Hon’ble Supreme Court Dismisses Harish Dhanda’s Appeal over his PPSC Appointment

By Rudrajyoti N. Ray, Associate

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the recently concluded matter of State of Punjab Vs. Salil Sabhlok & Ors. (Civil Appeal No. 2685 of 2012; Civil Appeal No. 7640 of 2011; Civil Appeal No. 3687 of 2012& Civil Appeal Nos. 1365-1367 of 2013 arising out of S.L.P. (Civil) Nos. 22010-22012 of 2011) was faced with the question, “whether the High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution can lay down the procedure for the selection and appointment of the Chairman of the State Public Service Commission and quash his appointment in appropriate cases”.

The controversy arose when Respondent No. 1 filed a Public Interest Litigation, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950 (“Constitution”), before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, alleging that the State Government has not laid down any qualification for appointment to the post of Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission (“PPSC”) and is continuing to appoint on the basis of political affiliations. The appointment of one Mr. Harish Dhanda as the Chairman of PPSC was particularly under question.

In due course of events – A Full bench of the Hon’ble High Court, vide its judgment and order dated 17.8.2011, directed that, “till such time a fair, rational, objective and transparent policy to meet the mandate of Article 14 is made, both the State of Haryana and the State of Punjab shall follow the procedure detailed hereunder as part of the decision-making process for appointment as Members and Chairman of the Public Service Commission”. By the order dated 17.08.2011, the Full Bench of the High Court also ordered that the Writ Petition be listed before the Division Bench to be constituted by the Chief Justice of the High Court. The Division Bench, in terms of the judgment and order of the Full Bench, duly quashed the appointment of Mr. Harish Dhanda as a Chairman of the PPSC. Aggrieved – the State of Punjab, State of Haryana and Mr. H.R. Dhanda filed the present Appeals before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.  

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held, at the outset, that it is evident from a perusal of Article 316 of the Constitution that, “No qualification has been laid down for the appointment of the Chairperson of a State Public Service Commission. (That) Theoretically therefore, the Chief Minister of a State can recommend to the Governor of a State to appoint any person walking on the street as the Chairperson of the State Public Service Commission.” However, the Court noted that it has had previously the occasion to “consider the qualities which a person should have for being appointed as Chairman and Member of Public Service Commission.” That these qualities include, amongst others, the virtues of competency, honesty, independence, impartiality, outstanding ability & high reputation.

That, even though, “Article 316 does not specify the aforesaid qualities of the Chairman of a Public Service Commission, these qualities are amongst the implied relevant factors which have to be taken into consideration by the Government while determining the competency of the person to be selected and appointed as Chairman of the Public Service Commission under Article 316 of the Constitution. Accordingly, if these relevant factors are not taken into consideration by the State Government while selecting and appointing the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Court can hold the selection and appointment as not in accordance with the Constitution”.

Nonetheless, adjudicating on whether relevant factors have been taken into consideration is one thing; and laying down procedures for appointment of a Chairman of a Public Service Commission is quite the other. Accordingly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court set aside the decision of the Full Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court since the Full Bench acted beyond its mandate and more importantly usurped the constitutional powers reserved for the Governor.

At this juncture the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India could either have remanded the matter to the High Court for a disposal of the writ petition in accordance with the law or it have could decided the writ petition on its merits. “To cut short the litigation” the Hon’ble Court decided to do the latter. It was held that the quashing of the appointment of Mr. Harish Dhanda was in fact appropriate since, “there was no deliberative process worth the name in making the appointment and also since the constitutional, functional and institutional requirements of the Punjab Public Service Commission were not met”.

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