Removal of ITAT President appointed on “officiating” basis is proper & legal
Shri. G. E. Veerabhadrappa, the senior-most Vice President of the Tribunal, was vide order dated 13.10.2011 appointed President of the Tribunal in an “officiating capacity till the post was filled up on regular basis“. Vide notification dated 5.5.2012 the said order was modified to read “in an officiating capacity up to 31.8.2012 or further orders“. On 31.8.2012, Shri. H. L. Karwa was appointed the President in place of Shri. G. E. Veerabhadrappa. Shri. Veerabhadrappa was thereafter transferred on 7.11.2012 to Calcutta. Shri. Veerabhadrappa filed a Petition claiming that (i) the curtailment of the period of appointment till 31.8.2012 was unjustified, (ii) his removal from the post of President was actuated by “malice and personal vendetta” of the Law Secretary owing to his refusal to cancel the transfers of Shri. Hari Om Maratha and Smt. Diva Singh and (ii) the appointment of Shri. H. L. Karwa (the junior-most Vice President) as President was irregular as found by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. The Law Ministry opposed the Petition on the ground that there were complaints regarding integrity and that the decision was taken at the highest level after “due consideration”. HELD by the CAT dismissing the Petition:
(i) The order appointing the Applicant as President made it clear that the appointment was “in an officiating capacity and until further orders“. The appointment order did not confer any invincible right on the Applicant to continue in office. Also, the order dated 5.5.2012 restricting the Applicant’s tenure as President till 31.8.2012 was challenged by him several months later. Even though there may not be delay and laches, it can be said that the conduct was one of acquiescence and did not entitle him to relief;
(ii) As regards the allegation that the removal was motivated by “malice and personal vendetta“, the exchange of correspondence between the President and the Law Ministry regarding the transfers of the Members took place after the passing of the order dated 5.5.2012 curtailing the tenure of the Applicant till 31.8.2012. There is some merit in the contention of the Respondents that the Applicant is trying to create a “smoke screen” by unnecessarily dragging the names of the Law Secretaries and making personal allegations;
(iii) The allegation that the appointment of Shri. H. L. Karwa as Officiating President was improper as a selection process was not resorted to is also not correct. The Government is entitled to appoint the President in an officiating capacity so as to ensure that no vacuum is left in the Institution. The opinion expressed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet is totally misconceived. It is immaterial whether the person appointed as officiating President is junior or not and there is no question of supersession. It is, however, desirable that the appointment to the post of President be made at the earliest on a regular basis rather than on an ad-hoc/ officiating basis.