Delhi High Court
Delhi High Court
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High Courts can't act at first instance in service matters of employees covered under Administrative Tribunals Act: Delhi HC

The Court has reaffirmed that the Central Administrative Tribunal exercises sole jurisdiction with respect to service matters of the employees covered under the Administrative Tribunals Act.

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court has reaffirmed that the Central Administrative Tribunal exercises sole jurisdiction with respect to service matters of the employees covered under the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 and High Courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in the first instance. (Prabhat Ranjan Deo vs UPSC)

The order was passed by a single Judge Bench of Justice Jyoti Singh.

The Petitioner was an officer with the Indian Police Service (‘IPS’), Haryana Cadre. Last year, the Haryana Government sent a list of 11 eligible officers to Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in connection with a vacancy that arose in the post of Director General Police (DGP), Haryana.

Subsequently, another person was appointed as the DGP and the Petitioner moved the Delhi High Court under Article 226 to challenge the order.

UPSC, out the outset, contended that the petition was not maintainable under Article 226 of the Constitution of India as IPS was an All India Service which was amenable to the jurisdiction of Central Administrative Tribunal.

It was stated that in terms of the decision of the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, the Court of ‘first instance’ for ‘service matters’ in light of the provisions of Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 was the Central Administrative Tribunal.

The Petitioner, on the other hand, stated that when he first approached the Supreme Court with his grievance, he was ordered to approach the ‘jurisdictional High Court’ and as office of UPSC was located in New Delhi, the jurisdiction of this Court was justified.

It was added that the existence of an alternate remedy was not a bar in entertaining a petition by a Writ Court and the rule was merely a rule of self-imposed limitation or a rule of prudence and discretion and not a rule of law.

In view of the submissions of the parties, the Court noted that it was an admitted position that the Petitioner was a member of an All India Service, which was covered under Section 14(1)(b)(i) of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

The Court observed that as per Section 14(1)(b)(i), save as otherwise expressly provided in the Act, the Central Administrative Tribunal exercised all the jurisdiction, power and authority in relation to all service matters concerning a member of any All India Service.

‘Service Matters’, as defined in the Act, included matters relating to conditions of a service and includes matters with respect to tenure, confirmation, seniority, promotion etc, the Court further noted.

Encapsulating the law as laid down in L. Chandra Kumar, the Court recorded,

Tribunals created pursuant to Article 323-A or under Article 323-B of the Constitution of India are competent to hear matters entrusted to them and will continue to act as only Courts of ‘first instance’ in respect of the areas of law for which they have been constituted. Supreme Court categorically observed that it will not be open for litigants to directly approach the High Court even in cases where there is a challenge to the vires of statutory Legislation, by overlooking the jurisdiction of the concerned Tribunal, with a cautious caveat that the Tribunal shall not entertain a challenge regarding the vires of the Parent Statute, following the settled principle that a Tribunal, which is a creature of an Act, cannot declare that very Act to be unconstitutional. In the latter case alone, Supreme Court observed, that the High Court concerned may be approached directly.”

The Court added that while the jurisdiction under Article 226 could not be ousted, Tribunals performed a supplemental role in discharging the powers and all decisions of these Tribunals would be subject to scrutiny before a Division Bench of the High Court concerned.

The Court thus opined that in view of the “authoritative pronouncement of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court”, it could not entertain the petition.

In response to the argument that alternate remedy did not bar a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the Court remarked,

“..in relation to service matters covered under the Act, there is an ouster of jurisdiction of the High Court as a Court of ‘first instance’ and the Tribunal is not an ‘alternative’, but is the ‘only’ Forum available to the Petitioner. It is neither a matter of ‘choice’ for the Petitioner to approach the Tribunal, nor is it a matter of discretion with this Court to entertain the petition.”
Delhi High Court

The Court also rejected the Petitioner’s argument that the Supreme Court intended to confer jurisdiction upon the Court.

“No Court can usurp a jurisdiction, it lacks..”, the Court said.

Thus, in view of L Chandra Kumar, Section 14(1) read with Section 3(q) of the Act, the Court concluded that the petition was not maintainable and was accordingly dismissed.

The Petitioner was represented by Senior Advocate Arvind Varma with Advocate Aditi Mohan.

UPSC was represented by Advocate Naresh Kaushik.

Senior Additional Advocate General Anil Grover with Advocate Mishal Vij represented Haryana Government.

Centre was represented by Standing Counsel Akshay Makhija with Advocate Roshni Namboodiry.

Advocate SK Gupta appeared for the candidate selected as the DGP.

Read the Judgement:

Prabhat Deo vs UPSC.pdf
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