NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has referred to a larger bench the legal issue of territorial jurisdiction of high courts to decide a challenge to an order of the chairperson of the Central Administrative Tribunal’s (CAT) Principal Bench in the national capital.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna said the issue affects a large number of government employees and is of public importance.
“We think it appropriate that the matter involving the issue of territorial jurisdiction of the concerned High Court to decide a challenge to an order passed by the Chairman, CAT, Principal Bench, New Delhi should be considered by a Larger Bench.
“Let the registry place the matter before the Chief Justice of India for appropriate orders at the earliest so that the aforesaid issue is resolved at the earliest,” the bench said.
The matter came for consideration when the court was hearing a plea filed by the Centre against a decision of the Uttarakhand High Court.
The high court had set aside an order of the Chairman, CAT, Principal Bench by which the latter had transferred the original application filed by Indian Forest Service officer Sanjeev Chaturvedi from the Allahabad Bench (Nainital Circuit Bench) to the Principal Bench, New Delhi.
The development comes following a legal and administrative battle between the central government and Chaturvedi over adverse entries made in his appraisal report of 2015-16 by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, where he worked as Chief Vigilance Officer between 2012 and 2016.
Chaturvedi had in June 2017 moved the high court seeking quashing of the appraisal report in which adverse entries were made.
On June 19, 2017, the Uttarakhand High Court relegated the case of downgrading of Chaturvedi’s appraisal report for 2015-16 to Nainital bench of CAT, which began hearing in the matter in July that year.
However, in December 2017, the central government moved a petition before the CAT chairman for transfer of the case from the Nainital bench to Delhi bench for “reasons best known to them”, according to Chaturvedi’s petition.
In July 2018, the CAT chairman, in an interim order, stayed the proceedings of the division bench of CAT, Nainital.
Chaturvedi challenged this order of the CAT in the Uttarakhand High Court.
Chaturvedi, who contested the case before the high court, moved the same court again seeking quashing of the order of the CAT chairman for transfer of the case and directions to the Nainital bench of the tribunal.
The court had, in its August 2018 order, slammed the chairman of the CAT for passing a “strange order” and directed that the matter will be decided by the Nainital bench of the tribunal within six months.
Continuing the hearing, the CAT chairman in its September 7, 2018 order made certain adverse observations against the Uttarakhand High Court and fixed the matter for further hearing on October 5, 2018.
“It appears that Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 was not brought into the notice of their lordships. Section 25 confers exclusive powers on the chairman of the tribunal to transfer any pending case from one bench to another, and the power to stay the further proceedings in such matters is incidental,” the CAT chairman said in its order.
Meanwhile, the AIIMS, with the support of central government, challenged the high court’s order before the Supreme Court.
On February 1, 2019, the apex court upheld the order of the Uttarakhand High Court and imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on AIIMS.
When copy of this order of the Supreme Court was produced before the CAT chairman for compliance, he issued contempt notice to Mehmood Pracha, Chaturvedi’s counsel, after which the officer moved contempt petitions before the Uttarakhand High Court. (PTI)