[Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University] Ministry of Civil Aviation Has No Role in Disciplinary Action Against Employees: Allahabad HC

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Court quashed the order passed by the Ministry in April 2022 terminating the services of Registrar Jitendra Singh. Court held Singh entitled to back wages/salary for his entire original three-year term

In a recent significant judgment, the Allahabad High Court observed that the Ministry of Civil Aviation has no jurisdiction to deal with disciplinary actions against the officers, employees, etc. of the Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh.

The division bench of Chief Justice Arun Bhansali and Justice Jaspreet Singh said under no provisions, as contained in the Act or Statute of the University, the Department of Civil Aviation comes into the picture and the Visitor i.e. the President of India has no role to play in so far as the disciplinary action against the University's employees is concerned. 

Referring to Section 9(3) of the RGNAU Act, 2013, the bench held that the Visitor has only the right to cause an inspection and cause an inquiry to be made, which pertains to the administration or finances of the University and has nothing to do with an individual employee.

Court stressed that it is only the appointing authority in case of employees other than teachers and academic staff who has the power to remove on the grounds of misconduct.

The order was passed in the special appeal filed by the former first Registrar of the University Jitendra Singh. 

Singh was offered an appointment to the post of Registrar of the University by the Vice Chancellor of the University on March 1, 2019. The terms of the offer included that after successful completion of the period of probation i.e. three years from March 1, 2019, to February 28, 2022, he would be treated as a regular employee.

However, on January 8, 2020, the Ministry of Civil Aviation sacked Singh on several grounds including misconduct. The termination order was issued by the Under Secretary, Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Upon Singh's challenge to Ministry's decision, on September 17, 2022, a single-judge bench of the high court quashed Singh's termination order and directed the Ministry of Civil Aviation to restore Singh on the post of Registrar with all consequential service benefits on his appointment dated 1st March 2019.

Against this decision, the Union of India through the Ministry Of Civil Aviation filed an appeal. A division bench of the high court partly allowed the appeal on December 17, 2021. The division bench found Singh's termination illegal being ex-facie astigmatic and held that it needed to be revisited. Accordingly, the matter was remitted to the University to proceed in accordance with law and pass a fresh order within a period of two months from the date of the order. 

In pursuance of the same, Under Secretary, Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation ordered Singh's reinstatement but on the same day by another order, Singh was again suspended by the Ministry. 

Thereafter, on April 27, 2022, termination order against Singh was issued by the Deputy Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Challenging his termination, Singh again filed a writ petition before a single judge bench of the high court which dismissed it. Against this dismissal, the present special appeal was filed by Singh. 

The division bench led by Chief Justice noted that the entire sequence of the events revealed that while offer of appointment was accorded to Singh  by the Vice Chancellor of the University, the entire disciplinary action against him had been initiated and taken by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Court noted that the Union's stand was that the Ministry was dealing on behalf of the Visitor of the University who under Section 9 of the RGNAU Act, 2013 is the President of India.

Court referred to Section 10 of the Act and said that the Registrar is an officer of the University and under Clause 7 of RGNAU First Statute 2016, the Registrar is to be appointed by the Executive Council on the recommendation of Selection Committee constituted for the purpose.

Referring to provisions of Clause 28 of the Statute which pertains to 'Removal of employees of University', the Chief Justice led bench noted that it interalia provides that the appointing authority in case of employees other than teacher and academic staff shall have power to remove on the grounds of misconduct.

" It is apparent that at no stage, any of the actions were taken by the University/Vice Chancellor, the appointing authority of the appellant, as reflected from the offer of appointment. Each and every communication has been made by the Under Secretary, Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, with the approval of the Ministry/ Minister, which Ministry/Minister apparently had no role worth the name under the entire Act and the Statutes," the division bench highlighted in the case in hand. 

It, therefore, held, that "the entire action against the appellant was wholly without jurisdiction and the same, therefore, could not be sustained".

Accordingly, the division bench set aside the impugned orders and as a consequence, held Singh entitled to back wages/salary for the period January 8, 2020 till February 28, 2022 i.e. the original three years’ term of Singh's appointment. 

Case Title: Jitendra Singh v. Union Of India Thru.Secy. Ministry Of Civil Aviation, Govt. Of India, New Delhi And Others