DEHRADUN: There has been yet another 'recusal' from Magsaysay Award recipient Indian Forest Services officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi's petition by a member of the bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal, making it the seventh such instance since 2013.
The observations came while hearing alleging irregularities in the lateral entry of joint secretaries in the centre.
The member recused himself citing that his 'relative counsels' might have been appeared for respondents in the matter and he 'might' have appeared with them for those respondents.
The order by CAT bench comprising RN Singh and AK Bishnoi which was pronounced on March 11, 2021, stated, "One of us (Mr RN Singh, Members (J)) remembers that he has not been counsel for any of the parties in the matter(s) referred to above, however, from the orders under reference, it transpires that his relative counsels, practising from their chamber have counsel for some respondents in these matters and he might have appeared for them and/or with them. They may even not have come to the notice of the Hon'ble Chairman while constituting the present bench to hear the instant matter. Moreover, this bench has no vested in hearing a particular matter including the one in hand."
However, the member RN Singh has appeared for the respondents for at least four times according to the records of proceedings.
Legal experts have called this inappropriate. With Singh on March 11, 2021, recusing from hearing of the petition alleging irregularities in lateral entry of joint secretaries in the centre, a total of seven instances of recusals/relegation have occurred since the year 2013 with the officer.
Sudarshan Goel, senior advocate from the Supreme Court of India commenting on the issue said, "Excuse taken by concerned judge Mr RN Singh that his name was recorded in judicial orders, for appearing in cases against Sanjiv Chaturvedi just because he went in court with his relative counsels, is not appropriate. His appearence is recorded on atleast 4 occasions- 29.5.2015,3.5.2016,2.6.2016 and 3.6.2016 and even in final orders."
"Further judicial order dated 11.8.2015 even records that Another counsel Anmol Pandita appeared on his behalf which further contradicts his claims. Now this spree of bench hunting must stop and Nainital bench must be allowed to resume hearing without any further delay," added Goel.
Magsaysay Award recipient of year 2015 and 2002 batch IFS officer, at present Chaturvedi is posted as chief conservator of forests in research wing of Uttarakhand forest department in Haldwani city.
Justice L Narasimha Reddy, chairman of Central Administrative Tribunal in January 2021 directed to list the case.
In the year 2019 too as CAT chairman, Justice Reddy had opted for recusal remarking that the peculiar and unfortunate situation that has developed in this case warrants that it be left open to the petitioners in the four PTs to seek their remedies in any forum or court".
In December 2020, the Uttarakhand high court had issued notice to Justice L Narasimha Reddy, Chairman of Central Administrative Tribunal while hearing a petition of 2002 batch Indian Forest Services officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi.
The notice was issued by the division bench of acting chief justice Ravi Malimath and justice Alok Kumar Verma of the HC while hearing a petition stating that apart from openly being a litigant against the petitioner, the chairman had a long history of extreme personal bias against the officer as he repeatedly passed adverse orders against him without affording any opportunity of hearing.
Chaturvedi in his petition stated that the order dated December 4, 2020, which Reddy passed as the chairman of the CAT is in blatant violation of principles of natural justice – audi alteram partem.
The December 4 order by the CAT chairman directed the transfer of a petition to the principal bench of the CAT in Delhi which was filed by Chaturvedi pertaining to the empanelment of joint secretaries in the central government.
Four other recusal/relegation instances include the names of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice KM Joseph when he was Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court and Justice UU Lalit from the Supreme Court and ACJM court of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh citing 'personal reasons'.
In the year 2013, the then SC judge Justice Ranjan Gogoi reclused himself from the petition in which Chaturvedi requested a CBI inquiry alleging the involvement of the then Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda, state forest minister and senior officials and his harassment after he exposed corruption. Interestingly, Rohinton Fali Nariman who is a SC judge now appeared against Chaturvedi in the matter.
Later in year 2016 another Supreme Court judge Justice UU Lalit reclused himself from the same case of forestry scam in Haryana.
In 2018 while hearing a case of defamation filed by Vineet Chaudhary, the then chief secretary of Himachal Pradesh, judge of the Shimla ACJM court reclused himself from the case citing 'Personal Reasons'.
However, many legal experts say that there is a difference between 'Recusal' and 'Relegation'. A senior counsel and law practitioner in Uttarakhand who requested not to be identified pointed out Justice KM Joseph's order dated June 19, 2017, when he was Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, it is clear that he relegated the matter for CAT.
Countering this advocate Goel in the year 2017 also that the directions by the court were strange because cases of the same were heard by the same court and orders were passed too. Such instances/orders seem to be for advantage or disadvantage of of particular person and have malicious tones, he added.
Goel also pointed out that two cases are glaring examples of service matter being admitted- One is of, Ashok Gupta, IFS of 2003 batch who had filed two 'very strange' writ petitions in 2016 and 2017 for cancellation of his own promotion as conservator of forests.
He further added that usually, government employees approach the court for grant of promotion but this was a unique case in which an employee had approached the court for cancellation of his own promotion and HC bench headed by the then chief justice KM Joseph admitted and passed favorable orders in January 2017.
Another is that of 2007 batch IFS Sambandam who filed a writ petition in 2016 for preferred posting in territorial wing in plain areas and his petition was not only admitted by HC but also directions issued in October 2016.
Goel also said that after relegating Mr Chaturvedi's case to CAT in year 2017, Justice Joseph in year 2018 allowed a petition of Pankaj Kumar, another IFS officer requesting transfer cancellation.
"This is bizarre as if you look into both petitions, Chaturvedi is demanding a CBI inquiry among other requests while Kumar's is a service matter more suited for CAT," added Goel.