The Karnataka High Court has set aside an order of the Single Judge bench which held that appointments to the post of Director of University of Agricultural Sciences, on ad-hoc basis, shall be done on seniority basis.
A division bench of Justice Krishna S Dixit and Justice P Krishna Bhat while allowing the appeal filed by the University challenging the order dated June 3, said,
"In matters of ad hoc appointments, seniority cannot be the sole/soul mantra. The Board, comprising of high authorities & experts in its wisdom has prescribed the rule of rotation so that every eligible aspirant for the posts in question shall get some booster that would go a long way in his career. It is also a way to attract & retain talented teachers in the campus."
Petitioner Dr. Digambarappa had approached the court questioning the placement of 3rd respondent Dr. R. Basavarajappa, in the post of Director of Education and his own placement in the post of Dean. The sole factor for such a claim was that he was the senior most in the cadre of Professor. Reliance was placed upon the Government Order dated 14.11.2019 and Chancellor's instructions dated 28.01.2022.
The University and the 3rd respondent had opposed the Writ Petition mainly contending that the appointment in question is purely temporary and for a period of only six months; such appointments are to be made on rotation basis; petitioner was accordingly appointed as a Director earlier and therefore now the 3rd respondent is given that position; the petitioner cannot have any grievance since he is given the post of Dean, which is equivalent to that of Director.
The single judge bench allowed the petition, holding that petitioner should be appointed to the post of Director, he being the senior most, and seniority being the sole criteria. Following which the University and respondent no 3 filed an appeal challenging the order.
The bench noted that Section 24 of the Universities of Agricultural Sciences Act, 2009 enlists Officers of the University which, inter alia, comprise of Directors & Deans. Section 30 empowers the Vice-Chancellor to appoint officers specified in clauses (iv) to (ix) of Section 2.
It also noted that Section 30 of the Act provides for making regular appointment. However, the proviso thereof provides for making appointment to the said posts as a temporary measure, "presumably" because regular appointment takes a long time and that posts in question cannot be kept vacant for long.
In this backdrop it observed, "The concept of ad hoc appointment is not alien to Service Jurisprudence; it is a common knowledge that civil servants are appointed on incharge or independent charge basis, in the posts only as a temporary measure, under Rule 32 of KCSRs (Karnataka Civil Service Rules). In such cases, ordinarily, the seniority does not much factor."
"Ordinarily seniority has a pivotal role, while making promotions on regular & substantive basis. However, when it comes to making ad hoc appointments as the ones at hands, ordinarily seniority takes the backseat. This is not to say that the authority in making ad hoc placement can choose whomsoever it wants; even there the requirement of fairness & reasonableness cannot be dispensed with."
Noting that the Board of Management of appellant-University, in its meeting held on 25.01.2019, resolved that such temporary appointments shall be made on rotation basis. The bench said, "The above Resolution is not in challenge. In fact, the writ petitioner was appointed as the Director during the period between 01.08.2018 & 01.02.2019. Therefore, the Vice-Chancellor had no option than to appoint the 3rd respondent as the Director. Had he not done this, he would have committed an actionable wrong qua the said respondent."
It then held,
"Therefore, petitioner is not justified in staking his claim to the post in question over again. An argument to the contrary would breach the Rule of Rotation promulgated by the August Body of the University. If a contention to the contrary is accepted, the senior most person shall continue in the said post beyond six months only with an artificial break every time which the law & reason shun. This aspect having not been discussed in the impugned judgment, there is an error apparent on its face."
Dismissing the reliance placed by the petitioner before the single judge bench on the government order dated 14.11.2019 which mandatorily prescribes the Rule of Seniority the bench said, "Firstly, it is only an ordinary letter issued by the Under Secretary, Mr. H.N.Lakshmanagowda.The letter lacks the trappings of a Government Order. This apart, what authority the Under Secretary had, to prescribe seniority as the norm for appointments of the kind is not demonstrated."
It then remarked,
"Section 10 gives power to the Chancellor to do certain things at the instance of the Government; but the Government on its own can not issue any direction to the University. Universities are not the notional extensions of the government departments, nor their vassals. They are autonomous bodies and therefore their autonomy should be respected. The Secretaries of the Government Departments cannot interfere in the affairs of Universities in the absence of statutory power and the justification for its exercise, both of which are absent in the case at hands."
The bench held, "The very idea of 'appointment by rotation' excludes the notion of seniority. The Vice-Chancellor in issuing the impugned appointment orders has followed the extant norms. Even this aspect of the matter has escaped due attention of the learned Single Judge. Thus, there is an added error apparent on the face of the impugned judgment."
Finally it held,
"The contention that the post of Dean is comparatively a bit lower compared to that of Director, does not merit deeper examination, at our hands given the fact that both the posts carry same pay scale & emoluments. If the University states that posts are equal, the one who questions it has to make out a strong case to substantiate the contra. That being the position, no prejudice is shown to have been caused to the Writ petitioner by virtue of impugned orders of the University."
Accordingly it set aside the single judge bench order and resurrected the University orders of appointment that were quashed.
Case Title: THE UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES v. DR. DIGAMBARAPPA, & others
Case No: WRIT APPEAL NO.100263 OF 2022 C/W WRIT APPEAL NO.100264 OF 2022
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Kar) 240
Date of Order: 24TH DAY OF JUNE, 2022
Appearance: Advocate RAMACHANDRA A.MALI for appellant; Advocate P.N. HATTI, FOR C/R1; Government Advocate G.K. HIREGOUDAR, FOR R2