ONGC Officers Took Arbitrary Decision At The Behest Of The Unions: Gujarat HC Directs Ministry Of Petroleum To Take Action

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“Higher Management of the ONGC has acted irresponsibly and with an intent to mislead this Court”

The Bench of Justice Nikhil Kariel of Gujarat High Court, while hearing a writ petition challenging the decision of cancelling the recruitment process by the ONGC has held that the said decision of the ONGC was absolutely arbitrary and the reasons for canceling were neither appropriate nor bona-fide.

The petitioners had applied for the post of Pharmacists Grade-IV, (Allopathy) Nurse Grade-IV and Junior Health Attendant in an advertisement issued by the ONGC. The selection process for subject posts in question had continued in right earnest up to the stage of document verification. However, thereafter since the recruitment process for the subject post was not concluded, upon inquiry, it was intimated that the process was pending due to administrative reasons and thereafter the ONGC- the respondent Corporation had issued an order of cancellation of recruitment for the subject posts in question. The petitioners therefore had challenged the said decision of the ONGC of cancellation of recruitment as the said being arbitrary inasmuch as after having advertised vacancies for the posts in question and having conducted the recruitment process till the stage of document verification, the respondents were not justified in canceling the recruitment for the posts in question.

The respondent Corporation-ONGC defended its stand by stating that it is a very settled position that even a candidate whose name figures in the select list would not be entitled to claim for appointment as a matter of right.

while initially a decision had been taken for recruiting persons to the posts in question, thereafter i.e. after the onset of the pandemic, since the prices of crude oil had substantially dropped, therefore, a decision had been taken at the highest level to review non-core activities, as a result of which, the posts of paramedics which were not co-relatable to the core activities of the corporation had been decided to be cancelled.”

To the said submission by the counsel for the respondent corporation, the counsel for the petitioners rebutted the said contention as under:

while the ONGC is trying to portray the posts of paramedics as non-core activities, yet, there is no justification for the same since it appears that the ONGC has got a very large workforce and the recruitment of paramedics is to cater to such workforce and whereas since the posts are in fact being occupied by persons on contractual basis, the ONGC could not be heard to justify the non-selection on the basis of review of non-core activitiesthere cannot be any quarrel with regard to the legal position that a candidate even if his name figures in the select list does not get a writ for appointment, yet, it is equally clear from the law laid down that the State Instrumentalities could not be seem to be acting arbitrarily in matters of public employment.”

After hearing the arguments from both the sides and placing reliance on Shankarsan Dash vs. Union of India reported in (1991) 3 SCC 47 and decision in case of State of Manipur vs. Takhelmayum Kheledro Meitei and others reported in (2019) 3 SCC 331, the Court observed that recognizing that the candidate would not get an indefeasible right for appointment based upon selection, however, the State cannot act in an arbitrary manner and that the decision has to be taken bona fidely.

while the State could legitimately deny appointment to a selected candidate, who does not acquire any right on the basis of such selection. Yet, on the other hand, decision of the State should be bona fide and based on appropriate reasons and whereas, if the decision is arbitrary and malafide for reasons which are not appropriate then, it would be open for the writ Court to issue appropriate directions in a challenge to the non-appointment

Further, the court while examining the facts of the case, observed that the decision to keep the cancel recruitment process for posts in question was taken by the ONGC to ensure that contractual appointees for the paramedics post are not disturbed as if the recruitment process for paramedics had reached its logical conclusion, the said contractual paramedics would be required to make way.

“it was not open for the respondents to first keep the selection process in abeyance and thereafter cancel the entire process under request, possibly pressure by the Recognized Unions.”

Considering the decision and stand of the senior management of the ONGC, the court observed:

“What is more shocking and intolerable is the stand of the senior management of the respondent. While in the first place the respondents had taken an arbitrary decision to withhold the selection process on account of representations by the Recognized Unions, at a stage when the respondents realized that the matter had reached this Court, instead of making amends, to ensure that the arbitrary and illegal decision of the respondent is reversed, the senior management resorts to camouflage the decision by relying upon high sounding technical words…. it is reiterated that the unfortunate part being that the cover-up was by the senior management and whereas, it appears that even the Director (HR) was also a party to the decision making process which was essentially a cover up to justify their arbitrary decision before this Court”.

Having observed the above, the court quashed and set-aside the decision of the ONGC to cancel the recruitment process for the paramedics and directed to forthwith continue with the selection process from the stage it had been kept in abeyance and the petitioners, if found eligible, shall be granted appointment and the respondents shall pay to such petitioners salary with effect from the date of filing of the petitions.

Further, the court also directed the Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum for initiating action against the concerned officers for having indulged in taking such a decision at the behest of the Unions.

Case Details: Dipendrasingh Ashoksingh Thakur vs. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (Special Civil Application No. 3532 of 2022)

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