The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday put a stay on the Punjab government's May 5 decision to terminate the services of six assistant public relations officers (APROs) appointed in July 2011 and induct six new officers as per the fresh merit list.
The division bench comprising justices Jasbir Singh and Harinder Singh Sidhu issued the directions on Thursday, considering the issue raised by Subeg Singh and six others while issuing a notice of motion to the state government to file its reply by May 13.
Those whose services were terminated are Kuljit Mianpuri, Balwinder Kaur and Baljinder Singh, stationed at Chandigarh; Hardeep Singh at Barnala; and Avtar Singh and Gurpartap Kairon at Jalandhar. Newly-appointed officers are Megha Mann, Puneet Pal Singh Gill, Gagmeet Singh Aujala, Parmeet Singh, Balwinder Kumar and Bhupesh Chatha.
The state government had on May 5 also demoted Subeg Singh (Chandigarh) and Jagdeep Singh Gill (Bathinda) from the post of deputy public relations officer (DPRO) to APRO. However, Narender Pal Singh and Amandeep Singh were promoted as DPROs.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Gurminder Singh argued that the state government arbitrarily proceeded to terminate the services of petitioners despite knowing that the appeal against the single-judge order was pending before the division bench, and also illegally issued fresh appointments on the basis of the revised merit list. He submitted that this was despite the fact that an oral undertaking was given by the state counsel not to disturb the existing position.
Justice Rajesh Bindal had on January 30 set aside the selection on the main ground that when the advertisement concerned was issued in September 2009, there was no criteria of granting five additional marks to candidates who had passed their middle and matriculation examinations from schools located in rural areas. But the said criterion was approved by the chief minister in October 2010, subsequent to the written examination.
"The issue as to whether rules of the game, namely the criteria for selection, can be altered after the selection process has commenced has been gone into by the Supreme Court on a number of occasions and it has been held that the change of rules of the game during the process or after the game had been played, is clearly impermissible," the court had said.
Appeal before division bench
Challenging the single-judge order before the division bench two petitions were filed by Subeg Singh and others and Kuljit Singh and others. It was submitted that the single judge had committed an error deciding the case in pursuance to the full-bench judgment in Abhishek Rishi's case, which was decided in 2013, whereas the selection in question was finalised in July 2010. As the appellants have been working in the department since 2010, the full-bench judgment cannot be made applicable to the selection retrospectively, it was argued.
It was also submitted that the single judge had not appreciated the fact that the advertisement was issued on September 10, 2009, and criteria finalised on September 23, 2010, because of the division bench judgment in Sudesh Rani's case. In this case, the court had upheld the decision to give weightage of additional five marks to students of rural areas. Thus, it resulted in the approval of the criteria in the APROs' case by the cabinet as well as the chief minister.
September 2009: Posts advertised
July 2010: Written test conducted
September 2010: Criteria changed
December 2010: Interviews conducted
July 2011: Selections finalised
January 30, 2014: HC single judge sets aside selection, grants 3 months for fresh merit list
February 28: Single-judge order challenged before division bench
March 4: Notice issued to Punjab government
May 5: Punjab govt terminates services of 6 APROs, appoints 6 new
May 8: State govt decision challenged, HC puts stay
May 13: Next date of hearing