'Ad-Hoc' Judges In Gujarat: SC Issues Notice On Plea Seeking Reckoning Of Seniority From Initial Date Of Appointment

A division bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and A. S. Bopanna has issued notice on a special leave petition, seeking reckoning of seniority of 'Ad-hoc' judges in Gujarat from the initial date of their appointment.

The judicial officers in Gujarat had earlier filed a writ before the Gujarat High Court for regularization and seniority of judges but the list of candidates for consideration prepared therein excluded the names of Judges who were appointed on an ad hoc basis. An interim application for inclusion of ad-hoc judges was moved but, it came to be rejected. The SLP thus impugns this interim order.

The Petitioners, Rahul Vishan Agarwal and others are regular judges in various courts in Gujarat who were initially appointed as ad-hoc judges. They were appointed as such in 2012 and 2013 on qualifying the common competitive exam held for appointment of both regular as well as ad-hoc judges. Later, their appointments were regularized on various dates.

They have contested that reckoning of their seniority from the date of their appointment as regular judges as opposed to regular judges, whose seniority is reckoned from the initial date of appointment.

Clause 7(7) of the Advertisement for Recruitment of Civil Judges which provides that upon eventual regular appointment, the period spent by candidates as ad-hoc judges shall not be counted towards seniority was also challenged.

The Petitioners, through Advocate on record, Pulkit Tare and Senior Counsel, P. S. Narasimha, contested discrimination faced by them as against regular judges in every aspect of seniority, pay fixation, etc. on the following grounds:

  1. That the Petitioners were denied various rights and benefits as compared to regular judges despite having undergone the same process of recruitment and same training, conducted by the same authority under the operation of same rules, i.e., Gujarat State Judicial Service Rules, 2005 and having discharged the same set of responsibilities over the years. Moreover, the performance assessment criterion was also identical for both the categories.
  2. That ad-hoc service counts for seniority in all those cases where initial appointment, though ad-hoc, is made by the 'same process' as is applicable to regular appointment.
  3. That appointment of the Petitioners was not made to meet any contingency or stopgap arrangement but rather, it was made against substantive vacancies and was perennial in nature.
  4. That as per the settled position of law, regularization of service of a person whose initial appointment is approved by an authority having power and jurisdiction to do so would always relate back to dates of their initial appointment and not the date of their confirmation.
  5. That the interim order overlook even in case of probation or officiating appointments which are followed by confirmation, the service rendered as a probationer cannot be ignored for the reckoning of length of continuous officiating service for determining the place of seniority.
  6. That the interim order was contrary to Rule 16A of Gujarat Civil Services Classification and Recruitment (General) Rules, 1967 read with Govt. Resolution dated 15.11.2002 as per which Petitioners' probation period of 2 years after regularization may be set-off against the period of ad-hoc service.
  7. That the interim order was contrary to Resolution issued by Finance Department of the State as per which period of service of a govt. employee in any post during the ad-hoc appointment shall be counted for earning the normal increment in the prescribed scale.
  8. That many juniors of the Petitioners who were appointed as regular judges subsequent to their appointment as ad-hoc judges have become senior to them due to the illegality perpetrated by the impugned interim order.
  9. That no state other than the State of Gujarat makes appointment of ad-hoc judges at entry level, and that too, with same recruitment process and same training.

The petitioners sought a direction to the respondent State and High Court of Gujarat to consider their case for promotion subject to final outcome of the main petition. The bench issued notice in the matter, returnable in three weeks.