'Illegal': SC stays promotion of 68 judicial officers, including judge who convicted Rahul (Ld)
The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the promotion of Gujarat judge Harish Hasmukhbhai Verma, who had convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case, along with 67 other judicial officers.
A bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and C.T. Ravikumar said: "We are more than satisfied that the impugned select list dated March 10, 2023 issued by the high court and the subsequent notification dated April 18, 2023 issued by the state government granting promotion to the cadre of district judge are illegal and contrary to the relevant rules and regulations, and even to the decision of this court in the case of 'All India Judges' Association and Others'... Therefore, we are more than prima facie satisfied that the same as such are not sustainable."
The bench said that taking into consideration the fact that the state government had issued a notification on April 18, during the pendency of the present writ petition and after the receipt of the notice issued by this court in the present proceedings, the state government could have waited till the next date of hearing by this court on April 28.
The bench said: "The respective promotees be sent to their original posts which they were holding prior to their promotion vide the select list dated 10.03.2023 and notification dated 18.04.2023. However, it is clarified that the present stay order shall be confined with respect to those promotees whose names do not figure within the first 68 candidates in the merit list on the basis of the merits, the copy of which is produced by the high court along with the counter."
The top court said the high court has adopted the wrong method and "merely because a wrong method is being adopted, it cannot be a ground to perpetuate the same, if it is found to be illegal and/or contrary to the directions issued by this court, more particularly, in the case of All India Judges' Association and Others".
The bench said at present, the respective promotees have not assumed their posting on the promotional post and as such are sent for training.
"We stay the further implementation and operation of the select list dated March 10 issued by the High Court of Gujarat and the subsequent notification dated April 18, issued by the state government," it said.
The bench passed the interim order staying the promotions, and said that the matter be heard by an appropriate bench since Justice Shah is scheduled to retire on May 15.
The top court order came on a plea filed by senior civil judge cadre officers, Ravikumar Maheta and Sachin Pratapraya Mehta, challenging the selection of 68 judicial officers to the higher cadre of district judges. The bench directed the matter to be placed before a bench led by Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, subject to orders on the administrative side.
The top court observed that in the present case, in conducting the written test, the high court has considered the merits only for the purpose of achieving benchmark and thereafter switched to the principle of seniority-cum-merit and thereby has given a go-by to the principle of merit-cum-seniority.
The bench said, "We do not find anything in the Recruitment Rules, 2005 and/or even the Recruitment Notice to consider the merit only for the purpose of achieving a benchmark of 50 per cent."
The petitioners had challenged the promotion of senior civil judges to the cadre of district judge (65 per cent quota) as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution as well as Rule 5 of the Gujarat State Judicial Service Rules, 2005.
Verma, the CJM of Surat, is presently working as under secretary in the legal department of the Gujarat government and as the assistant director in the state legal services authority.
The top court had issued notices to the state government and the Registrar General of the Gujarat High Court on April 13 on the plea of the two judicial officers.
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