In a rather unprecedented development, the Uttarakhand High Court has issued a notice to the chairman of the Central Administrative Tribunal to showcause why contempt proceedings be not initiated against him for disobeying two of high court's order passed on petitions moved by whistleblower IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi.
Justice Sharad Kumar Sharma issued show cause notice to the CAT chairman on a contempt petition moved by Chaturvedi, presently posted as Conservator of Forest (Research) at Haldwani.
"Issue notice to the respondent…to show cause within four weeks from today as to why contempt proceedings may not be drawn against him and he may not be punished for wilful disobedience of the judgement and order dated 19.06.2017 and judgement and order dated 21.08.2018 under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971," ordered Justice Sharad Kumar Sharma on February 20.
Chaturvedi had moved the contempt petition through advocates Mehmood Pracha and Sandeep Tiwari wherein he spoke of the CAT chairman showing no regard for the orders of the high court and making adverse remarks against its findings.
June 19, 2017 order
After being commended for his outstanding performance, Chaturvedi was awarded a "Zero" in his Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) for the year 2015-16 during which time he was on central deputation as AIIMS CVO and had unearthed massive corruption at the premier medical institute.
Against this adverse report, Chaturvedi had moved the Uttarakhand High Court which passed an order on June 19, 2017, relegating the case to the CAT with liberty to Chaturvedi to approach the high court in case the tribunal finds any of the prayers outside its jurisdiction.
In compliance with this order of the high court, Chaturvedi approached the Nainital bench of CAT, which issued notices in July 2017 and granted him interim relief by stating that his poor APAR be not considered for any purposes during the pendency of the petition. After completion of pleadings, final arguments began and by July 2018, the matter was notified as part heard by the Nainital bench of the tribunal.
August 21, 2018 order
While the matter remained part-heard before the Nainital Bench, AIIMS filed a petition before the Chairman, CAT in December 2017 seeking transfer of this case from Nainital bench to Delhi.
Seven months after the transfer petition, in July 2018, AIIMS moved another application for stay on the proceedings before the Nainital bench.
On July 27, 2018, the CAT chairman, while sitting singly, stayed the proceedings before the division bench of CAT at Nainital, that too when Chaturvedi was away on mandatory foreign training.
The stay order was challenged by Chaturvedi before the Uttarakhand High Court.
On August 21, 2018, the high court quashed the stay order while noting that the same was in violation of its earlier order allowing petitioner to approach the tribunal. The high court also held that the CAT chairman could not have stayed the proceedings while sitting singly and imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on AIIMS/Centre while terming their attitude towards Chaturvedi "vindictive".
CAT chairman's September 7, 2018 order & Chaturvedi's contempt petition
Less than a month after the high court set aside the stay granted by the CAT chairman saying he could not have done so sitting singly, the transfer petition filed by AIIMS came up for hearing on September 7, 2018.
Taking note of the high court's August 21, 2018 order, the CAT chairman observed, "It appears that Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 was not brought to the notice of their Lordships. Section 25 confers exclusive powers on the Chairman of the Tribunal to transfer any pending case from one Bench to another, and the power to stay the further proceedings in such matters is incidental. The High Court proceeded as though the order passed by the Allahabad Bench of CAT in OA No.331/00790/2017 was stayed in the PT. Further, the question as to how a writ petition could have been filed before Uttarakhand High Court challenging the order passed by Principal Bench of this Tribunal was also not examined, obviously because, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who filed this, was neither issued notice nor was represented. The comments made in the order passed by the Uttarakhand High Court, in a way, are in the teeth of Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985".
The chairman also noted that Chaturvedi had himself invoked Section 25 by filing three transfer petitions before him seeking transfer of three matters to Nainital bench. He also said Chaturvedi's conduct was "totally reprehensible" and "he is grossly misusing the process of Court".
In the meanwhile, AIIMS challenged the August 21, 2018 order of the high court before the Supreme Court only to be slapped once again with a cost of Rs 25,000.
The Supreme Court also held that, "The Chairman, like the Chief Justice of the Higher Courts or the Chief Judge of subordinate courts, may be higher in order of protocol and may have additional administrative duties and responsibilities. However, the Chairman, acting judicially, is equal to any other Member. The Chairman, being one amongst equals, could not have stayed proceedings pending before a larger Bench".
Chaturvedi said in his contempt petition that when he brought the decision of the apex court to the notice of the chairman, he expressed his displeasure.
In this backdrop, Chaturvedi moved a petition for contempt proceedings against CAT chairman saying that he, "despite clear cut orders of this Hon'ble High Court, regarding main case to be heard at Nainital Bench, deliberately kept the said transfer petition (filed by AIIMS) pending" and used abusive language against the high court.