Supreme Court declares as illegal promotion of judicial officers as district judges in Gujarat

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The Supreme Court on Friday declared a Select List prepared by the Gujarat High Court on March 10, 2023 and the subsequent notification issued by the State Government on April 18, granting promotion to the cadre of District Judge to the judicial officers as illegal and contrary to the Rules and Regulations and to the decision of the top court in the case of All India Judges’ Association (2002).

A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar said, "We are more than prima facie satisfied that the same as such are not sustainable... the High Court has adopted the wrong method".

The court, however, 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 10.03.2023 issued by the High Court of Gujarat and the subsequent Notification dated 18.04.2023 issued by the State Government". 

The court explained respective promotees should be sent to their original posts which they were holding prior to their promotion.

"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. Meaning thereby, the promotion of those promotees, whose names otherwise do figure in the first 68 candidates in the Merit List shall be continued as even otherwise and even if the writ petition is allowed, in that case also, they will get the promotion on merits," the bench said.

The court directed for posting the writ petition filed by Ravikumar Dhansukhlal Maheta and another for further hearing before a bench led by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud subject to orders on administrative side.

The petitioners challenged the promotion of Senior Civil Judges to the Cadre of District Judge (65% quota) as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution as well as Rule 5 of the Gujarat State Judicial Service Rules, 2005.

In its order, the bench noted in the present case, conducting the written test, which is one of the components to assess the suitability, the High Court has considered the merits only for the purpose of achieving benchmark and thereafter has switched to the principle of seniority-cum-merit and thereby has given a go-by to the principle of merit-cum-seniority.

"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 benchmark of 50 percent," the bench said.

The court also rejected a contention that same rules were being followed since 2011, saying, "Merely because, a wrong method is being adopted 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 Ors".

It also did not agree to a contention by the promotees that this court should not entertain the writ petition, since this court was separately monitoring the process for recruitment to the post of district judges.

"What is being monitored is the process and not the methodology adopted for promotion to the post of District Judge," it said.

In the present case, the bench said, it is required to be noted that as per the merit list produced before the High Court, the candidates, who have secured much more marks are denied promotion and the candidates / Civil Judge (Senior Division), who are having less marks / leas meritorious are promoted. 

"In the present case, the petitioner No 1 secured 135.50 out of 200 marks and the petitioner No 2 secured 148.50 marks out of 200 against which a candidate having secured 101 marks have got the promotion, which is affecting the principle of “merit-cum-seniority” principle," the bench said.

The court also said the state government should have waited instead of issuing the notification as writ petition was pending before it.

Case Title: Ravikumar Dhansukhlal Maheta & Anr. vs. High Court of Gujarat and Ors.