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Gujarat National Law University (GNLU), Gandhinagar has once again found itself in the midst of litigation before the Gujarat High Court.
This time, an administrative officer has moved the High Court, challenging the University’s decision to remove him from the post of ‘Head, Budget, Accounts & Finance/Assistant Finance Officer’.
And Manoj Patel has emerged victorious, with the High Court coming down rather strongly on GNLU’s “arbitrary, unfair and unreasonable” decision to terminate him from service.
Patel was issued an appointment letter for the post on January 2, 2012, under the pay scale of Rs. 9300-34800 with grade pay of Rs. 4600. It was mentioned that on successful completion of three years’ period, his service may be placed in the pay scale of Rs.15600-39100 with grade pay of Rs.5400/.
After the completion of one year probation, he received a letter dated January 24, 2013, in which the University confirmed a five year contract with effect from commencement of his service. He then asked for an upgrade in pay scale, which was advertised in the contract.
On December 31, 2013, Patel would receive another letter offering fixed term appointment effective from January 1, 2014, which would expire on December 31, 2019. In another letter dated December 31, 2013 he received a letter confirming the upgrade in his pay scale.
However, much to his consternation, Patel would be told by Director Dr. Bimal Patel in October 2016 that his services would be terminated effective December 31, 2016. Further, the Director told him that the dates mentioned in the previous letters were “typographical errors”. He was also told that he could apply for the post of Section Officer (Accounts), a position that was lesser in rank than the one he held.
Calling this discrepancy a mistake “of a most trifling nature”, the University said that in case of a conflict in the terms of appointment, the Regulations of the University would prevail. However, the Court did not take this view. Justice Sonia Gokani held,
“…it is limpid from the chronology of events that expiration date of appointment as per the last letter of appointment dated December 31, 2013, is undoubtedly December 31, 2018. It could be either January 01, 2019 or December 31, 2018, but in no case, the same can be read or construed as December 31, 2016, as sought to be pleaded by the respondent University.
…Therefore, to give a lame excuse that the subsequent letter of appointment was uncalled for or was unnecessary and that the petitioner was aware of the fact that the period of contract was to end on December 31, 2016, is nothing but an afterthought and also a defence, which is devoid of any bona fide.
…Surely this sequence of event leading to grant of extension cannot be said by any stretch of imagination a mistake of “a most trifling nature” as contended by the respondent University. Nor can this lead to the conclusion that the date of expiration of contract of five years is either December 31, 2016 or December 31, 2017.”
The judgment also notes that the General Council of GNLU had, on February 27, 2016, resolved to put a stop to permanent appointment of teaching and non-teaching members. Effectively, those who were appointed on five years’ basis would have no right to get extension or renewal on completion of five years’ period.
However, the Court said, the Council did not speak of curtailing the period of existing contracts. Moreover, the Contract Extension Committee was composed of the Director, the Registrar, the Head of Academic Affairs and two members of the Executive Council.
The judge further went on to hold that GNLU came under the ambit of ‘state’ as per Article 12 of the Constitution.
“The respondent University is the ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution of India and is expected not only to be fair in its contract but fairer while dealing with its employees i.e. teaching and non-teaching staff members.”
It was also held that none of the above grounds as provided in Regulation 25 (which deals with termination) of the University’s Regulations were fulfilled to justify Patel’s termination. Moreover, the Court did not take kindly to the fact that the petitioner was not given enough notice of his removal.
“It was only in October, 2016, he came to be intimated, that too orally, that his term was to end on December 31, 2016 and not on January, 2019, as discussed hereinbefore. Such an action of the respondent University cannot be endorsed by any standard and in fact, deserves to be strongly disapproved…”
Hence, the Court held that Patel was entitled to continue in his post till January 1, 2019.
The Court ended with its jurisdiction to hear and decide the case, referring to a number of Supreme Court judgments.
“With the development of law, the power of writ Court to examine termination order is beyond any doubt exists and any order terminating the service of an employee by a public authority, even if falls within the realm of contract, is open to the judicial review.”
This is not the first time the High Court has pulled up GNLU. Last year, the Court described the University’s actions in a case as the “epitome of injustice”.
Read the judgment: