From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 21, Dated 28 May 2011
17 judges sacked. Was it because of their caste?
Ravi Shankar Sai PS Paikra Lakhan Singh Mansukh Karketta Narsingh Usendi
Ravi Shankar Sai, 53
PS Paikra, 51
Lakhan Singh, 59
Mansukh Karketta, 54
Narsingh Usendi, 55
Photo: Ub Photos
FIGHTING DISCRIMINATION, can be a lifelong struggle for those born on
the 'wrong' side of the caste divide — even if they have served as
judges for 20 years. When 17 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe
judges were ordered to take compulsory retirement by the Chhattisgarh
government on 26 March, they naturally wondered if they were victims
of personal or casteist vendetta. Having served and been promoted over
the years in the natural course, why were they suddenly fired? What
makes their predicament all the more galling is that the Chhattisgarh
government has not provided any reasons for this forcible retirement,
except for a vague, sweeping statement that their performance was not
up to the mark.
Apparently, the state law department took the decision on the basis of
the Chhattisgarh High Court's recommendation and was reportedly
equivalent to the punishment for serious 'misconduct' and alleged
involvement in 'nepotism'. However, all the SC/ST judges, most of whom
have 5-10 years of service still remaining, smell a "grand conspiracy"
in the decision. For them, as for the litigant public, justice will be
a long time coming. They have already appealed against their summary
dismissal in the Consumer Forum and the special court that hears cases
under the Scheduled Caste/Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act. Then, if
this does not serve the purpose, the aggrieved judges also plan to
appeal in the Supreme Court.
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Meanwhile, the early retirement forced on the judges is no time to
relax. "My past records and performance speak for me. I want to know
the yardsticks they chose to fire me. If it is my caste, they should
spell it out clearly," says PS Paikra, 51, of Korba district.
Paikra, who was serving as additional district judge in Durg, has nine
more years of service remaining. Until last October, he worked as
additional district judge (ad hoc) at a fast-track court and was soon
regularised as additional district judge in Durg district court.
"They regularised me for my performance, usefulness and integrity. I
don't understand what happened in a few months that I was considered
unfit for the task," he says.
In the unprecedented decision, these judges, who had either completed
20 years in service or were more than 50 years old, were ordered to
retire compulsorily under sub-rule 2 of Rule 13 of the state's Higher
Judicial Service (Recruitment and Condition of Service) Rules, 2006.
The recommendation was made to the state government by the legal
department, saying that this decision was based on their performance.
The recommendation was accepted by the state government and orders on
their retirement issued.
While the 17 were sacked, the general category judges got extensions
despite poor grading
OF THE total 17 judges, three are SC and rest are ST. They were
serving as district and sessions judges or additional district and
sessions judge at Surguja, Dantewada, Bilaspur and Raigarh districts.
Narsingh Usendi, 55, another ST judge was posted as additional
district and sessions judge in Bastar district's Kanker area and
retired in 'public interest' through an order 2309/756/XXI-B/C.G./2011
sent by the government's law and legislative affairs department.
He says had he performed badly during his decades-long career, there
would have been complaints and departmental investigations against him
"which actually never happened". So, if there is no body of evidence
against him, why the sudden dismissal which amounts to a stigma?
"I won't challenge the rule but its implementation. It has been used
to target officials belonging to the tribal community," alleges
Usendi. Adding, "Without any notification, preliminary investigation
or departmental inquiry, the government rule to compulsorily retire
officials has been bent."
Usendi and his colleagues also point out that this is against the
principles of natural justice.
Usendi says the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) — that takes note of
judicial officers' work every year — is prepared by district judges
and other higher judicial service officers "who have maltreated us by
giving us lower grades".
Outlining his case, he alleges, "Had it been judges of SC/ST category
preparing this report, we wouldn't be targeted. There is no district
judge of SC/ST category which is why our ACR has been wrongly
prepared. All this, to trigger our expulsion."
Most of the 'compulsorily retired' judges are from 1976-87 batches and
it is feared the government decision has an underlying agenda — to
benefit 20 judicial officers of the 1990 batch who will get promoted
to the positions they vacate.
Mansukh Karketta, 54, who was among 12 ST judges slated to get
selection grade, can't believe his fate. He says the 2006 law has
triggered fear among many other SC/ST judicial officers who are on the
verge of notching up 20 years of judicial service or crossing 50 years
"Adding to the insult is the method in which ACRwas prepared. There
are many in general category who have been rated as 'worst-performing
officers' every year according to their ACRs, yet they have been
retained," says Karketta of 1987 batch.
Citing examples of several other judges from the general category, he
said they have been granted extensions despite "poor grading". "I
still had six years of service remaining but my caste proved
unfavourable for me as well as others," he says.
As usual, officials chose to remain tightlipped about the issue.
Law Secretary AK Samantary told TEHELKA that the order had come from
the high court and the government had little role to play in the
matter. "Besides, the decision was taken during the previous Principal
Secretary's term. I have recently joined. I can't say much about it.
It would be better if you ask someone in the high court," he said.
When contacted, Chhattisgarh High Court Registrar General Arvind
Srivastava refused to speak on the issue. "We don't discuss official
matters with the press," he said, before ending the telephonic
Baba Umar is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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