The cost of procrastination by courts in matters of appointment frauds in public service can cost hundreds of crores in material loss while affecting millions of lives to protect a few
~By Neeraj Mishra
Raktima Rai Yadav was promoted as additional district magistrate, 13 years after she cleared her Chhattisgarh Public Service Commission (CPSC) exams. She joined her post at Gariyaband district in Chhattisgarh. But on August 26, 2016, the Chhattisgarh High Court, Bilaspur, passed an order that has put her career in jeopardy. She was found ineligible to hold her government job because of a faulty process of selection and alleged corruption at the level of the Constitutional body that had selected her.
She was not alone; an entire batch of 147 officers selected by the CPSC in 2003 had been found ineligible by the Court owing to scaling mistakes committed by the CPSC, which it even readily admitted to in the Court. Of these, 17 did not join their respective postings, leaving a total of 130 joinees.
The “mistake” in 52 cases was actually found to be a deliberate case of fraud when the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigated the case on orders of the then governor in 2007. The ACB submitted that those 52 officers had been selected fraudulently when they did not even qualify for the interview. One Rajeev Singh Chouhan had been selected in the SC quota while being a General candidate. The High Court ordered a re-totalling of the papers, removal of Chouhan from service, rescaling of marks for all candidates and awarded exemplary damages to the petitioners Varsha Dongre and two others, who approached the High Court in 2006.
But this came after a decade of court battles during which not only did the selected candidates enjoy the full perks and functions of government service but also took decisions which involved hundreds of crores of rupees. The police officers on duty rightly or wrongly affected the lives of lakhs of people, while the revenue officials decided on cases of land and property ownership and the excise and women and child development officials took crucial financial decisions.
When the High Court decided the case against these officials, they should have logically been removed from their posting pending their appeal in SC. But Chhattisgarh Government General Administration Department (GAD) secretary Nidhi Chibber defended: “There is no guideline in GAD rules related to this and we will have to wait for the PSC to do the rescaling.” Even the chief secretary Vivek Dhand hid behind the statement: “The court has not specifically identified the 52 people ineligible. It is for the PSC to decide and then we will take action”.
Now, a two-judge bench of Justices J Chelameswar and AM Sapre of the Supreme Court has granted a stay on the High Court order, which effectively means the whole process of justice is in waiting. This is till the PSC revises its opinion about fraudulent selection.
The SC has issued notices to Varsha Dongre and other petitioners to explain their stand as it granted stay on the basis of facts presented before it. Forty-six out of affected 130 joinees had approached the Court against the HC order. Among other things, the three key factors on the basis of which the SC granted stay are debatable. The appellants claimed the ACB was not competent to investigate a constitutional body like the UPSC. Secondly, the ACB was not made party by the petitioners and third, the officers have a spotless service record. The moot points are that the ACB had been directed by the governor and also that the “spotless’’ record of officers will not hold ground if their selection itself was faulty.
What the Supreme Court would possibly consider are the following: Since 2007, the PSC has consistently admitted that it has been erring in scaling the results—a computerised process through which each category of applicants’ marks is adjusted. The HC judgment is based on that and not the report of the ACB alone which also happened to find corruption and irregularities like in the Chouhan case.
Midway through the case, the state government had presented a unique proposition, unheard of in court proceedings in India. It said it was willing to award the petitioner Varsha Dongre the position of DSP, the highest rank under the PSC, if she was willing to withdraw the case.
Chief Justice Deepak Gupta, who wrote the judgment, was indignant at such an offer and came down heavily on the state government. Also, in 2007, the governor had officially suggested to the state that the PSC should itself approach the court and seek permission to rescale, in view of its continued acceptance of its error. The state and the PSC did not, and instead, kept fighting the case.
This brings us to the key issue: who suffers? While the rights of a few officers are being protected by the legal system, it’s the citizens who suffer when there is a delay in decisions on account of the tedious court processes. Often, they don’t even know the background of an officer who is taking crucial decisions for them. Many of those officers are so nervous that they think it best not to take any decision. They do not want to be held accountable, lest their own case gets affected.
RK Dewangan, an IGP-level officer of the Chhattisgarh cadre, had allegedly been part of a robbery when posted as SP of Janjgir 18 years ago. In January, he was given compulsory retirement by the Department of Personnel & Training in view of his record. But for 18 years, he ruled the lives of lakhs who came under his official jurisdiction. There are literally hundreds of cases against officials pending in courts and there is no clear guideline as to what should the state do if at least one court has found these officials guilty.
With the stay order, the Supreme Court could also stay their postings or make clear which posts they are eligible for. Justice for them should not become injustice for others.