The Kerala High Court recently quashed the Government's appointment of CK Baiju as Director of the Mining and Geology Department, pronouncing judgment in a PIL petition.
A Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly delivered their judgment, stating,
"On consideration of the facts and circumstances, we are of the opinion that sufficient public interest is involved in the matter at hand, and that Mr. C.K.Baiju, respondent No.6, was appointed to the post of Director, Mining and Geology Department, even though styled as temporary and giving charge, is overlooking all canons of law and beyond comprehension of the normal procedure followed in the matter of promotion, especially due to the fact that he is a tainted officer facing charges and imposed with penalty, and thus, violated fair play and equal opportunity."
The petitioner, Civic Responsibilities Empowerment Association [CREA], approached the High Court against the State Government's decision in 2020 giving the officer temporary charge as Director of the Mining Department. Prior to the appointment, he was a Deputy Director of the Department.
The petitioner pointed out that despite findings by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau that the officer had prima facie indulged in corrupt practices while holding positions in various district Mining and Geology Departments, and consequent departmental inquiries, as well as a complaint before the Kerala Lokayukta, the Government proceeded to appoint him to the post of Director.
A few of the corrupt practices alleged against him are the illegal granting quarrying permits, not monitoring licence conditions, allowing operation of brick kilns and quarrying and so on.
The petitioner pointed out that an attempt to promote Baiju to the post of Director in 2015 failed after the matter was taken up in the Kerala Legislative Assembly.
Praying that allowing him to continue in the post would send out a wrong message, the petitioners sought a quash on the Order.
Justice Shaji P Chaly, authoring the judgment for the Bench noted that sufficient public interest warranting the Court's interference was involved. The government had been unmindful of the moral principle of appointing a person of integrity and merit to the post of Director, the Court said.
"We are also of the opinion that the key post of a Director or Additional Director in the Department of Mining shall always be held by a person not only with ability and merit but with the highest order of integrity too. Instant case is one, where the State Government was unmindful of such a moral principle. Apart from that, the basic requirement of law, as discussed above, is merit and ability, which according to us, shall give way to seniority, however, it is totally lacking in the case at hand", the Court noted.
Stating that the Courts were not to be hesitant in stepping in to correct such patent illegality, the Court underscored,
"..the Government functions as a trustee of the citizens and, therefore, duty bound to protect the general interests of the public. Whenever the Government overlooks its duty and obligations, the constitutional courts shall not be hesitant to step in and correct such patent illegality, in larger public interest."
Concluding that it had no hesitation in setting aside the award, the Bench ruled,
"In the light of the above discussion and decisions, we quash…order, … issued by the Joint Secretary, Department of Industry (A), and direct the State Government, to take immediate steps to terminate the services of…Mr. C.K.Baiju, from the post of Director, Mining and Geology Department, granted as per Exhibit-P9, forthwith"
Advocates PM Joshi, Siji K. Paul appeared for the Society. Member of Society and Second Petitioner Paulose VJ appeared as a party-in-person.