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SC dismisses petition of Delhi Judicial Officer assailing non-promotion as 'District Judge': holds fundamental factor for promotions is comparative merit, not an individual’s minimum merit

The SC on April 24, 2020 {SUJATA KOHLI v REGISTRAR GENERAL, HIGH COURT OF DELHI & ORS } held that not being found eligible for promotion with reference to the criteria as provided is not, by itself, any adverse pronouncement against the diligence and commitment of the appellant. 

It was further observed by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar  &  Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, that on behalf of the appellant, however, a substantial emphasis has been put on the observation made in the impugned order on the requirement of uniform norms for awarding of the grades in ACR; and it has been contended that no objective criteria existed for evaluating an officer. It was held by the SC that these submissions are also sans merit and do not in any manner advance the cause of the appellant in the present case. It was held that this is for the simple reason that the system and method for awarding of the grades in ACR at the relevant time was equally applicable to all the judicial officers; and the gradings, not only of the appellant but of all other officers too, were made by way of the same methodology. It was held that therein too, as noticed, the judicial officers’ work and performance was supervised and graded by the committees comprising of three Hon’ble Judges and ultimately, the gradings were finalised by the Full Court. It was held that in the impugned order also, the High Court found such system to be a merited one but indicated the want of uniform set of rules or guidelines for all the appraisal committees to follow; and thereafter proceeded to lay down certain norms to be kept in view by the evaluation authorities. It was held that the observations by the High Court, essentially meant for improvement of the system with uniform set of guidelines, do not nullify the effect of the ACRs already marked by the existing system. It was held that the guidelines indicated by the High Court in the order impugned could only be construed as being meant for future implementation. It was observed that nothing turns upon such observations in relation to the case of the appellant.

Two points mainly arose for determination in this case before the  SC: (i) As to whether the appellant has been denied fair and reasonable consideration of her case for promotion to the posts of District and Sessions Judge/ Principal Judge, Family Court by operation of the criteria laid down in the impugned resolutions; and (ii) As to whether the appellant suffered any prejudice in the matter of ACR gradings?

The submissions on behalf of the contesting respondent before the SC have been that the appellant is not entitled to any relief because all the candidates recommended for promotion had better ACR gradings than the appellant.



It was held by the SC that coming now to the operation of the criteria in question, it is of the view that providing for the norms for assessment of the comparative merits of the candidates in the zone of consideration, was squarely within the domain of the High Court; and infringement of the right of consideration could only be suggested if different yardsticks or different norms were provided and applied qua the similarly circumstanced persons. It was observed that, however, this is not the case of the appellant nor it could be so because the High Court has apparently taken up all the persons in the zone of consideration at the relevant time and has accorded promotion on the basis of comparative merit of the candidates. It was held that the appellant, when could not stand in such competitive merit position, cannot raise a complaint about infringement of any of her legal rights. It was held that it is not the case of the appellant that anybody junior to her and standing equal in merit or anybody not fulfilling the criteria laid down by the High Court has been promoted.

It was held by the SC that from the material placed on record, it is also apparent that the case of the appellant was duly considered for such promotion along with the other incumbents but herself and a few others were not promoted for not fulfilling the criteria as provided in the impugned resolutions. It was held that the fact that the case of the appellant was also duly considered is amply borne out from the minutes of the Full Court meetings, including those of the meeting dated 09.01.2015 , 16.04.2015, 19.09.2015 and 28.11.2016. It was held by the SC, therefore, the appellant cannot raise a grievance that the respondent establishment has not accorded due consideration to her case for promotion. It was held that case of the appellant was duly considered but she could not be promoted for not possessing the requisite gradings in her ACRs of the relevant period.



It was held by the SC that having regard to the circumstances of this case, it is impelled to observe that while raising grievance with regard to the impact and effect of ACR gradings, the appellant appears to have missed out the fundamental factor that for the promotions in question, an individual’s minimum merit, by itself, was not going to be decisive; but the relevant factor was going to be comparative merit of the persons in the zone of consideration. It was held that being the position, when the persons in zone of consideration possessing ‘A’ (very good) grading have been promoted in preference to her, the appellant cannot raise a grievance about her gradings after such promotions.

It was held by the SC that the appellant has not been able to establish that she had suffered any prejudice in the matter of ACR gradings. Point number (II) was also, accordingly, answered against the appellant.

The appeal by special leave before SC was directed against the judgment and order passed by the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi, whereby the High Court dismissed the petition filed by the appellant, a member of Delhi Higher Judicial Service, seeking to challenge the constitutional validity of Rule 27 of the Delhi Higher Judicial Service Rules, 1970 and the Full Court resolutions dated 28.04.2009, 15.01.2010 and 27.01.2011 concerning the criteria for appointment of a member of higher judicial service to the post of District Judge and Sessions Judge or its equivalent. The challenge to the said judgment and findings of the HC was not sustained before the SC.

In the result of aforesaid, the appeal of the Appellant, a member of Delhi High Judicial Services, failed and was therefore dismissed by the SC.

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