Indian Forest Officer and Chief Conservator of Forest (Information Technology) Harsh Kumar Sharma, who is in trouble over a file missing from the Chief Minister’s Office, had regularised the services of 33 daily wagers of forest department on March 16, 2017, the day Amarinder Singh was sworn in as the Chief Minister, sources said.
The file pertained to the regularisation of services of those 33 daily wagers. The regularisation was done under The Punjab Ad hoc, Contractual, Daily Wage, Temporary, Work Charged and Outsourced Employees’ Welfare Bill, 2016, passed by the previous SAD-BJP government in a special session of Vidhan Sabha on December 20, 2016, just a few days before the code of conduct was implemented. The state went to Assembly elections on February 4. The Act, which was passed to regularise services of 30,000 daily wagers and contractual employees, however, notified by the government on December 24 itself.
Just a few days before Sharma signed the regularisation orders, Punjab’s advocate general had written to all the departments not to regularise the employees as the Act was challenged by a Ludhiana resident, Ankita Gupta, in the High Court on the plea that the previous government had passed the Bill with an eye on the Assembly elections.
The AG also referred to an “oral observation” made in the High Court on March 2 that “prima facie the Act was grossly against the mandate of the judicial precedents and that the state should not implement the Act till the next date of hearing”.
Sharma, however, went ahead and regularised the services in a 30-para-long order. He was asked for an explanation by the state government in which he responded that his orders were in compliance with the Act that was already notified in December 2016.
In July 2017, the state government transferred Sharma as Chief Conservator of Forests (Hills) from CCF (Research) and gave a notice to the employees asking why they should not be reverted. On February 5, 2018, the government ordered that the salary to these employees should be stopped. They moved the High Court.
The HC gave them relief on February 28, 2018, saying their salary be released, and issued a notice of motion to the government for May 15, 2018. The government, however, still did not release their salary. The employees then moved a contempt plea against the government on March 31. The HC has not decided Ankita Gupta’s case challenging the Act. The case is coming up for a hearing in July.
In the backdrop of these proceedings, the government has been contemplating disciplinary action against Sharma. The file was sent to CMO for his approval for action against the IFS officer when it went missing. An inquiry into the missing of file has stated that Sharma was in possession of a government file when he left the CMO, the day it went missing.
The government has also accused him of regularising the services of employees who were 65 years of age. Sharma, however, said the government could not take any disciplinary action against him in the case. “I was just obeying the provisions of the Act. If the Act was notified in December 2016, it was obligatory for every pubic authority to abide by it. Even police followed it. Water supply department did too. What wrong have I done? Even the HC order has nowhere stayed the Act on the petition by Ankita Gupta. Also, I have, in para 30 of my orders regularising the services, categorically stated that if the court sets aside the Act, my order would be null and void,” he said.
“Also, the HC order in February, following the petition by the regularised employees, asking the government to release the salary of these employees is nothing but upholding of my order. They are suspecting me of removing the file pertaining to this case from CMO. Why would I remove this file in which the government cannot take action against me as the court is yet to scrap the Act. Rather the HC had said we are not staying the Act. They are doing all this because I am due for a promotion and they do not want to promote me,” Sharma said.
About regularising services of over-age employees, he said, “How would I know their age unless the civil surgeon had certified it? If CS certified the age, how am I to be held responsible? Why should I be held responsible?” he asked.