New Delhi: Former West Bengal chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay — who had filed a plea with the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) challenging disciplinary action initiated against him by the Narendra Modi government last May — will now have to appear before the tribunal’s principal bench in Delhi, instead of its Kolkata bench.
This is because the Supreme Court (SC) Thursday set aside an order passed by the Calcutta High Court (HC) in October last year, which had granted relief to Bandyopadhyay by quashing the CAT’s order that transferred his plea from Kolkata to New Delhi.
Bandyopadhyay had approached the CAT last October, challenging disciplinary action initiated against him by the central government in June. The Centre had claimed that Bandopadhyay failed to attend a review meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2021 for assessing loss of life, damage to property and infrastructure caused by the cyclone ‘Yaas’.
The CAT chairman had on 22 October last year transferred the application filed by Bandyopadhyay from the Kolkata bench to its principal bench in New Delhi. Bandyopadhaya then moved the Calcutta HC, which set aside the CAT order days later, asserting that it “shocks the judicial conscience”.
Quashing the HC order, the apex court Thursday opined that the HC did not have jurisdiction to set aside the CAT order. It explained that such an order passed by the chairman was to be understood as one passed by the principal bench of the tribunal in New Delhi, and therefore, it was the Delhi High Court that had jurisdiction in this case.
However, the bench, comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and C.T. Ravikumar, granted Bandyopadhyay liberty to challenge the CAT transfer order before the Delhi HC.
The court also directed that the “scathing and disparaging” remarks made by the Calcutta HC against the tribunal be expunged.
Caught in a Centre-West Bengal tussle
Bandyopadhyay had joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1987 and worked with the West Bengal government till his superannuation on 31 May 2021. He, however, got embroiled in a Centre-West Bengal tussle the same month.
On 28 May last year, Bandyopadhyay, along with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was not present to receive PM Modi at the Kalaikunda airbase in West Midnapore. The same day, when the PM led a review meeting to assess the damage caused by cyclone ‘Yaas’, both Banerjee and Bandyopadhyay reportedly left after a brief discussion with the PM.
Within hours, the Department of Personnel and Training initiated proceedings against Bandyopadhay, directing him to report in the national capital. However, Bandyopadhyay could not comply with this order, since he was not released by the state government.
He then went on to retire on 31 May, immediately after which Banerjee appointed him as principal advisor to her government. Meanwhile, the Modi government initiated disciplinary action against him, serving him with a charge sheet on 16 June.
According to the Supreme Court judgment, he was charged for “failure to maintain absolute integrity and devotion to duty and for exhibiting conduct unbecoming of a public servant”.
What Calcutta HC said
After he was served the charge sheet, Bandyopadhyay approached the CAT on 8 October, questioning the central government’s jurisdiction to initiate disciplinary action against him. However, the CAT transferred his petition to its principal bench in Delhi on 22 October.
The order was passed by the chairman of the tribunal under Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act 1985, which allows the chairman to transfer cases from one bench to another. It was passed on an application filed by the central government.
Days later, on 29 October, the Calcutta HC took strong exception to the CAT order, adding that the Government of India’s modus operandi “reeks of mala fides”. It had then set aside the transfer order of the CAT’s Kolkata bench, and asked it to settle the case expeditiously.
Remarks made by HC unwarranted: SC
However, the Supreme Court has now set aside the Calcutta HC order.
“Needless to say that the power of judicial review of an order transferring an original application pending before a bench of the tribunal to another bench under Section 25 of the Act can be judicially reviewed only by a division bench of the high court within whose territorial jurisdiction the bench passing the same, falls,” the court said.
The Centre also objected to the “harsh or disparaging remarks” passed by the HC when it had set aside the CAT order, demanding their expunction.
In response, the apex court ordered such remarks be expunged from the high court order. “To observe sobriety, we say that the remarks made by the high court were unwarranted, uncalled for and avoidable being sharp reaction on unfounded assumptions. Ergo, we have no hesitation to hold that they were wholly unnecessary for the purpose of deciding the correctness or otherwise of the order of transfer,” it observed.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)