Read Order: Sumit Chawla v. State of Haryana & others

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, March 28, 2022: The Punjab and Haryana High Court has allowed a Letters Patent Appeal filed by a candidate who in spite of being recommended for selection to the post of District Information & Public Relation Officer by the Haryana Public Service Commission pursuant to his meritorious performance in a written test and interview conducted by HPSC, was declared ineligible by a Committee constituted for verifying the documents submitted by the candidates. 

The appellant was required to possess a certain experience of working in a national daily newspaper, and the Committee opined that the newspaper with which the petitioner worked was not a national level newspaper. 

While expounding that the decision on eligibility based on the recruitment rules should have been taken by the HPSC, the Bench of Justices G.S. Sandhawalia and Vikas Suri held, “It was for the respondent-Commission rather to undertake the exercise whether the petitioner was eligible under the said Rules and give its recommendations being the expert body. Unfortunately, the Commission was not arrayed as a party respondent.”

Essentially, the appellant- writ petitioner applied for the post of District Information & Public Relation Officer Haryana, which, apart from other qualifications, required the candidates to have 2 years of media experience in the National Daily Newspaper or Television Channel or Publicity Organization of Government or Public Undertaking or University.

The appellant worked for two years with a newspaper called ‘Pal Pal Newspaper’ which was published in Sirsa, Haryana. The appellant, after being recommended by the Haryana Public Service Commission (HPSC) for selection (pursuant to a written test and interview), was declared ineligible for appointment by the Committee constituted for document verification. The verification committee was of the view that the newspaper where the appellant worked was not a National Daily Newspaper. 

When the matter came before the Single Judge Bench of the High Court, the Bench upheld the decision of the Committee declaring the appellant ineligible. Aggrieved, the writ-petitoner filed the present Letters Patent Appeal impugning the decision of the Single Judge Bench. 

At the very outset, the Court noted that the appellant worked with the concerned newspaper from May 1, 2013, to December 31, 2015, as a Reporter in Kaithal and was earning Rs.3000 per month as honorarium. Further, the Court noted that after taking the written test and the interview conducted by the HPSC, the petitioner emerged as the topper amongst the General Category. 

Thus, in light of the above, the Court opined that prima facie the petitioner was not liable to be declared ineligible only on account of a report of the Committee (for document verification) set up by the Department after the names of the recommended candidates were sent by the HPSC after doing the necessary exercise of selection.

Also, the Court examined the report of the Committee which verified the documents of the candidates, and from such examination, the Court opined,

“A perusal of the report of the Committee … would go on to show that… only on checking of the documents, in view of the recommendation letter of the Commission, petitioner was held not eligible on account of the fact that the ‘Pal-Pal’ was not a national newspaper. Provisional appointments were recommended qua other candidates without giving any details regarding their experience. This was an exercise which should have been obtained from the Commission rather than by the Committee to delve into the issue as to whether the petitioner had the necessary qualifications as per the rules.”

Also, on perusing the recommendation letter given by the HPSC, the Court opined that the Commission (HPSC) interviewed and recommended the candidates on the basis of the photocopies of the documents submitted by them. The educational qualifications, experience and the original degrees and certificates were to be checked by the Department, noted the Court. On the heavy reliance placed by the State Counsel upon Clause 3 of the said letter to submit that it was open to the Department to reject and not appoint the petitioner, the Court opined that the said clause was for checking and verifying the original degrees and certificates and not the eligibility criteria which was prescribed under the Rules. 

It was for the respondent-Commission rather undertake the exercise whether the petitioner was eligible under the said Rules and give its recommendations being the expert body”, asserted the Court. 

Importantly, the Court observed that although in the present Writ petition the HPSC was not made a respondent, the Commission was arrayed as the third respondent in another Writ Petition (now pending) filed by the appellant, and thus the Court held that the Single Judge Bench should have heard both the petitions together so that the opinion of the Commission (essentially an expert body) would also have come forth for proper assistance of the Court. 

On the importance of technical assistance, the Court made reference to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Mohammad Shujat Ali & others Vs. Union of India & others, (1975) 3 SCC 76, wherein it was held that the Court on uninformed data and unaided by technical insights would not interfere with the decision of the Government which is based on the recommendations of the expert body. 

Thus, the Court opined that the view of the expert body (HPSC) which was the selecting body and which recommended the names of the candidates (including that of the appellant-writ petitioner), should have been taken into consideration by the Single Judge before rejecting the case of the appellant in limine. 

Accordingly, the impugned decision of Single Judge Bench was set aside and the Writ Petition was directed to be heard along with the other (pending) writ petition. Also, the Court directed that it would be imperative to the appellant to implead the HPSC as respondent before the Single Judge Bench.

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