HC criticises Hooda govt, upholds New Govt's decision

Reducing retirement age is right: HC

CHANDIGARH: The Punjab and Haryana High Court today ruled that the decision to enhance the employees’ retirement age from 58 to 60 by the previous Congress government led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda was an attempt to garner votes just before the Assembly elections; and was not an honest decision.

editorial@tribune.com

Saurabh Malik

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 20

The Punjab and Haryana High Court today ruled that the decision to enhance the employees’ retirement age from 58 to 60 by the previous Congress government led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda was an attempt to garner votes just before the Assembly elections; and was not an honest decision.

The scathing observations on the previous government’s conduct came as Justice Tejinder Singh Dhindsa upheld the Khattar government’s decision of reducing the age from 60 to 58.

Justice Dhindsa ruled: “The timing of such decision cannot be lost on this court. The state Assembly elections were around the corner. The Model Code of Conduct was on the verge of being imposed. The decision to enhance the age of retirement and that too in derogation of the relevant rule can only be seen as an attempt to garner a particular vote bank….

“This court would have no hesitation in holding that the action of the state government in reversing the earlier decision of enhancing the age of retirement from 58 years to 60 years by terming the same to be not honest is well founded”, he said.

The Hooda Government had last year increased the retirement age of the employees by two years to 60, shortly before the October 15 Assembly election.

Lashing out at the previous regime, the Khattar Government had claimed that the decision was taken to gain political mileage.

In an affidavit submitted before the high court, the government had claimed that the decision was “not honest” and was taken even though no such demand or representation was received from any association or union of Haryana Government employees.

The affidavit by Secretary to Haryana Government D Suresh said the Council of Ministers on its own decided that the age was to be increased. The issue was not even placed before the Finance Department for consideration, it was added.

The ruling came on a bunch of petitions by Baljit Kaur and other employees. Among other things, they had raised questions on the legality of council of ministers to take such decisions.

The petitioners argued that the council of ministers, headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, was unconstitutional as it lacked required minimum numbers. The petitioners claimed that the total strength of council of ministers was 10, including the Chief Minister. But, in terms of Article 164(1-A) of the Constitution, the number of ministers, including the Chief Minister, was not to be less than 12.
Dealing one by one with the issues raised by the petitioners, Justice Dhindsa asserted the provisions of Article 164 (1-A) were mandatory to the extent that the strength of the council of ministers, including the Chief Minister, was not to exceed 15 per cent of the total Members of the Legislative Assembly. It was not with regard to a minimum number of ministers.
Justice Dhindsa added the decision contained in the instructions dated August 26, 2014, for enhancing the age of superannuation from 58 years to 60 years “would not acquire the character of a statutory rule”. “Such executive instructions cannot be accepted to be a statutory amendment of the existing Rule governing the age of retirement….. Accordingly, it is held that there is no right that had come to vest in the petitioners to continue in service till the age of 60 years on the strength of instructions, which are in derogation of the relevant statutory rule.
Justice Tejinder Singh Dhindsa asserted that the relationship between the government and its employees was not “like an ordinary contract of service between a master and servant”. Once appointed to a post or office, an employee’s rights and obligations were determined by the statute, which may be framed by the government.
Justice Dhindsa added that the language of the relevant rule was “clear and unambiguous”. “Every government employee shall retire upon attaining 58 years of age and must not be retained in service thereafter except in exceptional circumstances. Such rule has not been amended till date”.
“This court does not find any infirmity in the decision of the state government in reducing the age of retirement of the petitioners from 60 years to 58 years,” Justice Dhindsa concluded.

The state Assembly elections were around the corner. The Model Code of Conduct was on the verge of being imposed. The decision to enhance the age of retirement and that too in derogation of the relevant rule can only be seen as an attempt to garner a particular vote bank…. — HC Bench
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