HC: Top Punjab

officer’s post void

Chandigarh, January 18-In a major embarrassment for the Punjab Government, the Punjab and Haryana High Court today set aside the appointment of retired IAS officer Suresh Kumar as the Chief Principal Secretary to Chief Minister (CPSCM) after ruling that he was holding a “public office” without authority of law.
Holding the appointment to be “void”, Justice Rajan Gupta ruled that it was in clear violation of the constitutional scheme, particularly the procedure and rules of business envisaged by Article 166(3) of the Constitution.
Referring to his appointment record, Justice Gupta held that overriding powers had been vested in CPSCM’s post. Even consultation with the ministers and administrative secretaries was not necessary in view of powers bestowed by virtue of a standing order.
Justice Gupta observed that it was not difficult to envision a situation where the state was plunged into crisis following a decision by “such an appointee” because he could not be expected to have the same vision for the state’s development as the Chief Minister.
Any intentional or unintentional lapse on his part could not be questioned by any disciplinary authority. He was also not bound by the oath of secrecy, having superannuated from regular service.
It was also not clear why in the CM’s absence, the next senior-most minister or the minister in-charge would not assume command and authorised to take important decisions. There could be no justification for vesting such extraordinary power in the CPSCM apparently in violation of Article 166(3).
Justice Gupta noted that a post in the cadre strength of IAS in the state was kept vacant to facilitate his appointment. The speed and alacrity with which the file moved thereafter showed that his appointment was to play an important role in decision-making.
Justice Gupta also refused to accept the state’s argument that he was not holding a public office and the government was not accountable to courts while appointing a person unless the post was a “public office”.
Justice Gupta held that Kumar had been given wide discretion to take decisions. “To hold that office held by him is not a ‘public office’, would not only be absurd but against the record.”


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