All candidates who petitioned the Supreme Court, including 23 against whom FIRs are registered in the cash-for-job scandal involving former Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) chief Ravi Sidhu, "definitely carry a trace, stain or blemish that they were tainted," the Punjab and Haryana high court has ruled.
Going further, the HC has in fact described the entire process as "vitiated", thus, in effect, giving a setback to all 91 candidates selected in the 1998 Punjab Civil Services (PCS) exam for executive and allied branches.
Among the 23 candidates who have been facing trial in a criminal court, include 11 in-service officers and five retired, the majority have decided to move the SC challenging this HC ruling which again puts them under the tainted category. The ruling expressly states, "This court has no hesitation to conclude that all these candidates are tainted as found by the committee (of three judges)."
The SC had in 2006 remanded back the case to the HC for separating the tainted candidates from the non-tainted ones. The 23 candidates had vehemently argued that the vigilance bureau had not found any direct evidence of money exchanging hands to secure selections.
The HC has "accepted" the February 8, 2007 report of the three judges' committee constituted on its administrative side recommending that the selections "deserve to be set aside in their entirety". The ruling pointed out that this court "is not examining" whether the evidence collected for recording FIR was sufficient to lead to conviction of all the candidates. But the evidence made available by the investigating agencies, court stated, before the HC committee was sufficient to conclude "all these candidates were tainted".
But as the entire process has been described as vitiated, the HC ruling of five judges has come as a setback to all 91 candidates. Note, that after the quashing of the entire process and re-examination in 2003, around 20 candidates who passed in 1998 had been selected again.
As per the order, which won't have any bearing on the pending trial court proceedings, the effect of prosecution witnesses turning hostile would be considered by the criminal court where trial is pending. "The standard of proof required before a criminal court is different from the subjective satisfaction of an authority (like the three-judge committee) while taking an administrative decision," the HC has ruled.
Further, the HC has questioned that when the PPSC flouted all norms and rules, how could the candidates seek regularisation of their probation period and secure their services?
Behind the entire judicial exercise as directed by the SC, it had to be found out if majority candidates were tainted. In that context, the ruling now says "it can safely be concluded that the majority of the candidates were part of the tainted selection process". "The selection process of PCS (executive) as per the investigation carried out can be described to be a pond filled with stinking water," the HC has said.
Meanwhile, the candidates said they would move the SC. "We will base our case primarily on the May 3, 2006 judgment of the apex court which had set aside government's orders to terminate our services and the HC judgment in this regard," OP Verma, who retired as excise and taxation officer, Ludhiana, in 2008, told HT over phone. Verma had served as executive magistrate, Gurdaspur, before being reverted to the excise department due to the PPSC scam.
Bhupinderjit Singh, who retired as district revenue officer, Hoshiarpur, said that he was not posted as PCS officer despite being re-selected. "The state government made appointments of the re-selected candidates on pick-and-choose basis," he alleged. "I was given notional appointment of PCS officer on my retirement only. My selection for the second time clearly shows that I am not tainted."
'TAINTED' LIST: NAMED IN FIRS
Kamal Garg Director, public instructions, secondary
Jiwan K Garg Tehsildar, Rupnagar (under suspension)
Sukhwinder S Brar District transport officer, Nawanshahr
Parvinderpal Singh Sub-divisional magistrate, Phagwara
Inderpreet S Kahlon Deputy director, Punjab Land Records Society
Balraj Kaur District Revenue Officer, Ludhiana
Jaspal Singh Deputy director, rural dev and panchayats
Baljit Singh Sandhu Additional deputy commissioner, Fatehgarh Sahib
Rajinder Singh Sidhu Excise and taxation Officer, Nawanshahr
Jarnail Singh Additional director, administration, transport
Pritpal Singh Deputy district attorney, Ludhiana
Bhupinderjit Singh District revenue officer, Hoshiarpur
HL Bansal Deputy excise and taxation commissioner
OP Verma Excise and Taxation Officer, Ludhiana
Jasbir Singh Toor Ministerial staff
Gurdev Singh Tehsildar
Amarbir Singh, Deepak Arora, Kuljeet Kaur, Kamaljit Singh, Bharat Bhushan, Bikramjit Singh and Randeep Singh