Subordinate judiciary are the first step in delivering justice in the complicated Indian justice delivery system. But unfortunately, in Tamil Nadu, they are being given a raw deal. While the judiciary provides justice to all of us, the subordinate judiciary are a tormented lot who are treated in a most unfair manner.
The fate of each and every member of the subordinate judiciary is decided by the Madras High Court. If a High Court judge decides, he can make or mar a lower court judge’s future. To call most of the subordinate judges slaves of High Court judges would not be an exaggeration.
Article 311 of the Indian Constitution and the service rules of Tamil Nadu government provide adequate protection to all government servants from arbitrary termination or vindictive actions. But unfortunately, none of these provisos apply to the subordinate judiciary. The reason is, it is the same High Court judges, who conduct probe as members of the Vigilance Committee. It is the same High Court judges as members of Administrative Committee, who decide the course of action based on the findings of the Vigilance Committee. Subsequently, it is the same judge who endorses both the actions as member of Full Court.
It doesn’t end here. If the subordinate judge choses to challenge the decision imposed upon him, it is one of the same High Court Judge who will hear his challenge and in all probability reject it. Having been given a raw deal, the subordinate judges have no forum to voice their grievance but to act subservient to the Lordships who sit on Ivory towers.
This is one such case where the subordinate judges are given a step motherly treatment.
According to the service rules in vogue in Tamil Nadu, promotees are always given preference in seniority while considering them along with direct recruits for a higher post. For example, in Tamil Nadu, recruitments are conducted in police at the level of Sub-Inspectors of Police. Those who are selected as Sub-Inspectors, can reach up to the level of Superintendent of Police. They will be competing to the post of Additional Superintendent of Police along with directly recruited Deputy Superintendents of Police. When the panel is drawn for Deputy Supdts. Of Police fit for promotion as Additional Superintendent of Police, preference has to be given to DSPs who were promoted from the post of Sub-Inspectors.
Such rules were framed keeping in mind that Sub-Inspectors, when they become DSPs are aged and left with little more of service. As the directly recruited DSPs are younger in age, they will be kept below the promotee DSPs. This norm is followed in all departments of TN government wherever there is a direct recruitment for a higher post.
Similarly in TN subordinate judiciary recruitment is made at the level of Magistrates. Such magistrates then get promoted as Sub-Judges, and Sessions Judges. Some of them who have clean record and age on their side, make it to Madras High Court and retire as “lordships”.
Out of the total sanctioned strength of 75 High Court judges, one third is reserved for members of the subordinate judiciary (25). The remaining 50 is filled up from the Bar.
In 2011, 14 direct District Judges were recruited and they are now working in various positions across the state. These 14 direct District Judges, gave several representations to the High Courts and Supreme Court to consider them for elevation as High Court Judges. The Madras High Court considered their representation and rejected the same based on Article 217 (2) (a) which stipulates a minimum of 10 years of service as a judge as eligibility criteria for becoming a High Court Judge.
These 14 judges again sent representations to the Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court. On 03.10.2017, the Supreme Court collegium, rejected the representation by observing thus :
“While considering the above proposal, we have also taken note of the fact that the above proposal involves non-recommendation of large number of senior Judicial Officers. Many of them have given representations putting forth their grievances of having been over-looked by the High Court Collegium. In this regard, we have gone through the letter dated 30th January, 2017 of the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court who has duly recorded reasons for not recommending names of these Judicial Officers. We are satisfied with the reasons assigned by the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court and find no merit in the said representations which deserve to be rejected.”
Following this rejection, remaining eligible members from the subordinate judiciary were considered and 13 names were sent for consideration to the Supreme Court which is pending as of now.
Aggrieved by the rejection of the Supreme Court collegium, these 14 directly recruited District Judges decide to challenge the decision of the High Court and Supreme Court collegiums in the Supreme Court and a petition was filed in this regard. The third respondent in this petition is Registrar (General) of the Madras High Court.
Registrar General is the one who represents the High Court in all litigations in all courts. He is the face of the High Court.
This is where the case gets an interesting twist. The present Registrar General of the High Court is one Kumarappan. This Kumarappan is one among the 14 directly recruited District Judges.
In case, the Supreme Court rules in favour of the 14 direct DJs, Kumarappan would be a direct beneficiary along with 13 of his batchmates. However, since High Court of Madras is cited as a respondent, it is the duty of the Registrar General – read Kumarappan – to file counter affidavit on behalf of Madras High Court defending the decision to not consider 14 directly recruited District Judges till 2021 when they complete 10 years of service as judicial officer.
To avoid such a paradoxical situation, the 14 direct DJs, adopted an innovative way. Of the total 14, only 8 chose to be petitioners. The remaining 6, have been shown as respondents. Cleverly, Mr.Kumarappan is shown as one of the respondents. It is perplexing, how part of the beneficiaries in a petition before a court are shown as respondents. This is a clever ploy to hoodwink the court and to avoid the predicament to the likes of Mr.Kumarappans. The Supreme Court should have saw through this cunning design and thrown away the petition. But, notice has been ordered to all respondents including the High Court of Madras, for which Mr.Kumarappan as Registrar General will be filing reply.
Apart from Kumarappan, there is the curious case of the first petitioner in this case. The petitioner is one R.Poornima. She is at present Registrar (Vigilance) of the Madras High Court.
Vigilance Cell of the Madras High Court functions directly under Registrar Vigilance. Registrar Vigilance alone has the powers to order enquiries against any subordinate judge based on anonymous / pseudonymous or named complaints / petitions. If a Registrar Vigilance decides to harm the career of a subordinate judge, he / she can easily engineer an anonymous petition, mark it to Vigilance Cell, get a report and destroy the career of any judge.
No one is alleging that the present Registrar Vigilance Ms.Poornima has committed any such act. But, she is in such an enviable position. It would not be out of place to refer to an incident that happened recently.
Ms.Sarojini Devi is now working as a District Judge. As mentioned above, the names of 13 District Judges has been sent to the Supreme Court for consideration as High Court Judges. Ms.Sarojini Devi is in top of that list of 13. In the second week of this month, at midnight a court staff knocked the door of Ms.Sarojini Devi and served a copy of a termination order. The order said, a Full Court sitting of the Madras High Court had decided not to extend her service beyond 58 and she is relieved of all her duties.
Sarojini Devi was flummoxed as she was expecting orders for elevation as High Court Judge. A baffled Sarojini Devi could not understand what went wrong.
Next day morning the court staff visits Sarojini Devi again and serves a fresh order, which says, the order served previously terminating her services has been withdrawn and that her services stand extended.
Till date, no one knows who was behind such misguiding of the Full Court, who manipulated the records and who engineered such a mischievous and erroneous order. Whom the needle of suspicion points need not be explained.
Most of the 14 directly recruited District Judges are in key positions. Apart from Mr.Kumarappan and Poornima, Jothiraman is now the Registrar (Judicial). Rajasekar is the Member Secretary of State Legal Services Authority.
Rahman who is the Principal District Judge of family courts faces several serious allegations of moral turpitude. One or Rahman’s batchmates is protecting him from punitive action is the gossip among judicial officers.
Ms.Poornima, as Registrar Vigilance, sitting right under the nose of Madras High Court has challenged the decision of the Madras High Court without obtaining any permission. For this action alone, disciplinary action should be initiated against her and all the seven other petitioners. However, the Lordships of the Madras High Court not only chose to ignore this gross indiscipline, but also allowed both Mr.Kumarappan and Ms.Poornima to continue in the key posts which would help them immensely in pursuing their litigation in the Supreme Court.
Being judges, Ms.Poornima and all the remaining 7 petitioners know the legal position with regard to the appointment of High Court judges. They all have put in less than 10 years of service and by 2021, they all would become eligible for appointment to High Court. But, their greed has forced them to file this petition which would impair the chances 13 promotee District Judges who have put in more than 20 years of judicial service.
The lordships of Madras High Court who are supposed to ensure the law of the land is implemented in letter and spirit have chosen to turn a Nelson’s eye and give a raw deal to the subordinate judges.
PS : Item No.25 of the Full Court resolution, which this author had access to deals with the proposal to change the name of the Madras High Court to High Court of Tamil Nadu. The proposal has been sent by none other than the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. The full court, citing traditions and names of other chartered High Courts like, High Court of Bombay & High Court of Calcutta rejected this proposal.
Apart from the Chief Justice and Justice Vineeth Kothari, all the other High Court judges, hail from Tamil Nadu. They all are aware that the change of name of High Court of Madras to High Court of Tamil Nadu is a long standing demand of not only advocates but the general public. None of the judges, chose to voice their opposition to this rejection and instead timidly signed on the dotted line. Sadly, a few judges, who give long lectures in open court with an eye on headlines also chose to remain silent.