CASE TITLE: M. Devaraj v. Rakesh Kumar Sharma And 5 Others [SPECIAL APPEAL DEFECTIVE No. – 600 of 2023]
DECIDED ON: 17.08.2023
CORAM: Hon’ble Saumitra Dayal Singh,J. Hon’ble Rajendra Kumar-IV,J.
The Allahabad High Court has ruled that simply requesting clarification from an officer does not constitute a legal harm if no formal criticism or negative comments have been directed at them. A panel of Judges, including Justices Saumitra Dayal Singh and Rajendra Kumar-IV, determined that when overseeing intra-court appeals, the court cannot overturn an interim order solely on the basis of potential inconvenience faced by the officer in question. To justify appellate intervention, there should be a demonstrable adverse impact on the officer due to the interim order.
Through a minor penalty directive, the Petitioner received a reprimand entry. This action also led to the withholding of five increments with a cumulative impact, coupled with a stipulation that the Petitioner should not be assigned any sensitive postings. Subsequently, the former Chairperson of the U.P. Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL), M. Devraj, took it upon himself to review the order and imposed a major penalty of dismissal on the Petitioner. This decision was challenged under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
In response, the single judge requested an explanation from the then Chairperson of UPPCL, M. Devraj (the Appellant), to elucidate why he had failed to observe the significant flaw in the proceedings before the Inquiry Officer when issuing the contested order. The Appellant has lodged a special appeal against this directive, arguing that the writ petition did not include any allegations against him.
The Appellant’s representative, Additional Advocate General Manish Goyal, contended that the Appellant had served temporarily as the Chairperson of UPPCL and has now reverted to his original position, rendering an explanation unnecessary. The Appellant was not originally involved in the petition and was brought into the case by the Court’s initiative.
It has been alleged that derogatory comments were directed at the Appellant, and any inferences drawn from these remarks should be considered one-sided. Furthermore, the Additional Advocate General argued that there was no exchange of pleadings in the petition, making it premature to demand an explanation at this stage.
On the other hand, the counsel representing the respondent-petitioner argued that an intra-court appeal at this juncture lacks validity, as the challenged order is merely an interim one. No definitive verdict has been issued; the request for an explanation represents tentative observations made by the Court based on its preliminary assessment.
CASE ANALYSIS AND DECISION
The only matter under consideration in the appellate jurisdiction was whether the single judge had the authority to involve the Appellant and solicit an explanation from him.
Citing the precedent set by a full bench of the Allahabad High Court in the case of Ashutosh Shrotriya and Ors v. Vice-Chancellor, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University and others, Justice Singh (on behalf of the bench) noted that the single judge had only formed a preliminary opinion based on prima facie evidence regarding the procedure employed in the internal inquiry. The remarks made by the single judge cannot be construed as “adverse comments” meriting intervention within the realm of appellate jurisdiction.
“Legal proceedings traverse a convoluted path, marked by numerous twists and turns. Often, at the preliminary or admission stage, courts formulate a prima facie perspective that brings them closer to the ultimate judgment to be rendered. Unless accompanied by a subsequent order bearing on the contested rights, any observation or order issued at this early stage holds no binding weight, inflicts no harm, and does not confer the right for an intra-court appeal on any party.”
Additionally, the Court asserted:
“Presently, the term ‘judgment’ requires a broad interpretation. However, for an interlocutory order to be appealable, it must have decided a substantial matter or significantly impacted the rights of a party to an extent that grave injustice may result. In any case, its consequence must be immediate and direct rather than distant. The effect and outcome of an interlocutory order dictate whether it is ripe for assessment within the intra-court appeal domain. Mere inconvenience to a party is insufficient grounds to sustain such a procedure.”
The Court recognized that the single judge’s discretion to include the Appellant as a party did not warrant interference at this stage, as the single judge had thoroughly discussed the potential misstep that the Appellant might have committed by assuming suo moto jurisdiction. It emphasized that no personal appearance or harsh measures were demanded from the Appellant, and no substantial injustice had befallen him.
Citing Supreme Court decisions in Wander Ltd. vs. Antox India P. Ltd. and Roma Sonkar v. M.P. State Public Service Commission, the Court held that no pivotal issues were resolved, and no essential rights were adjudicated upon to warrant intervention in the interlocutory order. Additionally, the order did not contain any disparaging or harsh remarks that could cause harm to the Appellant.
“While providing corrections, the Court maintains the necessary balance and proportionality required in such a role – adhering to legal boundaries when dealing with a wayward litigant or official. Therefore, it is unequivocally stated that if the respondent-appellant were to present an honest explanation, no matter its apparent legal insustainability, the single judge would review it according to the law and apply only such corrections as deemed necessary for justice and proper administration. In the absence of any allegations of personal malice, it is premature to anticipate other potential outcomes.”
The Court mentioned that the sought-after explanation was being provided by the Appellant. Accordingly, the special appeal was dismissed, granting an additional two-day extension to the Appellant to submit an affidavit before the writ court.
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Written by- Mansi Malpani