TO CONTINUE with the precedence of making back-door appointments to the coveted Advocate-General’s office, the Haryana government is all set to circumvent the Supreme Court judgment by bringing an amendment to the Haryana Law Officers (Engagement) Act, 2016. Highly placed sources disclosed that it is at the behest of certain politicians and higher-ups in the government machinery who want their ‘favourites’ in the coveted posts, that the amendment has been kept on the agenda of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
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At least 17 law officers, whose contracts had expired last year before the said Act and corresponding rules were finalised, are likely to benefit from the amendment. However, with the Cabinet yet to give its nod to the proposed amendment, the state government on December 19 last year had already extended the contracts of two Deputy Advocate Generals (DAGs) Himmat Singh and Vivek Saini “till further orders”.
By the end of this month, the strength of law officers would remain 115 as some law officers’ contracts are going to expire. However, according to Haryana Law Officers (Engagement) Rules, 2016, the state government has to invite applications to engage law officers through a publication on its official website.
The government is inserting a clause in the Act whereby which “extension of term or re-engagement of any law officer engaged before or after commencement of the Act, irrespective of his/her term having expired or continuing, shall be on recommendation of the selection committee constituted under the Haryana Law Officers (Engagement) Rules, 2016. The selection committee will obtain a report about the satisfactory work and conduct of law officer during term of his/her engagement and working as such law officer from the Advocate-General, Haryana”.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express clearly reveal that the Law and Legislative Department (LALD), in its opinion dated November 3, had vehemently objected to the government’s move and called it “quite contrary” to the Supreme Court judgment.
The SC judgment, dated March 30, says, “We are not interfering with the appointments already made in the states of Punjab and Haryana which can continue to remain valid for the period the same has been made but any extension or re-appointment shall go through the process indicated by use in the foregoing paragraphs.”
The LALD has categorically stated, “In the proposed clause providing extension of term or re-engagement of law officers is quite contrary to the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and also as to the object of the Act. Therefore, the AG is advised to consider this aspect.”
Not agreeing with the LALD, Haryana Advocate-General Baldev Raj Mahajan wrote, “The Act and rules are silent with respect to procedure to be followed for grant of extension after expiry of term of initial engagement of law officers. Such provision is required to be incorporated not only for law officers already working but also for law officers to be engaged in the future.”
He added, “Incorporation of the proposed amendment as approved by the Hon’ble Chief Minister does not violate the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and is rather necessary to be incorporated to fill the vacuum in the statutory provisions regarding procedure to be followed for grant of extension in term of engagement or re-engagement of present as well as law officers to be engaged in future.”
While responding to queries raised by the The Indian Express, the AG said, “We are examining if those 17 law officers can be granted extension. Till date, there is nothing in black and white for further extension of already appointed law officers.”
Mahajan also justified the extension granted to two DAGs on December 19 and said that it was granted by the committee headed by him that included Additional Chief Secretary of Home, Ram Niwas, Legal Remembrancer Kuldip Jain, Assistant Solicitor-General of India Chetan Mittal and Chandigarh’s Senior Standing Counsel Suvir Sehgal.
Contradicting Mahajan’s version, Suresh Kumar Goyal, Secretary to Haryana government (Home-II department), told The Indian Express, “We have made the Act and the rules and as per rules, they (2 DAGs) fulfil the criteria. Committee shall consider that. We shall put it before the committee.”
After the SC judgment of March 30 last year, the state Assembly had on August 30 last year passed the Haryana Law Officers (Engagement) Act, 2016, by ignoring the apex court’s recommendation of consultation with the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court. Later, on October 18, last year, the Haryana Cabinet, headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, approved of the relevant engagement rules to implement the Act.