The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the promotion of 68 judicial officers in Gujarat, including that of Surat Chief Judicial Magistrate Harish Hasmukhbhai Varma, who had convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment.
A Bench led by Justice M.R. Shah said the promotion of the judicial officers was in violation of the “merit-cum-seniority principle”.
Two senior civil judge cadre officers, Ravikumar Maheta and Sachin Prataprai Mehta, had approached the apex court against the selection of the 68 judicial officers to the higher cadre of district judges.
“We are more than satisfied that the impugned list issued by the High Court and the subsequent order issued by the State government granting promotion to district judges are illegal and contrary to the decision of this court. The same are, therefore, not sustainable,” the Bench said.
“We stay the implementation of the promotion list. Respective promotees are sent to their original post which they were holding prior to their promotion,” it said.
The top court passed an interim order staying the promotions and directed that the matter be heard by an appropriate bench as Justice Shah is retiring on May 15.
Mr. Varma, the CJM of Surat, is one of the 68 officers of the district lower judiciary whose promotion has also been challenged by Maheta and Mehta, presently working as undersecretary in the legal department of the Gujarat government and the assistant director at the State legal services authority.
The top court, which had issued notices to the State government and the Registrar General of the Gujarat High Court on April 13 on the plea of the two judicial officers, was very critical of the decision and the order passed on April 18 to promote the 68 officers despite knowing the pendency of the case before it.
“It is very unfortunate that despite the fact that the respondents, more particularly, the State government, was aware of the present proceedings and the fact that in the present proceedings, this court made the notice returnable on April 28, 2023, the State government has issued the promotion order dated April 18, 2023 i.e. after the receipt of the notice issued by this court in the present proceedings,” the top court said in its order on April 28.
(With inputs from PTI)