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CHANDIGARH

International shooter HCS appointment case: Haryana skips appeal after losing case in HC, issues appointment letter despite probe

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Haryana’s International rank shooter Vishwajeet Singh, whose sports gradation certificate was under the scanner after then principal secretary (sports) Ashok Khemka had flagged it, joined as Haryana Civil Services (Executive branch) officer, on March 10.

Singh had moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the state government. On January 21, the court had allowed his petition and directed the state government to issue him an appointment letter within four weeks.

The documents, accessed by The Indian Express, reveal how the state government not only lost the case in High Court, but did not even go in for an appeal as advised by its additional advocate general. It further reveals that while Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had HCS appointment case agreed with Chief Secretary Vijai Vardhan and legal opinion of Additional Advocate General Kuldeep Tiwari that a ‘Letters Patent Appeal’ be filed against the High Court’s January 21 order, days before the government was to file an appeal in the High Court, the CM told officers that “LPA not be filed at all”.

Sources told The Indian Express that a senior Cabinet colleague met the CM, after which directions were issued not to file an appeal in the case.

Advocate General B R Mahajan on Wednesday told The Indian Express, “It is the prerogative of the state government to take a decision. Although the legal opinion was not mine in this case, but had the case come to me, in my opinion, it was not a fit case for filing LPA.”

How it started

In 2019, Khemka had raised several issues saying that Vishwajeet Singh’s sports gradation certificate was wrongly awarded the ‘A’ category since the shooting tournament in which he scored a silver medal did not make him eligible under category ‘A’. On December 27, 2019, he had written to Haryana Public Service Commission on December 27, 2019, Singh’s appointment as HCS officer got stalled.

The state government had asked sports department to conduct a thorough probe into the issues raised by Khemka. The sports department did not look into the core issues raised by Khemka. Almost a year later on December 24, chief secretary wrote a detailed note recommending a vigilance probe in the matter. He also advised that the enquiry be entrusted to an officer of State Vigilance Bureau “not below the rank of ADGP/IG”. He added that till the outcome of the Vigilance Bureau’s report in the case, appointment of Vishwajeet Singh to HCS may be withheld. Khattar approved it, the same day. Haryana’s State Vigilance Bureau registered a “vigilance enquiry no. 10 on December 31, 2020 – Panchkula against Shri Jagdeep Singh and others”. Jagdeep Singh, was the director (sports), Haryana when the gradation certificate was issued to Vishwajeet Singh under category ‘A’, on June 12, 20218, that made him eligible for HCS (Executive Branch).

Simultaneously, Vishwajeet’s petition was going on in the High Court and the court had indicated that on January 27, 2021, the case shall be finally “considered/ decided irrespective of the fact whether the pleadings of the parties are complete or not and irrespective of the fact whether either of the counsels comes present to argue the case or not”.

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On January 14, the chief secretary wrote on the file pertaining to Vishwajeet’s case — “Considering the sensitivity of the case, it is proposed that we may request the Ld. Advocate General to appear and argue the case on behalf of the government on the next date of hearing i.e. on 27/01/2021”. Khattar approved chief secretary’s viewpoint, the next day. On January 16, chief secretary again flagged the issue and wrote: “Ld AG would kindly recall that I had spoken to him yesterday about this case. As desired by the CM vide his orders dated 15/1/2021, AG may kindly appear on behalf of the government in the next date of hearing i.e. on 27/01/2021.” AG “noted” the request of state government, but did not appear.

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Instead, the additional advocate general appeared in the High Court on January 27 and demanded a 15-day adjournment. However, the High Court granted two days. On January 27 again, chief secretary wrote that because AG was not able to appear due to surgery of his wife at PGI, he was requested to depute a senior/seasoned advocate to appear on government’s behalf. Eventually, state government lost the case on January 29 and the High Court also passed strictures against Ashok Khemka in the same order, but did not implead Khemka as a party to the case.

As the High Court had directed government to issue appointment letter to Vishwajeet Singh, the case was again sent to advocate general’s office for opinion on February 4. In his 8-page legal opinion submitted on February 7, Additional Advocate General Kuldeep Tiwari elaborated how High Court’s January 29 order was a “fit case for filing LPA by the State”. The case file was sent to Khattar for seeking his approval before filing the LPA. Khattar approved it on February 8.

The next day, the state government advised advocate general to file the LPA. Meanwhile, Vishwajeet submitted a request to the state government seeking his appointment letter on the basis of High Court’s January 21 order. However, on February 11, chief secretary wrote that the government may await outcome of the LPA that it was filing. “Till such time, we may not issue the appointment letter,” he wrote.

The same was “agreed” upon by Khattar.

The AG office prepared grounds of appeal/LPA and chief secretary sought permission from the chief minister on February 22 for filing the LPA since the last date of filing it was February 28. Khattar’s response came only on March 1, which was conveyed by his Chief Principal Secretary D S Dhesi: “CM has desired that ordered dated 29-1-21 of High Court may be implemented.”

On March 6, chief secretary again sought a clarification on whether the appointment orders of Vishwajeet Singh have to be issued subject to the filing of the LPA or “whether the LPA is not to be filed at all”. To which Khattar’s reply, conveyed by Dhesi was: “CM has desired that order dated 29-01-21 of High Court may be implemented. CM has further desired that LPA is not to be filed at all.”

Appointment as per rules: Khattar

Asked why he initially approved filing of LPA and withholding appointment of Vishwajeet Singh, Khattar told The Indian Express, “We have issued appointment letter to Vishwajeet Singh. Initially there were some issues, but we have made his appointment as per the rules. We discussed with the advocate general and then took this decision.”

Asked about a Cabinet colleague’s alleged intervention in the matter, the CM said, “Kisi ki sifarish, kisi ka virodh yeh alag baatein hain. Virodh karne vaale bhi bahut the, sifarish karne vale bhi bahut the. (Someone’s recommendation, someone’s opposition, these are different matters. Many recommended, many opposed) But, ultimately we had to take a decision.”

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