The Supreme Court on Friday (May 12) stayed the promotion of 68 lower judicial officers in Gujarat, including Surat Chief Judicial Magistrate Harish Hasmukhbhai Varma who convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case.
Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar said as per the Gujarat State Judicial Service Rules 2005, amended in 2011, the 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 said.
Also read: Defamation case: Gujarat HC declines interim relief to Rahul; order post-summer
“We stay the implementation of the promotion list. Respective promotees are sent to their original posts which they were holding prior to their promotion,” the ruling said.
The top court passed an interim order staying the promotions and directed that the matter be heard by an appropriate Bench as Justice Shah is retiring on May 15.
The top court was hearing a plea of senior civil judge cadre officers, Ravikumar Maheta and Sachin Prataprai Mehta, challenging the selection of the 68 judicial officers to the higher cadre of district judges.
Also read: Defamation case: Gujarat HC judge hearing Rahul’s plea was Maya Kodnani’s lawyer
Varma, the chief judicial magistrate of Surat, was one of the 68 officers of the district lower judiciary whose promotion was also challenged by Maheta and Mehta.
Maheta and Mehta work as Under Secretary in the legal department of the Gujarat government and as assistant director at the state legal services authority.
The top court, which issued notices to the Gujarat government and the Registrar General of its High Court on April 13, was very critical of the decision and the order passed on April 18 to promote the 68 officers despite knowing the pendency of the case before it.
“It is very unfortunate that despite the fact that the respondents, more particularly, the state government, was aware of the present proceedings and the fact that in the present proceedings, this court made the notice returnable on April 28, 2023, the state government has issued the promotion order dated April 18, i.e. after the receipt of the notice issued by this court in the present proceedings,” the top court said.
(With agency inputs)