Bureaucrats who go on study leave for a doctoral degree but fail to get the degree cannot be forced to refund the salary paid to them during the duration of the research, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) has ruled.
“It is well known that in case of a PhD programme, the student is not required to pass any examination,” the tribunal remarked as it struck down as “illegal” an order of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation seeking refund of salary paid to a senior bureaucrat who could not secure a PhD degree.
“In the instant case, the applicant admittedly has not secured PhD degree but at the same time, he definitely completed the course as certified by his research guide. No examination was required to pass in a PhD programme,” the principal bench of CAT at Delhi noted.
The verdict came on the plea of a 56-year-old senior administrative group (SAG) officer, Tushar Ranjan Mohanty, who had, in December 2000, applied for study leave to pursue a PhD programme in economics from a university in Bhubaneswar.
The ministry sanctioned him study leave of 24 months as per the terms of the Central Services (Leave) Rules, 1972, after the officer signed a bond under which he was obliged to pay to the government a sum of `6 lakh in case he failed to complete the course of study.
After availing the study leave, the officer returned to service but failed to secure a PhD degree.
Meanwhile, after a gap of over 10 years, the ministry in September 2014 ordered him to refund the actual amount of leave salary, study allowances, cost of fees, travelling and other expenses, if any, incurred by the government.
The ministry defended its decision at the tribunal, saying the officer was “granted study leave for pursuing a PhD programme in which he has miserably failed”.
The tribunal, however, noted that the research guide, while writing the annual confidential report (ACR) of the officer for the study period, has not commented adversely upon the work. “The research guide, on the contrary, has certified that the applicant has duly completed the study course,” it said.
“He has also not contravened the terms of the bond executed by him in connection with the study leave,” it added.
Interestingly, the tribunal upheld a decision of the ministry refusing the officer’s second bid to earn a PhD degree from another university. It said the ministry was “well within their rights in rejecting the request” given the officer’s dismal track record.