New Delhi: A range of government documents reveal that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh may have signed off on irregularly and illegally extending the tenure of the current chairperson of the Staff Selection Commission (SSC).
The same chairperson, Ashim Khurana, was also the head of the commission during the “SSC scam”, which came to light last March, in which question papers were leaked before the exam was conducted. Close to two lakh aspirants appeared for the exam to fill about 9,000 vacancies. Those who are successful in this exam can get placed to Group C and Group B posts in various government ministries and subordinate offices. These are non-gazetted and non-technical posts.
The documents were obtained via RTI by Yuva Halla Bol, which is a nationwide network of students working on the issue of unemployment among the youth.
“While the whole country is concerned about unemployment in the country, it seems the prime minister is worried about the unemployment of Khurana,” said Yogendra Yadav, who presented some of these documents at a press conference in Delhi on Monday. Yadav is the national president of the political party Swaraj India.
“Rules were flouted to grant retired chairman Ashim Khurana an illegal service extension, in order to hide the SSC scam and protect the corrupt,” said Yuva Halla Bol in a press note.
Age of retirement changed from 62 to 65
At the press conference, various documents were made public which show that Khurana was due to retire on May 12, 2018, having reached the retirement age of 62.
But on May 14, 2018, the Appointments Committee of Cabinet issued an order that Khurana would have his term extended by a year, and stay on as SSC chairman. This was to have retrospective effect on Khurana’s tenure. Furthermore, the age for retirement for chairpersons was also changed from 62 to 65. A gazette notification for this was issued a few months later.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh are on this Appointments Committee.
Just a few months before this, following days of protests by SSC aspirants, Khurana finally agreed to a CBI investigation.
According to the SSC (Chairman and Members) Recruitment Rules, 1977, the chairman or a member of the SSC needs to give up her post after five years of holding it, or on attaining the age of 62, whichever comes first.
On May 8, 2018, the Department of Personnel and Training floated a proposal about enhancing the age of the chairman of the SSC from 62 to 65 years. They proposed to seek the approval of the prime minister for this.
By May 21, 2018, the DoPT got the prime minister’s approval. A handwritten note at the end of this document says that a provision may also be made in the recruitment rules for enhancing the age limit retrospectively for an extension “to the present incumbent”, Khurana.
Khurana’s extension would deny a “fair opportunity in matters of public employment”
Among the documents made public are notes from the DoPT, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the Ministry of Law and Justice. The latter two bodies objected to the appointments committee trying to retrospectively bring back Khurana from his retirement by extending his term and changing the age of retirement. The SSC comes under the DoPT.
The DOPT sent its proposal on the retrospective extension and the increase in retirement age to the Ministry of Law and Justice. The ministry replied four times to the DOPT, explaining why Khurana’s extension would be “irregular” and “unconstitutional”.
The law ministry said the government’s proposal here would be violative of Article 14, Article 16 and Article 39 of the constitution which pertain to equality, equal protection, non-discrimination and equal opportunity in matters of public employment.
The DoPT’s proposal would deny “equality of just and fair opportunity in matters of public employment”, said the law ministry in its reply.
“It is the irregularity which is being implanted in the rule and intends to perpetuate irregularity,” said the law ministry, finishing off its reply and expressing its disagreement to the DOPT’s proposal.
The Attorney General, K.K. Venugopal, was then sent this matter for his opinion. He replied that the extension to Khurana may not be bad in law. However, a handwritten note at the bottom of one document from the Union law ministry says that Venugopal said that his opinion was not for presenting before any tribunal or court and that “the case may be defended on its own merit”.
In June 2018, the UPSC wrote to DoPT on the issue as well. They said these retrospective extensions which the DoPT was wanting for Khurana are not approved by the commission “other than in pursuance of Court’s directions”. There have been no court orders in this case.
The Wire has sent questions to the office of Khurana and will update this article if there is a reply.