Press Trust of India

SC reserves verdict on plea related to promotion of judicial officers as additional district judges

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court reserved its verdict on a plea relating to the interpretation of the rules governing the appointment of senior civil judges as additional district and sessions judges under the promotional category.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra would interpret and decide the contours of Rule 5(1)(1), which provides for 65 per cent promotion of civil judges (senior division) to the rank of AD&SJ on the basis of merit-cum-seniority and also passing the suitability test.

The court was hearing a plea moved by senior civil judge-cadre officers Ravikumar Maheta and Sachin Prataprai Mehta of Gujarat, challenging the selection of 68 judicial officers to the higher cadre of district judges.

Earlier, the court had stayed the promotion of the 68 Gujarat lower judicial officers, including Surat Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Harish Hasmukhbhai Varma who had convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case.

The bench heard submissions from the lawyers representing the Gujarat High Court and others on various aspects, such as application of merit-cum-seniority or seniority-cum-merit in the promotion of in-service senior civil judges, the feeder cadre, to 65 per cent posts of AD&SJ in a particular state.

At one point in time, the bench suggested that instead of the three-judge bench, the case be heard by a Constitution bench of five judges as the verdict may affect the judicial services all over the country.

“What we will do is, since the matter is extremely urgent and you know this will affect the judicial service all over the country, I will add two more judges to our bench on Tuesday morning and we will consider it…,” the CJI said.

However, the bench proceeded with the matter and reserved the verdict after hearing a battery of lawyers, including senior advocates Dushyant Dave, P S Patwalia and V Giri.

“I would remind myself always that our mission is only interpreting the rules now,” the CJI said.

Earlier, the top court had asked the Gujarat High Court registry to provide details of the procedure adopted by it to shortlist the names of senior civil judges for appointment as AD&SJ under the promotional category.

According to the 2005 service rules, 65 per cent vacancies in the cadre of AD&SJ in the state were to be filled from the feeder cadre comprising civil judges (senior division) by applying the merit-cum-seniority selection criteria.

While staying the promotion of the 68 lower judicial officers, the top court had said their promotion was in violation of the Gujarat State Judicial Service Rules, 2005, amended in 2011, which state that promotions must be made on the principle of merit-cum-seniority and on passing a suitability test.

“We are more than satisfied that the impugned list issued by the high court and the subsequent order issued by the state government granting promotion to district judges are illegal and contrary to the decision of this court. The same are, therefore, not sustainable,” the bench had said.

“We stay the implementation of the promotion list. Respective promotees are sent to their original posts, which they were holding prior to their promotion,” it had said.

A bench headed by Justice M R Shah, since retired, had passed an interim order staying the promotions and referred the case to the CJI for setting up an appropriate bench.

The bench, which had issued notices to the state government and the registrar general of the Gujarat High Court on April 13 last year on the plea of the two judicial officers, was critical of the decision and order passed on April 18, 2023 to promote the 68 officers despite knowing about the pendency of the case before it.

The top court had also asked the high court registrar general to file a reply specifically on whether the promotions to the post in question are to be given on the basis of seniority-cum-merit or merit-cum-seniority and place on record the entire merit list.

Prior to this, the top court had, on April 13 last year, issued notices on the plea of the two judicial officers.

The petition said according to the recruitment rules, the posts of district judge are to be filled by keeping 65 per cent reservation based on the principle of merit-cum-seniority and passing a suitability test.

It said the merit-cum-seniority principle has been given a go-by and the appointments are being made on the basis of seniority-cum-merit.

The two judicial officers had secured 135.5 marks and 148.5 marks respectively out of 200.

Despite this, the candidates who had lower marks were appointed as district judges, they submitted.

On March 23 last year, the CJM, Surat sentenced Gandhi to two years in jail in a 2019 criminal defamation case over his “Modi surname” remark.

Press Trust of India

Press Trust of India is lead news agency of India

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