12 May 2023 5:41 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the promotion of judicial officers as District Judges in the State of Gujarat, after taking exception to the State Government notifying the promotions while the legality of the promotions was a sub-judice issue before the Court.A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar stayed the recommendation made by the Gujarat High Court for the promotion of the...
The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the promotion of judicial officers as District Judges in the State of Gujarat, after taking exception to the State Government notifying the promotions while the legality of the promotions was a sub-judice issue before the Court.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar stayed the recommendation made by the Gujarat High Court for the promotion of the judicial officers and the consequent notification issued by the Government to implement the recommendation.
"State govt issued notification during the pendency of plea and after this court issued notice...We stay the High Court recommendation and the government notification. Respective promotees are sent to their original post which they were holding before promotion", Justice MR Shah read out the operative portion of the judgment. The present stay order would be applicable to those promotes whose names do not figure within the first 68 candidates in the merit list, the bench clarified in the order.
"Promotions must be made on the principle of merit-cum-seniority and on passing a suitability test. Recommendations by HC & subsequent government notification are illegal", Justice Shah read out.
The bench has not finally disposed of the petition and has only passed an interim order staying the promotions. The bench directed that the matter be heard by an appropriate bench on assignment by the CJI, as Justice Shah is retiring on May 15.
In conversation with Live Law, the counsel for the petitioners, Purvish Jitendra Malkan, explained the effect of the judgement. He said, “By our calculation, 28 of the judicial officers who have been promoted will stay on. The remaining 40 will have to go back to the posts they held before March. This is on the basis of the merit list based on the written examination. Only those who are among the top 68 of that list and has been promoted by the government on the seniority-cum-merit- basis, are the only ones whose promotions will not be affected.”
The plea before the apex court sought to challenge the recommendations made by the Gujarat government for the promotion of district judges in the state. According to the petitioners – both unsuccessful candidates – the appointments had been made by a March notification on the basis of the seniority-cum-merit principle, in contravention to the recruitment rules, which specified that district judge posts would be filled up by reserving 65 per cent of seats on merit-cum-seniority basis and on the candidates passing a suitability test.
Last month, on the strength of the petitioners’ contentions, the apex court issued notice to the Gujarat High Court as well as the state government. Interestingly, before the bench issued notice, the high court had recommended the promotion of the concerned district judges, and the file was pending before the Gujarat government at the time notice was issued. However, less than a week after this, the state government notified the promotions of the judges recommended by the high court.
In response to this, the Supreme Court expressed its stern disapproval of what Justice Shah described as an ‘overreach’ by the executive, taking strong exception to the promotions granted to district judges in Gujarat in March, during the pendency of the plea challenging the names recommended by the high court.“We are prima facie of the opinion that it is nothing but overreaching the court’s process and the present proceedings,” the bench observed. It had pronounced on April 28 as follows:
“It is very unfortunate that despite the fact that the respondents/State Government were aware of the present proceedings, the state government has issued the promotion order after the receipt of the notice issued by this court in the proceedings. In the promotion order even the state government had stated that the promotions are subject to the ultimate outcome of these proceedings. We do not appreciate the haste and hurry in which the State has approved and passed the promotion order when this court was seized with the matter and a detailed order was passed issuing notice. It is to be noted that the selection was of the year 2022, therefore there was no extraordinary urgency in passing the promotion order.”
The division bench also summoned the state secretary to court on the next date of hearing to offer an explanation in person, indicating that if it was not satisfied with the said explanation, the government’s notification would be suspended.
Earlier this month, in the presence of the government officers in court, Justice Shah questioned the counsel for the state of Gujarat, demanding an explanation for its decision to notify the promotions when the Supreme Court was seized of the matter. Once again, the judge chastised the government for trying to ‘overreach’ the court’s process. Justice Shah exclaimed:
“What was the extraordinary hurry that the state government could not wait ten days before notifying the promotions? Is your secretary above the law? This is nothing but an attempt to overreach this court and the present proceedings. We are taking this matter very seriously. We can finish anyone’s career. Never try to overreach the Supreme Court’s process.”
[Editor's Note: The initial version of the report mentioned that Harish Hasmukh Bhai Varma, the judge who passed the conviction order against Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case, is among the 68 judges whose promotions would be affected. However, this statement was later deleted from the report, since the effect of this judgement on his promotion, in particular, could not be conclusively ascertained, as the final merit list is not yet publicly available. We regret the confusion caused].
Ravikumar Dhansukhlal Maheta & Anr. v. High Court of Gujarat & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 432 of 2023
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 426
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment