Change in social policy after change in government part of democratic process, can’t be termed arbitrary: Bombay HC

A change in social policy, implementation of policies and programmes following a change in government is part of the democratic process and cannot be termed as arbitrary or malafide, the Bombay High Court has said.

A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale refused to quash a December 2022 order passed by the current state government under Eknath Shinde, cancelling the appointment of chairman and members of the Maharashtra State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The bench in its order on Tuesday dismissed the petition filed by Ramhari Dagadu Shinde, Jagannath Motiram Abhyankar and Kishor Medhe, challenging the cancellation order. Abhyankar was the commission’s chairman while the other two were its members.

They were appointed in 2021 for a term of three years.

The petitioners claimed every time there is a change in government, changes are made in the administration to accommodate supporters of the ruling dispensation and this is against the principles of natural justice.

The bench in its order noted the petitioners did not have any fundamental right to continue on the posts and hence the government order cancelling their appointment cannot be held “arbitrary or discriminatory”.

“A change in social policy followed by a change in government is part of the democratic process and a change in the implementation of policies and programmes per se cannot be charged as arbitrary or mala fide,” the HC said.

The bench noted the commission was neither statutory nor mandated by any provision of the Constitution and hence the appointment of the petitioners did not have any statutory basis.

The petitioners were nominated at the sole discretion of the government without following any selection procedure or inviting applications from the general public, it said.

“Such an appointment has to be treated as one under the pleasure of the government. In fact, the existence of the commission itself is at the pleasure of the government,” the HC said.

The very inception of the commission is by an executive order and can thus also be dismantled by an executive order, it said.

The high court said the nomination of the petitioners to the posts in question was also by an executive order of the government and it, too, can be cancelled by an executive order of the government.

“For this reason, the petitioners have no fundamental or legal right to the posts. Consequently, there is no requirement of any justification or of giving an opportunity of hearing to the petitioners for their removal,” the HC said.

“We have no hesitation in holding that the order cancelling the appointments of the petitioners to the posts of chairman/members of the commission cannot be said to be illegal, unlawful or otherwise vulnerable,” it added.

The petitioners in the plea said their appointment was cancelled after the current government with Eknath Shinde as the chief minister and Devendra Fadnavis as the deputy CM took over.

As per the petition, after Shinde and the new administration took over in June 2022, the government has cancelled appointments of as many as 197 presidents and non-official members appointed on 29 project level (planning review) committees in the tribal sub-plan projects.

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The petitioners complained that such an abrupt decision of cancellation of appointments was taken without affording an opportunity of hearing or assigning any reasons and was, therefore, in breach of the principles of natural justice.

The petitioners’ advocate, S B Talekar, argued that previous government decisions cannot be changed merely because they were taken by rival political parties in power before the current government took over.

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