The Challenge to the Appointment of 68 Judicial Officers in Gujarat

Has the Gujarat HC breached the ‘merit-cum-seniority’ rule in its recent Judicial appointments?

The SC came down on the Gujarat Govt. for notifying the appointments of 68 Candidates as District Judges while a petition challenging their selection was pending before the Court.

What is the Case about?

On March 10th, 2023, the Gujarat High Court notified the selection and promotion of 68 candidates as District Court Judges. On March 28th, 2023, two senior judicial officers who appeared for the selection test — Mr. Ravikumar Maheta and Sachin Prataprai Mehta filed a Writ Petition at the Supreme Court challenging the selection list. Their contention — the Gujarat HC breached the ‘merit-cum-seniority’ rule when notifying this list. 

Shortly afterwards, on April 18th, 2023, the Government of Gujarat confirmed and appointed all 68 candidates. 

What are the Arguments of the Petitioners?

On April 28th, 2023, the petitioners argued before a Bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and J.B. Pardiwala. Despite receiving more marks in the suitability test, they were not selected as District Judges. This is a breach of the ‘merit-cum-seniority’ test established in the Recruitment Rules and the All India Judges Case (1989). 

The Bench asked the Gujarat HC as well as the State Govt. to justify the ‘extraordinary urgency’ to appoint the 68 candidates despite the pending case against their selection. 

On May 8th, 2023, Sr. Adv. R. Basanth for the petitioners, further argued before a Bench comprising Justices Shah and C.T. Ravikumar. He claimed that the Gujarat HC’s ad for this recruitment process clearly indicated that it would take place on a ‘merit-cum-seniority’ basis. As per this rule, the test results of the candidate should be given importance in their appointment, not just seniority. Therefore, the Gujarat HC was wrong in selecting candidates based on seniority.

What are the Arguments of the Respondents?

Sr. Adv. Dushyanth Dave then appeared for some of the respondents and argued that this case must be heard by the CJI’s Bench. Mr. Dave claimed that the CJI’s Bench was already monitoring Judicial appointments in various states In re: Filling up of Vacancies. Sr. Adv. K.V. Vishwanathan was appointed as an Amicus to assist the Court in monitoring the appointments in the States of Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka. 

On February 9th, the Amicus updated the CJI-led Bench on the status of judicial appointments in the State of Gujarat. The Bench directed the State to address the issue of District Judges’ appointments via promotion by March 15th, 2023. It was to uphold this direction of the SC that the Gujarat HC notified the selection of these 68 judges. 

For this reason, Mr. Dave made two submissions. First, the Gujarat HC’s Order was not wrong as it was done to uphold the SC’s direction on February 9th, 2023. Second, the petitioners could not file a separate Writ Petition seeing justice. If they had issues with the selection of these 68 candidates, they should have filed an intermediary application in the case being monitored by the CJI Bench. 

Sr. Adv. Meenakshi Arora representing the respondents also argued that the SC’s decision on the matter will apply to all HCs of the country, therefore the Bench must form their decision with caution. 

Adv. Nikhil Goel representing the Gujarat HC informed the Bench that the 68 candidates so appointed were currently in their training period.

What Next?

So far, the Bench has expressed discontent with the actions of the Gujarat Govt. on their appointment order dated  April 18th, 2023. On April 28th, 2023, the Bench held that this was a clear case of ‘judicial overreach’ on the part of the Gujarat Govt. They observed that the Gujarat Govt. should not have notified the appointment of the 68 judges when it was aware that a case was pending before the SC. 

Going forward, the Bench led by Justice Shah will either stay the Gujarat Govt’s appointment or will transfer the case to the CJI-led Bench to be tagged along with the larger case of judicial appointments that the Bench is hearing.