In a major setback to Karnataka Public Service Commission and the candidates selected in 2011 for the post of gazetted probationary officers, the Karnataka High Court has quashed all appointment orders so issued considering the nature of malpractices in the selection process.
A bench of Justice HG Ramesh and Justice PS Dinesh Kumar set aside the October 19, 2016, order passed by the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal by which the state government was directed to issue appointment orders based on the final list of selected candidates.
“…the Administrative Tribunal has directed the State Government to issue appointment orders to the applicants therein. This decision of the Administrative Tribunal, when translated into action, would result in appointment of Civil Servants whose selection by the KPSC has been seriously doubted by the State Government,” the high court held.
The high court, in its order pronounced on Monday, set aside this order of the KAT while upholding the government order dated August 14, 2014, by which the government had withdrawn the requisitions issued to KPSC for selection of Gazetted Probationers for 2011 and closed the selection process.
The KAT had quashed this 2014 order and directed the state to make appointments but the high court sustained the 2014 order saying, “If the judicial pronouncement by the Administrative Tribunal is given effect to, it would compel the State Government to appoint candidates selected by a committee of questionable reputation”.
“All appointment orders issued pursuant to Final Select List dated 21.3.2014 issued by the KPSC, are unsustainable liable to be declared as illegal,” the high court held.
The high court’s order comes on a batch of writ petitions involving the appointment of Group ‘A’ and Group ‘B’ Probationary Officers under the Karnataka Recruitment of Gazetted Probationers (Appointment by Competitive Examinations) Rules, 1997.
The petitions were filed by Renukambike R and 365 others, including successful candidates and some in public interest.
One petition was filed by Dr Mythri HPS who blew the lid off the irregularity in the selection process.
The petitions filed in public interest sought quashing of the KAT order.
Genesis of the case
The case dates back to the issuance of notifications by the state government in 2011 to hold examination for probationers’ officers. The KPSC invited applications for 352 posts.
Subsequently, the number of posts was modified to 362 by the state government in 2012 and tests were conducted in 2013.
On 24.5.2013, Dr HPS Mythri, one of the candidates submitted a representation to the Advocate General of Karnataka, alleging mal-practices in the selection process, stating that she had secured 1009 marks out of 1800 in the written examination, but was awarded only 75 marks in viva-voce, whereas, a candidate in the same category, Supriya Banagar, who was her immediate competitor, had secured only 937.5 marks in the written examination, but was awarded 150 marks in viva-voce.
On May 28, 2013, Dr. Mythri submitted another representation to the Advocate General stating that she had received a phone call from member, KPSC, and was offered the post of Assistant Commissioner in lieu of illegal gratification of Rs 75 lakh.
The Advocate-General advised the government to look into the allegations and withhold the list of selected candidates while deciding on acceptance or non-acceptance of the list on the basis of the outcome of an investigation.
An FIR was registered on a complaint by the state government stating that the selection process stood vitiated.
In 2013, it issued an order annulling evaluation of written examination as also the personality tests, and called upon the KPSC to re-do the exercise from the stage of evaluation of performance in the written examination (main).
The KPSC, however, took a stand that the order passed by the government was without jurisdiction and went ahead with the selection process by publishing a list of selected candidates.
Dr. Mythri moved KAT in April 2014 challenging the final select list. The successful candidates also moved KAT praying for quashing of the government order of August 2014, and to direct it to issue appointment orders.
The state government resisted these applications.
After due hearing, KAT directed the state government to issue appointment orders to the applicants.
Before high court
The issue reached high court which held that “the issue in substance, either before the Administrative Tribunal or in these writ petitions are not ‘stricto sensu’ classifiable, purely as service matter”.
“Unless, the order of appointment is communicated to the selected candidate, no right shall accrue to him. The State accepted the CID report and exercising their executive authority, rejected KPSC’s recommendations. The reasons for not accepting the recommendations have been laid before the State Assembly. The matter should have ended there.
“…the Administrative Tribunal has directed the State Government to issue appointment orders to the applicants therein. This decision of the Administrative Tribunal, when translated into action, would result in the appointment of Civil Servants whose selection by the KPSC has been seriously doubted by the State Government,” the high court held.
It held that the issue involved public interest “because the State would be left with no option but to appoint the applicants in compliance with the Administrative Tribunal’s directions which is admittedly based on its opinion with regard to the veracity of alleged mal-practices adopted in the selection process. Ultimately, it would result in the appointment of Civil Servants whose selection process, according to the Executive had stood vitiated. Since this matter touches upon the appointment of bureaucrats in the State, it carries within itself an element of public interest”.
The bench noted report about the exchange of calls with candidates as “appalling” and added, “…it is amazing to note that the Administrative Tribunal, despite having such stark and disturbing facts before it, turned the other way”.
The bench noted that the CID’s investigation report, prima facie discloses that there are sufficient reasons to believe that the selection process was not inviolable. In the circumstances, the state government withdrew the requisition for selection of civil servants. Unless the decision-making process by the state government is satisfactorily proved to be arbitrary, capricious, or mala fide, it would be inappropriate for the courts to impinge upon such decision.
“In substance, the Administrative Tribunal has substituted its opinion with that of the State Government with regard to the consideration of investigation report and the action taken thereon. This is impermissible in law,” it concluded.