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'Legally Unsustainable': CAT Order Transfering IFS Officer's Case From U'khand To Delhi Set Aside By Uttarakhand High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
31 Oct 2021 8:37 AM GMT
Legally Unsustainable: CAT Order Transfering IFS Officers Case From Ukhand To Delhi Set Aside By Uttarakhand High Court
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The Uttarakhand High Court last week set aside an order passed by the principal bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) allowing the Centre's plea to transfer a petition of an IFS officer, Sanjiv Chaturvedi, from the regional bench in (Nainital) to its principal bench (Delhi). The Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma observed that...

The Uttarakhand High Court last week set aside an order passed by the principal bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) allowing the Centre's plea to transfer a petition of an IFS officer, Sanjiv Chaturvedi, from the regional bench in (Nainital) to its principal bench (Delhi). 

The Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma observed that the 'legally unsustainable order' of the CAT tends to create an impression that somehow the Principal Bench is the superior Bench to other Benches of the C.A.T., which are functioning throughout the country.

"Since all the Benches including the Principal Bench, are equal, such a misimpression be cannot be made in the mind of the litigant. For, the Principal Bench cannot be allowed to robe itself with a superior authority which was never given to it by the Act. After all, the Principal Bench cannot be permitted to be a usurper of the power," the Court further added.

The facts in brief

Sanjiv Chaturvedi, who is a 2002-batch IFS officer — and is currently posted as chief conservator of forests (CCF) in Haldwani, filed an original application in CAT Nainital bench last year challenging the scheme formulated by the Centre of hiring private professionals for the rank of joint-secretary on a contractual basis (lateral entry).

In his application, he alleged that the policy decision, prima facie, would adversely affect the rights of the persons who are in the All India Services and that the same was arbitrary, irrational and discriminatory against officers from All India Services.

However, the Central Government moved a transfer application before the Principal Bench, New Delhi seeking transfer of Chaturvedi's application to the principal bench. 

Significantly, the centre primarily argued that since the petitioner had challenged a policy decision, and since the policy decision had "nationwide repercussions", therefore, the O.A. deserves to be transferred to the Principal Bench, New Delhi

The centre's application was allowed in December 2020 and the matter was transferred to Delhi. Challenging this transfer, IFS Officer Chaturvedi moved to the High Court.

Submissions put forth

At the outset, challenging the transfer of his OA to the principal bench of CAT, the IFS Officer argued that if the Parliament were of the opinion that issues of "national importance" need to be decided only by the Principal Bench, a provision would have existed in the Administrative Tribunals Act.

He also argued that the impression was being created that issue of "national importance" can be decided only by the Principal Bench, and by none others and that such an interpretation of the Act was highly misplaced.

In response to this, Assistant Solicitor General (ASG), Rakesh Thapliyal argued that there was a distinct possibility that the same policy decision may be challenged before different Benches of C.A.T. throughout the country.

It was also argued that since the policy in question was framed in New Delhi, the names are invited for selection in New Delhi, the selection process begins and ends in New Delhi, therefore, only the Principal Bench at New Delhi had the territorial jurisdiction to hear the O.A. filed by the IFS Officer.

In his rejoinder, Chaturvedi submitted that the centre never pleaded before the Principal Bench that other Benches throughout the country or parts of the country are seized of the same issue. He also contended that since the impact of the policy decision deprives the petitioner's right in the State of Uttarakhand.

Therefore, he argued that a part of the cause of action very well arises in the State.

Lastly, he submitted that since he is appearing in person before C.A.T., he would have to travel and stay in Delhi. He would have to invest time, energy and money to fight his case and therefore, it would make access to justice, an expensive proposition for him.

Court's observations

At the outset, the Court, while rejecting the argument put forth by the Centre, noted that no evidence had been produced by the Centre to show that similar issues challenging the selection process, and the Policy of 2019, are under challenge before other Benches besides the Nainital Circuit Bench.

Further, the Court also rejected the primary argument of the Centre regarding 'national repercussions' of the scheme, by referring to the scheme of the Act which says that the benches across the Country exercise the same jurisdiction, power and authority as the Principal Bench at New Delhi.

In this backdrop, the Court stressed that there is no provision under the Act that bestows the sole power to hear the challenges to a policy decision only on the Principal Bench, and not on any other Bench of the C.A.T.

"Since the Parliament has treated all the Benches of the C.A.T. as alike, even cases of nationwide repercussion, or having a great impact on the functioning of the Central Government can, indeed, be decided by other Benches of C.A.T. Such issues need not be relegated to the Principal Bench," the Court further held.

On the issue of cause of action, the Court was of the opinion that the policy to hire the Joint Secretaries on a contractual basis, for three to five years, adversely affects the petitioner's right of consideration for the said post. Such a policy decision, prima facie, does affect the petitioner's right of consideration in the State of Uttarakhand.

Therefore, the Court held that a part of the cause of action does arise in the State of Uttarakhand.

Lastly, observing that the Tribunal had failed to consider the hardship caused to the petitioner if the O.A. were to be transferred from Nainital Circuit Bench to New Delhi as it is the petitioner (IFS Officer) who would be required to travel from Haldwani to New Delhi, the Court allowed the writ plea and set aside the order of the tribunal to transfer OA to Delhi.\

Case title - Sanjiv Chaturvedi v. Union of India & others

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