Landmark Supreme Court Ruling on Mandatory Retirement under Rule 56(j) – Civil Appeal No. 6161 of 2022
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6161 OF 2022
CAPTAIN PRAMOD KUMAR BAJAJ
UNION OF INDIA AND ANOTHER
J U D G M E N T
HIMA KOHLI. J.
- The appellant is aggrieved by the judgment dated 31st May, 2022 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad, Lucknow Bench upholding the order dated 9th December, 2020 passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal, Principal Bench, that had turned down the challenge laid by him to an order dated 27th September, 2019, passed by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Government of India communicating the decision of the President of India to compulsorily retire him, in exercise of powers conferred under Rule 56(j) of the Fundamental Rules.
FACTS OF THE CASE
- The present case has a chequered history with multiple rounds of litigations spewed between the appellant and the respondents. To have an overview of the matter, we may briefly refer to some facts relevant for deciding the present Appeal. The appellant was a Permanent Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army, inducted in the year 1980. Due to a physical disability suffered by him in the course of Army operations, he was demobilized and released from service. In the year 1989, the appellant qualified the Civil Services Examination. He was appointed as an Officer and allocated to the 1990 Batch in the Indian Revenue Service. In due course of his service, the appellant was promoted to higher posts and on 12th January, 2012, he was promoted to the rank of Commissioner, in the Department of Income Tax. On 7th July, 2014, the appellant was selected and empanelled for appointment as a Member of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal by the Selection Committee headed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the then Chief Justice of India. On 15th July, 2015, the respondents forwarded the name of the appellant to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet along with his vigilance clearance for appointment as Member (Accountant), ITAT. In the year 2016, the appellant was empanelled by the ACC for appointment as Joint Secretary to the Government of India. From the year 2017 onwards, started a saga of litigations between the appellant and the respondents, as a result whereof, his appointment as a Member of the ITAT, did not mature.
- The first hurdle he faced was an adverse Intelligence Bureau report. This made the appellant approach the Tribunal for relief. Vide judgment dated 10th February, 2017, the Tribunal disposed of the Original Application filed by the appellant with a direction issued to the respondents to resubmit his adverse IB Report to the Selection Committee for it to take a final view on his appointment to the subject post. The said judgment passed by the Tribunal was assailed by the respondents in a writ petition before the High Court, which came to be dismissed on 30th May, 2017, with further directions issued to make the entire process of reconsideration of the appellant’s candidature by the Selection Committee, timebound. The Petition for Special Leave to Appeal preferred by the respondent – Union of India against the order dated 30th May, 2017 passed by the High Court, was also dismissed by this Court on 15th November, 2017.
- On 29th November, 2017, a vigilance inspection was carried out in the office of the appellant. Based on the said vigilance inspection, the respondents issued a show cause notice to him on 31st January, 2018. Ten days before that, on 21st January, 2018, the vigilance clearance earlier granted in favour of the appellant, was withheld by the respondents. Both the aforesaid orders were assailed by the appellant by filing separate Original Applications before the Tribunal. Initially, an interim order was passed by the Tribunal observing that the show cause notice issued by the respondents would not impede the appellant’s consideration for appointment to the post of Member, ITAT. On 4th May 2018, another interim order was passed by the Tribunal, observing that withholding of the vigilance clearance of the appellant will not come in his way for appointment to the subject post. In the interregnum, on 11th April, 2018, the appellant was placed in the “Agreed List”, which is a list of Gazetted Officers of suspect integrity prepared by the Department. Pertinently, a second Petition for Special Leave to Appeal filed by the respondents against the interim relief granted by the Tribunal in favour of the appellant and duly confirmed by the High Court in WP (C) No. 22179-22187 of 2018 on 06.08.2018, was dismissed by this Court on 29.03.2019.
- Aggrieved by the aforesaid action taken by the respondents of placing his name in the Suspect List, the appellant approached the Tribunal for a third time and in the said proceedings, an interim order was granted in his favour. Finally, vide common judgment dated 5th March, 2019, the Tribunal allowed two Original Applications filed by the appellant [O.A. No.137 of 2018 and O.A. No.279 of 2018], quashing inclusion of his name in the “Agreed List” and the consequential proceedings as also the decision taken by the respondents to deny him vigilance clearance. The Tribunal also directed the respondents to forward the name of the appellant to the appropriate Authority for selection/appointment to the post of Member, ITAT. However, the respondents did not comply with the said order and filed a writ petition before the High Court. Admittedly, no interim order was passed by the High Court staying the operation of the judgment dated 06th March, 2019, passed by the Tribunal.
- Aggrieved by the non-compliance of the order dated 30th May, 2017, passed by the High Court in his favour, the appellant filed a contempt petition before the High Court. Vide order dated 13th August, 2019, the High Court permitted impleadment of the then Chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes 6 in the contempt petition and issued him a notice to show cause as to why he should not be punished for wilful disobedience of the order dated 30th May, 2017, passed in the writ proceedings.