The Jammu & Kashmir High Court has initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against Department of Health and Medical Education and the Jammu & Kashmir Public Service Commission for non-compliance of the interim orders of the Court in a matter pending before it since 2006. The Jammu Bench of the Court on being apprised of the fact that parallel proceedings contrary to its orders had already been settled by the Srinagar Bench of the Court also imposed a fine of 1 lakh each on the departments for their casualness in not informing the Court of other identical proceedings.
Multiple petitions had been filed before the Jammu Bench of the Court in the year 2006 seeking quashing of a Government Notification dated 13 October, 2005 that mandated a prior work experience of three years for selection to the post of Deputy Medical Superintendent. The Court heard all these petitions together and in June, 2006 passed a combined order to the Government departments concerned to hold the declaration of final results to the post till the dispute was settled by the Court.
Post that, the parties stopped pursuing the matter and the last listing in the matter dates back to 2008. The Court in June 2020, as the matter was in its supplementary cause list, noted that selection to the post of Deputy Medical Superintendent, which is one of the most important job in any hospital had been vacated by its order of April, 2006 and even the Government departments had not pursued the matter thereafter.
On inquiring about the status of the matter, it was revealed to the Court that similar matters had been going on before the Srinagar bench of the Court, one of which had been disposed in October, 2019. The Court, on perusal of the orders of the Srinagar bench in the related matters, found that three out of eight selections to the post had taken place in 2007 against its order of stay and the same had been challenged before the Srinagar bench. The Srinagar bench was not apprised that matters challenging the same selection process were also pending before the Jammu Bench. The Srinagar bench in its final order had upheld the three selected posts and had ordered for the appointment of the petitioners retrospectively in the other posts with all the consequential benefits minus the monetary benefits.
Parallel proceedings and Contempt of Court
Justice Rajesh Bindal noted that there are numerous such cases involving important issues like admission to professional courses, construction of roads, colleges, community centers and other projects of development that are pending consideration of the Court since decades and in many of them, stay orders have been passed by the Court and yet Government departments and counsels have not apprised the Court of the requisite information to get them disposed. The Court noted that in Santosh Kumari v State of J&K and Others of June, 2020, detailed reasons have been recorded by the Court to take up the matters that have been pending since decades where the parties have stopped taking an interest in them.
With respect to the dispute at hand, the Court called out the Government departments and the counsels for their casualness in dealing with the matter. It ruled that
The Public Service Commission is a single authority which carries out the selection process. It cannot escape from its responsibility to apprise the Court as to whether there is any other matter, pertaining to same selection, pending before the other Bench. For this total casualness which has resulted in passing different contradictory orders, the J&K Public Service Commission as well as the Commission Secretary, Department of Health and Medical Education, are burdened with costs of Rs. 1 lakh each. The amount shall be deposited in the J&K State Legal Services Authority, within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of copy of the order.
The Court also noted that due to the resulting anomalies because of the conduct of the counsels, the Srinagar bench had to direct appointment of petitioners retrospectively. It stated that this may have resulted in direct appointments to a promotional post that required prior work experience which the petitioners might be lacking. It further stated that
The authorities should realize that on account of their lapse how much loss can be caused to the system.
It also noted that the attitude of the legal officers of the Government departments concerned in handling the matter primarily leads to the conclusion that they had connived with officers of other departments who had direct interest in delaying the process of appointment so that they can enjoy their status and other perks attached to the higher post.
The Court thus issued a notice to the Secretary, Department of Health and Medical Education and the Secretary, Jammu & Kashmir Public Service Commission to show cause as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for violation of the interim orders of the Court while registered a suo moto contempt petition against them. It stated that
Suo-moto contempt proceedings have been initiated in the case in hand for the reason that there is a dire need to inculcate the habit of complying with the Court orders in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which otherwise are taken too casually.
The matter has been listed on 26 August 2020 and the Secretaries of the concerned departments have also been directed to apprise the Court of the people who were at the helm of affairs when the Court's order was flouted so that they can be made a party to the contempt proceedings.
Law departments of the Government needs revamping
The Court also noted that there are many similar cases where there has been a total casualness on part of counsels to apprise the Court about similar matters pending in Court in different categories. The Court stated that
The final result in number of cases is contradictory and sometimes different orders are passed in cases involving identical issues, which results in shattering public faith and confidence in judicial system. Different departments of the Government especially the law department needs to revamp itself. There are chances of connivance of officers/officials in different departments, which results in this kind of situation.
It also stated noted the loss caused to many Government employees due to such conduct by officers in power as follows
There are hundreds of cases pending before the Benches of this Court, wherein orders of transfer have been stayed…some even relate back to the year 2010…as a result of the interim stay granted, those persons had been serving at the same place for decades. This also results in heart burning of other employees in the Department who may be transferred either prematurely or when it is due as per the transfer policy having completed their tenure.