Srinagar: Observing it as “harsh” and “a colourable exercise of power, the High Court of J&K and Ladakh has set aside the government’s order by which services of three Rehbar-e-Taleems (ReTs) were terminated over a decade after for being underage at the time they were engaged.
Setting aside the order, a bench of Justice Sanjeev Kumar said, “The order of termination on the face of it is harsh and a colourable exercise of power. The order is nothing short of an open and naked exhibition of bureaucratic arrogance.”
The aggrieved ReTs (petitioners) had challenged the termination order before the court through their counsel Mir Suhail.
Javeed Ahmad Bhat, Sajad Hussain Shah, and Shabeer Ahmad Malla had been appointed as ReTs in south Kashmir’s Middle School G B Langkhul Kachard Nadimarg Kulgam, Middle School Nagbal Anantnag, and UPS Adoora Shopian.
For having rendered continuous services, their case for regularisation as per the ReT scheme was forwarded to the Administrative Department of the School Education Department.
However, the department vide an order (No 78-Edu of 2022 dated February 21, 2022) terminated their service on the ground that on the first day of January of the year in which the advertisement notifications were issued under which the three candidates were selected and engaged, they were not 18-years-old.
“The ineligibility qua the minimum age, at the relevant point of time, has been made the sole basis to reject their claim for regularisation. The respondents (School Education Department) have gone a step further in terminating their services by virtually holding their engagements as ReTs void ab initio. Could this have been done by the respondents? One wonders (sic)!” a bench of Justice Sanjeev Kumar said.
Disapproving of the government’s action, the court said that the government in the School Education Department is not a Private Limited Company, but a model employer which should and must always look after the welfare of its employees.
Understanding that the respondents forget that it was because of their action or in-action, the petitioners were allowed to apply and participate in the selection process, the court said: “Upon their selection, they were engaged as ReTs and permitted to perform their duties as such for more than 10 years. They may now have become overage or incapable of seeking employment elsewhere.”
The court said that while considering the case of the petitioners for regularisation and after finding that on the first day of the January of the year in which the advertisement notifications, under which the petitioners were selected and engaged as ReTs, were issued, the petitioners were, a few months or days short of attaining the minimum age of 18 years.
“They have very well now attained that age and, therefore, are eligible to be appointed directly to any service under the government,” the court said.
It pointed out that the government had “very conveniently forgotten that, intending to tackle such a situation and to mitigate the hardship of an individual employee or class of employees, Article 37 (of CSR Vol-1) itself gives the power of relaxation to the competent authority”.
“As it appears from the facts and circumstances of the case, that petitioners, at the time of submission of their application forms, had attained the age of 18 years, but on the first day of January of the year in which the advertisement notifications were issued, they were admittedly less than 18 years,” the court said. “It is because of this reason, their application forms were accepted and they were permitted to participate in the selection process by none other than the respondents.”
The court said that the petitioners were appointed as ReTs by none other than the government and, that too, after undergoing a proper selection process.
“They having worked as such for 10 years acquired the right of regularisation as general line teachers under the ReT scheme,” it said.
While the court directed the government to consider the cases of the petitioners and pass appropriate order of relaxation of minimum age in their favour and regularise their services under the scheme with effect from the date they had completed five years of satisfactory services as ReTs, it said: “The petitioners are also held entitled to all consequential benefits including the arrears of salary, and increments.”
The court said: “Let a decision in this regard be taken by the respondents within two months from the date a copy of this judgment is served upon them. Till a final decision in the matter is taken, the petitioners should be permitted to perform their duties as ReTs in their respective schools.”