27 May 2010

Members of Public Service Commission can be suspended without hearing: Supreme Court

Holding that the members of Public Service Commission stand on a different footing compared to Government employees and thus the protection available to Government servants relating to institution of inquiry, hearing to be provided etc. in terms of Article 317 of the Constitution of India is not available to the members of these Commissions, the Supreme Court in a recently reported decision [Ram Kumar Kashyap v. Union of India, AIR 2010 SC 1151] has upheld the en bloc suspension of the members of the Haryana Public Service Commission. 

The principle of law was explained by the Supreme Court in the following terms;

4. It has been argued on behalf of the petitioners that the passing of the common order of suspension by the Hon'ble Governor of the State of Haryana would cause adverse civil consequences, they deserved a notice and an opportunity of being heard before such order was passed. The petitioners have cited several judgments of this court such as those delivered in State of Orissa v. Dr. (Miss) Bina Pani Dei and others (AIR 1967 SC 1269); Sayeedur Rehman v. The State of Bihar & others  (1973) 3 SCC 333; S.L. Kapoor v. Jagmohan & others, (1980) 4 SCC 379; and Olga Tellis & others v. Bombay Municipal Corporation & others, (1985) 3 SCC 545, all of which affirm the principle that an adverse order cannot be passed at the back of the affected party. 
5. It is not necessary that principles of ‘audi alterem partem’ rigorously followed in the domain of service law need to be applied with the same degree of rigour in proceedings involving the removal and suspension of the members of the State Public Service Commission. This exceptional treatment is mandated by Article 317. Furthermore, the issuance of suspension orders is as per the ‘procedure established by law’ and not in derogation from the same.
6. It will be useful to refer to a judgment of this court in Special Reference No. 1 of 1983, (1990) 4 SCC 262, wherein it was held that the position of a Chairman or a Member of a Public Service Commission cannot be equated with that of a public servant and hence the case law pertaining to the suspension and removal of public employees has no relevance in the context of the proceedings under Article 317. 
7. The relevant observations were made at Para 9:
“9. The case of a government servant is, subject to the special provisions, governed by the law of master and servant, but the position in the case of a member of the commission is different. The latter holds a constitutional post and is government by the special provisions dealing with different aspects of his office as envisaged by the Articles 315 to 323 of Chapter II of Part XIV of the constitution. In our view the decisions dealing with service cases relied upon behalf of the respondent have no application to the present matter and the reference will have to answered on the merits of the case with reference to the complaint and the respondents’ deference”
8. Furthermore this court in Reference No. 1 of 2003, (2005) 6 SCC 789, has held that no hearing or opportunity of showing cause against the proposed reference under Article 317 (1) is necessary before making the actual reference. The relevant observations are as follows (Para. 2): 
“2. We have heard the learned Additional Solicitor General for the Union of India, as also the learned counsel for the respondent on the preliminary objections. We are of the opinion that no hearing or opportunity of showing cause against the proposed reference under Article 317(1) is necessary before making the reference. The first objection is overruled.”
9. In Sayalee Sanjeev Joshi, In Re, (2007) 11 SCC 547, which concerned the removal of a member of the Maharashtra Public Service Commission under Article 317 on grounds of misbehaviour, this court had observed (Para. 1):
“1. … Since a request was made to the President of India to act in terms of Article 317(1) of the Constitution, the placing of the respondent under suspension under Article 317(2) of the Constitution was proper.”
10. It is clear from the perusal of the above cases that the petitioners were not entitled to an opportunity to show cause or to be heard before the point of time that the orders of suspension were passed by the Hon'ble Governor of Haryana under Article 317(2) after the President had referred the matter to the Supreme Court. The rationale behind empowering the Governor of a State to issue such an order for suspension even before the reference is actually decided by the Supreme Court is to maintain the public trust and confidence in the impartial and honest working of the said Public Service Commission. It is a prerogative given to the State Executive, but the members so suspended are given the opportunity to present their cases when the actual reference is decided upon by the Supreme Court. It is open to the members so suspended to present their point of view at that stage. After all, it is only after the merits of the case have been examined that the Supreme Court arrives at an answer to the reference and communicates the same decision to the President for further action.
11. The Public Service Commission is an institution of the utmost importance created by the Constitution of India under Article 315. For the efficient functioning of a democracy it is imperative that the Public Service Commissions are manned by people of the highest skill and irreproachable integrity, so that the selections to various public posts can be immunized from all sorts of extraneous factors like political pressure or personal favoritism and are made solely on considerations of merit. 
12. In Special Reference No. 1 of 1997, (2000) 4 SCC 309, this Court discussed the role of the members of the Public Service Commissions and made the following observations with regard to their duties and qualifications (Para. 4):
"4.Keeping in line with the high expectations of their office and need to observe absolute integrity and impartiality in the exercise of their powers and duties, the Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission are required to be selected on the basis of their merit, ability and suitability and they in turn are expected to be models themselves in their functioning. The character and conduct of the Chairman and members of the Commission, like Caesar's wife, must therefore be above board. They occupy a unique place and position and utmost objectivity in the performance of their duties and integrity and detachment are essential requirements expected from the Chairman and members of the Public Service Commissions."
13. At Para 31 of the same opinion, this Court further stated:
“31.The credibility of the institution of Public Service Commission is founded upon faith of the common man on its proper functioning. The faith would be eroded and confidence destroyed if it appears that the Chairman or the Members of the Commission act subjectively and not objectively or that their actions are suspect. Society expects honesty, integrity and complete objectivity from the Chairman and Members of the Commission. The Commission must act fairly, without any pressure or influence from any quarter, unbiased and impartially, so that the society does not loose confidence in the Commission. The high constitutional trustees, like the Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission must for ever remain vigilant and conscious of these necessary adjuncts.”
14. It is very clear that since the Public Service Commissions are a constitutional creation, the principles of service law that are ordinarily applicable in instances of dismissals of government employees cannot be extended to the proceedings for the removal and suspension of the members of the said Commissions. Hence, we are of the opinion that the en bloc suspension of the 8 Members and Chairman of the Haryana Public Service Commission by the Hon’ble Governor of Haryana by an order dated 09.08.2008 under Article 317(2) of the Constitution and the impugned notification dated 09.08.2008 are valid and not liable to be quashed.

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