"It would be difficult to any Judge to adjudicate any case, if every unsuccessful party in such case, after the verdict is pronounced, imputes motives to the Judge who decided it."
A division bench of the Telangana High Court on Monday came down heavily upon a retired Judge of the Hyderabad High Court, presently the Chairman of the Telangana Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee (TAFRC), for imputing "unfounded aspersions" on its independence and impartiality, in connection to a case pending against the TAFRC.
The only division bench functional during the lockdown period, comprising of Justices MS Ramachandra Rao and K Lakshman, was hearing a petition filed against fee hike ranging between 118% and 554% for PG Medical Courses, in the State of Telangana.
The Chairman of TAFRC, a retired judge of the Hyderabad High Court, Justice P Swaroop Reddy, had however sought recusal of Justice Rao from the Bench, on the basis of alleged prejudice against the Chairman and against the State Government of Telangana
Censuring such "baseless allegations" against a sitting Judge of the High Court, the Bench recued itself from the case since on account of the antics of the Chairman of the TAFRC, the whole atmosphere got "vitiated".
"Since on account of the antics of the Chairman of the TAFRC the whole atmosphere has got vitiated, and since we do not wish to behave like him, while strongly denying each and every allegation leveled against one of us (MSRJ), we do not intend to take any action for contempt and we close all issues arising out of the Memo.
We accordingly decline to initiate any proceedings for contempt, and recuse from hearing the matter and release the matter. Registry is directed to place the tile before the Hon'ble Chief Justice for passing appropriate orders in the Main Writ Petition and in the IAs filed therein by the petitioners," the bench said.
The bench however refrained from initiating contempt proceedings against the Chairman for using "intemperate language" against a sitting Judge, while reposing its confidence in the people of the State and the lawyers, who are well aware of the Judges' credibility and conduct.
The issue of fee hike was placed before the division Bench on a reference made by a single-Judge Bench of the High Court and in view of the administrative order passed by the High Court Chief Justice, stating that the matter was to be treated as an "urgent one".
During the course of hearing, the bench had sought reasons for the recommendations for the increase in fee proposed by the TAFRC, which was resisted by the Committee by stating that the matter was not urgent.
While the bench decided to proceed with the hearing in light of the Administrative order passed by the Chief Justice, it was informed by the Registry the next day that they were in receipt of a Memo, sent by the Chairman, TAFRC, seeking recusal of Justice Rao.
It was alleged, inter alia, that Justice Rao had a history of setting aside the recommendations made by the Chairman on fee fixation for engineering courses, twice. Further, Justice Rao had initiated a contempt case against the Chairman.
Moreover it was alleged that Justice Rao met the Chairman at a dinner hosted by a retired High Court Judge, whereby Justice Rao disclosed his disliking towards the State and its people.
Though the bench has recused itself from the case, before parting, it clarified all the doubts raised by the Chariman and rejected the "scurrilous and defamatory" allegations made by him in toto.
Prejudice Against Chairman
On the aspect of Justice Rao having the history of passing orders against the state and the TAFRC, the Bench highlighted that the Chairman had "conveniently omitted" to mention that the said orders were subsequently upheld by benches of higher strength.
"The fact that the said Judgment was affirmed by the Division Bench is itself proof that the order of one of us (MSRJ) was not a motivated judgment against the Chairman or the TAFRC or the Government of Telangana," the court said.
The bench further stated that those judicial orders were passed by Justice Rao in discharge of his "constitutional duties" to decide disputes, in which process, "sometimes orders are required to be passed, both against in favour of parties to a lis."
Prejudice Against State of Telangana
Denying any such meet at the dinner party hosted by a former HC Judge, the bench observed that Justice Rao has no recollection of having any interaction with the Chairman at any such dinner and the same is a figment of the Chairman's imagination.
The court emphasized that Chairman's "selective memory" failed to mention several cases where the State of Telangana had succeeded before Justice Rao.
It was iterated that since inception of the Telangana High Court in January 2019 till May 1, 2020, Justice Rao has dismissed 86% of the Contempt cases filed against Movement Officials/ employees of the State of Telangana and others and allowed a mere l4% cases, that too, in cases where it was found that there was willful disobedience of the orders passed by the Court.
In this backdrop the bench stated that the allegation made in the Memo about passing of orders only against the State of Telangana is not correct.
"We are sure that the Chairman is aware that both of us, who are members of this Bench, are born, educated and brought up in the State of Telangana and have lived here for more than 50 years. Yet he imputes motives for impartial and independent adjudication of disputes by us.We have no reason to have any hostility or to show favoritism to any individual or State, or any party, for that matter," the bench added.
Contempt Proceedings against Chairman
The bench then clarified that the alleged contempt proceedings initiated against the Chairman by Justice Rao had been "closed" more than two years ago.
"He also referred to the Contempt Case initiated in connection with the above cases, but conveniently did not state that it was closed more than 2 years back," the order states.
In view of the above observations, the bench went on to remark,
"In our opinion, it is highly improper for the Chairman to refer to events and orders passed by one of, us (MSRJ) in the distant past in discharge of his constitutional dun, to decide disputes, in which process, sometimes orders are required to be passed, both against and also in favor of parties to a lis. It would be difficult to any Judge to adjudicate any case, if every unsuccessful party in such case, after the verdict is pronounced, imputes motives to the Judge who decided it."
The Chairman had also alleged that the issue of fee fixation for PG Medical courses raised in the writ Petition was not in the concerned bench's roster.
Refuting this argument the bench stated,
"This is based on a misapprehension of facts including the fact the Hon'ble Chief Justice has determined in his Lordship's administrative order that the matter is an "urgent case"."
The division bench clarified that when the Single Judge of the High Court did not wish to hear the matter and passed a judicial order to list the matter before Division Bench, and this Bench was the only available Division Bench, "there is neither any illegality nor any impropriety in this Bench taking up the matter."
In fact the bench went on to hold that the Chairperson, being a "quasi-judicial authority", cannot defend his decisions personally before the High Court by filing memos and act like a private litigant.
"A statutory authority like the Chairman cannot even challenge the adverse orders passed against him," the bench held.
Memo was a "Pre-determined" resistance to judicial proceedings
It is also noteworthy that the impugned memo, running into 5 pages, was sent to the High Court Registry within 4 minutes from the listing of the matter. Raising suspicion on this aspect, the bench observed,
"It is doubtful that between 10.30 am and 10.34 am on 15.5.2020, a mere 4 minutes, the memo running into 5 pages could be dictated, printed and got signed by the Chairman with reference to several past events. The above timings of the events on 15.5.2020 would show that even by 10.34 am, the Chairman had prepared this Memo and sent it to his Counsel and it shows that he did so with a pre-determined view to somehow pick up an issue with the Bench and avoid hearing of this matter by this Bench. It is obvious that the Memo was prepared long before 10.30 am on 15.5.2020 and was pressed into service conveniently to avoid furnishing the information sought by the Bench…"
Case Title: Dr. SPS Sharma & Ors. v. State of Telangana & Ors.
Case No.: WP No. 6799/2020
Quorum: Justice MS Ramachandra Rao and Justice K Lakshman
Appearance: Advocate Sama Sandeep Reddy (for Petitioners); Additional Advocate General and Advocate A Prabhakar Rao (for Respondents)
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