance making these ad hoc/contract staff permanent employees.
The BJP faces both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Haryana next year, and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has called the court’s order a “tragedy”, even as he has blamed former CM Hooda for his “erroneous policies”. It has been a pattern with ruling parties in the state to regularise contractual and ad hoc employees before elections, and thousands of anganwadi workers, Home Guard volunteers, safai karmacharis, junior basic training (JBT) teachers, and other categories of contractual staff have begun to demand regularisation. The HC judgment will affect their situation, and their clamour is likely to grow only louder.
Supreme Court verdict
In Secretary, State of Karnataka and Ors vs Umadevi and Other (2006), a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court dealt with the question of irregular (not illegal) employment, and ruled that daily wage/temporary/contractual employees had no inherent right to be absorbed in service. However, the court gave a one-time relaxation to governments to frame a policy for regularisation of “duly qualified persons in duly sanctioned vacant posts (who)… have continued to work for 10 years or more”, and directed that this “process must be set in motion within six months from this date” (April 10, 2006).
Haryana was able to frame its policies only on July 29, 2011, for Group B, C and D employees. They were framed as a “one time measure”, but the state issued four more policies in June-July 2014, citing “humanitarian grounds”.
In striking them down, the High Court noted that “for gaining personal benefits, the (political) bosses were not concerned about any order or judgment of the court, hence, they dared to violate the same”.