HC vacates order on continuation of services of disengaged Delhi Assembly Fellows

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday vacated its interim direction for continuation of services of professionals engaged as fellows with the Delhi Assembly Research Centre whose contracts were terminated by the assembly secretariat.

Justice Subramonium Prasad said, after the Supreme Court earlier declined to stay the letter of termination of July 5, propriety demanded that the high court ought not have passed the interim order.

“This court is inclined to vacate the stay granted by it in its Order dated 21.09.2023. However, it is always open for the Petitioner to approach the Apex Court to get appropriate clarifications,” the court said.

The court’s order came on an application by the Legislative Assembly Secretariat and other authorities seeking vacation of the interim order of stay passed on September 21 on the ground that the issue is pending before the apex court.

Justice Prasad noted that the July 5 letter was “specifically challenged” by the Delhi government before the Supreme Court as part of its petition against the Centre’s ordinance which took away the control over services from the city dispensation, and the petitioner’s contention that the high court can look into the issue since no order has been passed by the top court cannot be sustained.

“In the Order dated 20.07.2023 the Apex Court chose not to stay the letter dated 05.07.2023. The contention of the learned Counsel for the Petitioner that since the Apex Court has not passed any order in the I.A. No.13505/2023 (against the July letter), it is open for this Court to consider the same, cannot be sustained,” the court observed.

The court recorded it was specifically argued before the apex court that the lieutenant governor has terminated the contract of 437 consultants engaged with statutory bodies under the Delhi government or with the Delhi legislative assembly.

On September 21, the court had, on a petition by several terminated fellows, directed that their services with the Delhi Assembly Research Centre shall continue till December 6 and stipends will be paid to them.

The counsel for the petitioners had earlier contended that the services of the fellows, who were appointed after following due procedure, were terminated prematurely in an unceremonious, arbitrary and illegal manner in the aftermath of a letter issued by the services department on July 5.

“The Petitioners were engaged as “Fellows” / “Associate Fellows” and as “Associate Fellows (Media)” for the Delhi Assembly Research Centre which was constituted pursuant to a recommendation of the General Purposes Committee of the Assembly in February, 2019 to create a dedicated research centre and team for the members of the Legislative Assembly of the NCT of Delhi,” their plea said.

The petition said the July 5 letter directed that the engagement of the petitioners, for which prior approval of the lieutenant governor had not been sought, be discontinued and disbursement of salary to them stopped.

The letter was kept in abeyance and the assembly speaker “informed the Hon’ble LG that he had directed officers of the Secretariat not to take any action in the matter without his approval” but they were not paid their stipends, it added.

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“However, around the first week of August, 2023 they were prevented from marking their attendance by certain Departments. Thereafter, their engagement was discontinued vide the impugned order dated 09.08.2023,” the petition said.

The petitioners contended non-payment of their stipend and discontinuation of their services violated their fundamental rights and were a “colourable exercise of power”.

They said since they were engaged at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre, which functions under the aegis of the legislative assembly and the speaker, the interference by the services and the finance departments was in contravention of the doctrine of separation of powers.

They asserted their services cannot be terminated in the manner they have been, and the Delhi legislative assembly as well as the city government are bound by their promise of engaging the petitioners as per their terms of service.

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