Can a minister sack govt employee, asks Punjab and Haryana high court - Hindustan Times

Can a minister sack govt employee, asks Punjab and Haryana high court

By, Chandigarh
Sep 29, 2023 07:38 AM IST

HC’s query came on the plea of employees whose dismissal orders were passed by Punjab minister Dr Baljit Kaur indicting them in post-matric scholarship scam

The Punjab and Haryana high court has directed the Punjab cabinet minister of social justice, empowerment and minorities Dr Baljit Kaur to decide whether she, as a minister, can act as a disciplinary authority while passing a punishment order in the case of a department employee.

Punjab and Haryana High Court building in Chandigarh
Punjab and Haryana High Court building in Chandigarh

The high court bench of chief justice RS Jha and justice Arun Palli disposed of a clutch of petitions from Punjab government and five of the employees, whose dismissal from service orders were passed by the minister.

The high court division bench refused to interfere with the single judge order, whereby the matter was remitted back to the government in May for fresh consideration. The single-judge bench had also quashed these orders. It was against this order of the single-judge bench that the state government and the officers approached the division bench.

Following a departmental probe, deputy director in-charge, PMS-SC, Parminder Singh Gill; superintendent scheme branch Rajinder Chopra and senior assistants Rakesh Arora and Baldev Singh were ordered to be dismissed in February, indicting them in post-matric scholarship (for Scheduled Caste students’) scam. The allegations were of impropriety in the distribution of scholarship amount to the various institutions in a wrongful manner.

Acting on the report, the minister passed the dismissal orders on February 15, 2023. After the decision was taken by the minister-in-charge, a “formal order” was passed by the additional chief secretary of the department, the same day.

In the high court, these employees had argued that the minister is not the disciplinary/punishing authority as per the service rules. On the other hand, the government had maintained that the minister, under the 1992 service rules, can hear the delinquent officials and decide the nature of the punishment while directing the additional chief secretary to pass a formal order.

The single-judge bench had observed that the disciplinary authority while passing the order, is required to act judicially as a tribunal. “Recording of reasons is an important facet of the principles of natural justice. Apart from the various benefits, it ensures transparency and fairness in decision-making. Even the person, who is adversely affected, comes to know as to why his request has been declined,” it had observed while remitting back the matter to the government in May.

It had found that the minister-in-charge neither herself recorded the reasons nor has the additional chief secretary examined the matter in detail. “Once the minister-in-charge has assumed the role of punishing/disciplinary authority, then there is no escape from following the requirement of recording the reasons after analysing the material produced on record including the reply/material produced in evidence (by the officers),” the court had said.

The single-judge bench had not gone into the question of “the disciplinary authority” in the case of these officers and had left this question open for judicial scrutiny.

In their appeals before the division bench, the government had reiterated its stand, and the officers also had come up with similar arguments.

Now, the division bench also sent back the case to the government to take a call as to whether the matter can be considered or decided by the minister or whether it has to be decided by “the disciplinary authority” which, as per the petitioners, would be the secretary concerned, keeping in mind the provisions of service rules.

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