In a reprieve for the Centre and the Army,the Supreme Court on Monday stayed a rare order of quashing promotions of a sitting Lieutenant General and relegating him to a lower rank of Brigadier in the wake of undue favour and bias shown by the staff selection boards in promoting him.
A Bench led by Justice R M Lodha admitted a petition by the Army and issued notices to Major General Srikant Sharma,on whose petition the Delhi High Court had quashed the proceedings and results of the selection boards held on August 12,2009 and August 18,2011.
By virtue of these proceedings,Lt Gen S S Thakral had been elevated to the ranks of Maj Gen and Lt Gen respectively,in Remount Veterinary Corps of Army. Thakral had taken over as director general of Remount Veterinary Services of the Army in 2011 before the High Court decided to demote him two ranks down the hierarchy ladder. The RVS is one of the smaller streams of the Army.
Appearing for the Army,Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad challenged the High Court order on the ground of jurisdiction first.
He contended that Delhi High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain such a petition by Sharma. Only the Armed Forces Tribunal has jurisdiction to try such cases. And orders of the Tribunal can be challenged only before the Supreme Court and not before the High Court, Kuhad said.
Even on the merits,the ASG said,the order was erroneous since the procedure was followed in letter and spirit and there was no violation of any substantial method adopted by the selection boards. He also rejected the contention that any bias was shown in favour of Thakral.
Admitting the appeal,the court has sought replies from Sharma,whose promotion got affected due to the alleged favour shown to Thakral.
In its one-off verdict,the High Court had held that the selection boards failed to comply with prescribed procedure,acted arbitrarily and abused discretionary powers,and completely violated the policies in place for award of promotions.
The appointments made were opposed to national interest,it had noted while underlining that the illegal purpose of the selection process was to ensure that only Thakral was considered,selected and promoted to senior ranks irrespective of his comparative/relative merit.
It had directed the Defence Ministry and Army to hold within six weeks a special selection board for effecting promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General for eligible officers,relating back to eligibility as on August 18,2011.