Delhi High Court issues notice in former West Bengal chief secertary review petiton against CAT order
The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice on the review petition filed by former West Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay challenging the Central Administrative Tribunal Chairman’s decision to transfer his case from Kolkata to Delhi.
The Division Bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice Jyoti Singh heard the petition.
Former West Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay’s petition was dismissed last month by a bench headed by the then Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh.
The West Bengal government and the Central government have been locked in a tug of war over Bandyopadhyay following a political controversy arising out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s review meeting on cyclone Yaas in 2021.
It was alleged that Bandyopadhyay turned up late to the meeting presided by the PM, after which the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) initiated proceedings against him. The Centre subsequently set up a panel to probe the charges against him.
This move was challenged by him before the Kolkata Bench of CAT. However, the matter was transferred to Delhi before any hearing could take place. Bandyopadhyay challenged the order of the CAT Chairman before the Calcutta High Court, which set it aside.
Subsequent to an appeal by the Centre, the Supreme Court set aside the order of the Calcutta High Court, holding that any decision of the CAT at Delhi, including the one passed under Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, could be subjected to scrutiny ‘only before a Division Bench of a High Court within whose jurisdiction the tribunal concerned falls.’
Bandyopadhyay then moved the Delhi High Court challenging the transfer of the case. His plea stated that the order passed by the Principal Bench of CAT was in complete violation of the principles of natural justice, equity and fair play as he was not even granted a right to file his written objections to the transfer petition filed by the Centre, which was allowed on the very first day of its listing.
The petition stated that the petitioner is the former Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal and retired on 31st May, 2021. The petitioner ordinarily and permanently resides in Kolkata. Therefore, the petitioner had an unqualified right under Rule 6(2) of the Central Administrative Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 1987 to file the Original Application before the Kolkata Bench.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Senior Advocate, appeared for the petitioner and told the court his junior counsel had repeatedly requested the court for a passover in the matter but he was forced to argue the case.
Singhvi further told the court that the Solicitor General (SG) and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) were opposing him. After all, the experience matters. In a sensitive matter like this, if there had been a passover or another date there would have been a fair crack of the whip. At the end of the day it is undeniable that two senior lawyers opposed and no senior counsel was on this side.
Vikramjit Banerjee, Additional Solicitor General, opposed the petition. The Bench remarked that if this was his stand then he will record the same in the order and no passover will be granted on request of junior counsels appearing for the Centre.
The Bench asked the ASG if it would be fair to go on with the case and pass orders if some senior law officer for the Centre was briefed by were unable to appear at the time.
“Let me put it like this. Suppose there is a request for passover because AG or SG is appearing in the matter and I deny it and tell the junior counsel to argue, would it be fair? This will form a wrong precedent. If tomorrow, you are in the other court and I ask your junior to go on, what choice does he have? If the government of India tomorrow briefs you on a matter and some rookie lawyer is with you and says Mr Banerjee will be here. Should I say go on?’ the bench further asked.
The Bench said, ‘We are issuing notice. But I was saying more as a judge of the court that we have evolved some practice and I assure you that if the situation were to be reversed and if I refused or my colleague refused… Flip the coin. Say that if I had refused and if I had told Mr Kirtiman Singh (Centre’s counsel) to go on, despite the fact that he was not brief to go. What does he do then? He has two options: either he sits and says he can’t argue or he actually argues. Therefore, I am saying nothing will happen, it is only round two. Consider it and please give wise counsel to your client.’
The Court has fixed the next hearing of the petition on May 20, 2022.