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Supreme Court stays promotion of 68 judicial officers as District Judges in Gujarat; terms Gujarat HC recommendation as illegal

The promotion of 68 judicial officers as District Judges in the State of Gujarat,has been stayed by the Supreme Court on Friday after taking exception to the State Government notifying the promotions while promotion matter was a sub-judice issue before the Court.

A bench comprising of Justice MR Shah and Justice CT Ravikumar stayed the recommendation for the promotion of the judicial officers by the Gujarat High Court and the notification issued by the Government to implement the recommendation.

Justice MR Shah, while reading out the operative portion of the judgement,said that the state govt issued notification during pendency of plea and after this court issued notice…

The justice further said that the bench has put a stay on the High Court recommendation and the government notification.

It further ordered that the respective promotees should be sent to their original post which they were holding before promotion”,

The bench added that the present stay order would be applicable to those promotes whose names do not figure within first 68 candidates in merit list, the bench clarified in the order.

Justice Shah said that bench believes that promotions must be made on principle of merit-cum-seniority and on passing a suitability test. Recommendations by HC & subsequent government notification are illegal.

The judicial officers to be elevated include Chief Judicial Magistrate of Surat, Harish Hasmukhbhai Varma, who convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for criminal defamation and sentenced him to two years simple imprisonment in a defamation case of 2019.

The conviction led to Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha.

Earlier on April 28, the Apex Court had expressed its displeasure over the April 18 notification issued by the Gujarat High Court over transfer of judges on a sub-judice matter.

The notification transferred Varma as an additional district judge at the Rajkot district court.

Terming the decision as a move that ‘overreached’ the court’s process, the Apex Court sought an explanation from the Secretary of the state government on the ‘extraordinary’ urgency shown in granting promotion, subject to the ultimate outcome of the proceedings.

The Supreme Court expressed its dissatisfaction over the ‘haste and hurry’ in which the state government approved and passed the promotion order dated April 18, 2023, when this Court was seized of the matter and a detailed order was passed while issuing the notice.

The top court of the country further said that the selection was of the year 2022 and therefore, there was no extraordinary urgency in passing the promotion order.

The Bench further sought a reply from the High Court, specifically on whether the promotions to the post in question were to be given on the basis of seniority-cum-merit or merit-cum-seniority and to place on record the entire merit list.

The judicial officers had alleged that despite obtaining higher marks than many of the selected candidates, the High Court had appointed those with lower marks, thus not following go-by to the principle of merit-cum-seniority and instead, making appointments on the basis of seniority-cum-merit.

The petition mentioned the recruitment rules, which stated that the post of a district judge was to be filled in by keeping 65 per cent reservation on the basis of principle of merit-cum-seniority and passing a suitability test.

The Division Bench of Justice M.R. Shah and Justice C.T. Ravikumar had issued notice to the respondents, including the state government, the High Court and the 68 selected candidates.

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