The regular bench of justice Mahesh Grover, hearing the case of Punjab Police Service (PPS) officers’ promotions to the Indian Police Service (IPS) cadre, has passed strictures against justice Kuldeep Singh, who heard the case while presiding over a vacation bench in December last year.
Justice Kuldeep Singh had restrained the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) from notifying the list on an application of promotee PPS officers for the same on December 29, 2014.
In his order, justice Kuldeep Singh, while staying the promotion process, had observed, “It is unfortunate that the seniority dispute is lingering on for the past more than one year. However, keeping in view the fact that the seniority list is under challenge and if the promotions to the IPS cadre are made on the basis of the disputed seniority list, then the claim of the petitioners qua those respondents who are selected to IPS shall become infructuous. In this process one day, the entire petition will become infructuous.”
Justice Grover vacated the stay on January 19 on the petition of directly-recruited officers, observing that not only the remarks made by the vacation bench were ‘uncharitable’ but also restraint orders were passed by the bench without issuing a notice to the other side. The order of vacation of stay was provided on Friday.
Justice Grover, in his order of vacation of stay, has recorded that the vacation bench of justice Kuldeep Singh failed to notice that a similar application was moved prior to the vacations -- a fact which ordinarily stood to be revealed if a notice had been issued to the other side.
“The observations... are taken by this court as a self-chastening attempt prompting introspection in the manner expected of it. Nobody can have any quarrel with such an observation if they could withstand a reality check. But if comments are made out of context and without any supportive material, then this court would say that it is unfortunate to make remarks which can be termed to be uncharitable, to say the least,” says the order passed by justice Grover.
Justice Grover further stated that what was more unfortunate than the long pendency of the petitions was that a restraint order was passed without issuing a notice to the other side when the matter had been pending and debated for some time. “... the earlier two orders passed by this court were on record. A cursory glance on the orders would have shown that this court had specifically negated the prayer for a restraint by observing that this was not in the interest of the administration and governance and the people at large,” justice Grover has observed in his January 19 order.
Dispute between officers
The case of dispute over seniority between directly-recruited officers and promotee officers is before the HC for around two years now. The promotee officers have challenged it, claiming that direct recruits who joined services after them have been shown senior to them on the list. In 2013, the Punjab government forwarded the names of 15 officers for empanelment as IPS officers to the UPSC, of which five are to be promoted. However, promotee officers have been challenging it, stating that the names be notified only after the seniority row is settled.
Justice Grover has observed that repeated attempts had been made by the petitioners (promotee officers) to seek restraint orders during the entire proceedings of the case.
An application for stay was filed in connected cases in 2014, which was declined by the division bench, against which a SLP (special leave petition) was filed in the Supreme Court. But the SC also did not interfere. A week after the SC order, one of the promotee officers had in June 2014 filed an application during the summer vacation, and the stay was ordered. Later, when the case came before the regular bench, it not only vacated the stay but also directed the UPSC to conclude the process within four periods. This order remain unchallenged.
The hearing in the main case continued, but in December 12, 2014, a meeting of the UPSC to select the officers prompted the officers to again move an application for stay.
Justice Grover has recorded that on December 16, the application was heard and the hearing adjourned for December 23. But the matter was again adjourned for January 27, 2015. However, the same application was again taken up on the intervention of the acting chief justice on December 24 on the last day before the courts closed for the winter vacation. But the petitioners were told about the constraints of granting the stay. Following the December 24 hearing, the promotee officers moved an application before the vacation bench for staying the empanelment process.
December 10, 2014: Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini writes to the state government, saying that the seniority list was framed wrongly and should not be effected without correcting it.
December 12: UPSC holds meeting to pick five officers for IPS empanelment from 15 PPS officers. Punjab chief secretary and home secretary take part in meeting.
December 16: Justice Mahesh Grover hears application of promotee officers seeking stay on home ministry’s notification of selected officers, in the wake of the DGP’s letter. Stay not granted.
December 23: Matter posted for hearing till January 27. Matter heard again on December 24 on acting chief justice’s intervention. But court refuses stay.
December 29: Promotee officers approach vacation bench. Stay granted.
January 19, 2015: The bench of justice Grover vacates stay on notification of names of promoted officers.