The order dated December 4, 2020, of the Central Administrative Tribunal(CAT) was set aside by the Uttarakhand High Court. In the order the tribunal had transferred the hearing of Indian Forest Services (IFS) officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi’s petition from CAT’s Nainital Circuit Bench to the principal bench in Delhi. The HC ruled that reasoning contained in the impugned order is “legally unsustainable”.
A 2002 IFS batch officer, Sanjiv Chaturvedi is presently posted as the chief conservator of forests (CCF) in Haldwani Nainital. He filed a petition in CAT Nainital bench in February 2020 alleging that the recruitment of the joint secretary-level posts through contract system in the Union government for a period of three to five years, a policy decision taken in 2019, was arbitrary, irrational, and ridden with irregularities, which need to be investigated.
PETITION OF THE CENTRE
The Centre filed a transfer petition requesting the transfer of the case from CAT’s Nainital Bench to the principal bench in Delhi in October 2020.
DECISION OF THE CAT PRINCIPLE BENCH
On December 4, 2020, the CAT principal bench transferred Chaturvedi’s petition from Nainital Bench to the principal bench, Delhi. Following this, Chaturvedi filed a writ petition in the HC on December 16, 2020, challenging the transfer of his petition.
JUDGEMENT OF THE HIGH COURT
The bench comprising of Justice RS Chauhan and Justice NS Dhanik held that “the impugned order tends to create an impression that somehow the Principal Bench is the superior Bench to other Benches of the CAT, which are functioning throughout the country. Since all the Benches including the Principal Bench, are equal, such a misimpression cannot be made in the mind of the litigant. For, the Principal Bench cannot be allowed to robe itself with a superior authority which was never given to it by the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985. After all, the Principal Bench cannot be permitted to be a usurper of the power”.
OBSERVATION OF THE BENCH
The bench held that the CAT principal bench should have considered the convenience of both parties. The HC said the Centre has sufficient means for shifting the files from New Delhi to Nainital Bench, adding that files can be transferred even electronically.
They further stated that “A bare perusal of the impugned order clearly reveals that the Tribunal has failed to consider the hardship caused to the petitioner… on every date of hearing, it is the petitioner who would be required to travel from Haldwani to New Delhi. His travelling would not only entail financial expenditure but also require time and energy. It will also necessitate that the petitioner should take leave from his work, thereby, preventing him from discharging his official duties. Travelling from Haldwani to New Delhi would also adversely affect his physical health, and psychological makeup… Thus, the balance of convenience is in favour of the petitioner”.
CAUSE OF ACTION IN UTTARAKHAND
The Court stated that since the policy to hire the Joint Secretaries on a contractual basis, for three to five years, adversely affects the petitioner’s right of consideration for the said post. Such a policy decision, prima facie, does affect the petitioner’s right of consideration in the state of Uttarakhand. Therefore, a part of the cause of action does arise in the State of Uttarakhand.