In perhaps the first case of its kind, a judge has moved the Supreme Court, challenging the recommendation made by a high court collegium which bypassed his name for elevation in view of a pending departmental inquiry against him.
Madhya Pradesh district and sessions judge Jagdish Baheti, who had in 2013 set a precedent by completing a rape trial and sentencing the accused to 14 years in jail in just nine days, has moved the top court against the Madhya Pradesh HC collegium’s decision not to recommend his name for elevation.
59-year-old Baheti, who presently presides over a family court as a principal judge, has sought quashing of a chargesheet issued against him in September 2014, and to protect his right of elevation. A judge for more than two decades now, he has said that the collegium’s recommendation clearing the names of his juniors for elevation as HC judges ought to be stayed till the departmental inquiry against him is decided.
The chargesheet against Baheti alleges he had granted anticipatory bail to some accused in a criminal case by mentioning wrong facts in the bail order. The chargesheet, issued following a fact-finding inquiry, contains statements by the investigating officer and public prosecutors who claimed they had opposed the bail whereas Baheti’s order recorded otherwise.
Baheti’s petition is scheduled to be heard by a bench led by Chief Justice H L Dattu in July even as a legal battle rages on in the apex court over replacing the collegium with the National Judicial Appointments Commission. In Baheti’s case, the HC had made recommendations before the NJAC was notified. These recommendations are now stuck since the fate of the collegium awaits a ruling by a Constitution Bench.
This is the second time Baheti has moved the apex court, complaining that his rights are being violated. While adjudicating his previous plea which was a writ petition, Justice Dattu’s bench had in January asked him to first move the HC. It had asked the HC to decide his plea expeditiously.
Subsequently, the HC, in its judgment on March 18, dismissed Baheti’s petition to stay the collegium’s recommendations and nix the chargesheet owing to legal and procedural infirmities. The HC bench, headed by Justice R S Jha, had noted there was no violation of the MP Civil Services Rules in issuing the chargesheet and that Baheti was not required to be given a prior hearing under the rules.
The HC also rejected Baheti’s argument that judicial proceeding cannot be questioned in this manner nor can they be the basis for initiating the departmental inquiry.
“If the charges levelled against the petitioner in the impugned chargesheet are read as they are, they prima facie disclose the alleged misconduct and, therefore, the contention of the learned counsel for the petitioner that no misconduct is made out on the basis of charges levelled against the petitioner, is incorrect and misconceived,” the HC said.
It added the HC cannot look into the correctness or veracity of the charges at this stage since it involves highly disputed questions of fact which can only be decided in the departmental proceedings. Clarifying it is not expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, the HC dismissed Baheti’s petition, compelling him to move the top court again.