Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court: In a writ petition filed by 25 serving and ex-Navy staff members aggrieved of a judgment of the Central Administrative Tribunal, Mumbai (“Tribunal”) regarding alleged discrepancies in the promotions of the petitioners made by the respondent, the Division Bench of Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya, CJ. * and Dr. Arif S. Doctor, J, upheld the Tribunal judgment, finding the petitioners’ allegations bereft of material support. The Court also held that the delay of six years by the petitioners to contest the promotional orders had estopped them from contesting the same since many of the petitioners had already been promoted as per the bases they were challenging. The Court also clarified that the impugned orders of the respondents did not provide for a specific manner in which the promotions were to be made and held that in absence of any restrictions on the powers of the respondents to that effect, they could make the promotions per their requirements and policy decisions.

Background

The instant writ petition was filed by the applicants (“petitioners”) before the Central Administrative Tribunal, Mumbai (“Tribunal”), aggrieved of its judgment that dismissed their application in 2022.

The petitioners were employed as Artisan Staff [in the grades of Skilled, Highly Skilled-I (“HSK-I”), and Highly Skilled-II (“HSK-II”)], and Technical Supervisory Staff (in the grades of Chargeman and Foreman) with the Indian Navy.

The Ministry of Defence (“MoD”) in 1982 had created a grade of Master Craftsman in each trade of the relevant defence establishments, and in 2010, as a one-time measure, it restructured and reorganised the total cadre of Artisan Staff from three degree to four degree, placing Master Craftsman on the top. The Artisan Staff were also given the benefit of promotion to all revised grades in relaxation of conditions for promotion, through an Office Memorandum (“OM”). In 2012, to implement the OM, the MoD also revised the ratio of different grades in Industrial Trades, and further placed HSK-I as en-bloc senior to HSK-II and instructed the preparation of a separate trade-wise seniority list.

Post restructuring, the petitioners had contended that the promotions of Technical Supervisors had been carried out as per the trade-wise seniority, whereas the promotions of the Artisan Staff had been carried out as per the combined seniority of all trades, that resulted in the shortage of Master Craftsmen promotable to Chargemen. Therefore a few of the petitioners were promoted directly from HSK — I to Chargeman bypassing the promotion to Master Craftsman, to deprive them of the loss of one increment which they could have earned through pay fixation, had they been promoted first from HSK-I to Master Craftsman.

The petitioners thereafter made representations to respondent no. 2 in 2017, seeking that the promotions of Artisan Staff be carried out as per the trade-wise seniority roster. The said representations were rejected, holding the promotions made by combined seniority roster as valid. Based on the recommendations of the Departmental Promotion Committee, respondent no. 2 issued a Panel of Promotion of proposed promotees, and issued promotion orders accordingly.

The petitioners had sought in their application before the Tribunal-the fixation of seniority trade-wise in each trade, and quashing/setting-aside of previous promotional orders; however, their application was dismissed.

Court’s analysis and judgment

The Court found the instant case purely academic because a lot of petitioners had already been promoted as per the OM as represented by them in 2017 until the decision. Therefore, having acquiesced to the same, they were estopped from challenging it.

The Court agreed with the finding of the Tribunal as to the delay of six years in issuing grievances by the petitioners. Therefore, no direction could have been given at such a delayed stage that would have upset the pre-fixed seniority.

The Court noted this delay of action on the part of the petitioners, and that mere making of representations would not have given them any cause of action. The Court, therefore, held that there was an inordinate and unexplained delay on the part of the petitioners in approaching the Tribunal.

Additionally, the Court clarified that the previous orders challenged by the petitioners before the Tribunal, did not provide for the preparation of a seniority list or for the manner in which promotions were to be granted, but for the restructuring of the Artisan Staff. The Court also perused the relevant Recruitment Rules and found that they did not specify the promotions were to be made trade-wise only and not grade-wise.

The Court held that in the absence of any specific bar on the powers of respondent no. 2 with respect to promotions, the latter was empowered to grant promotions trade-wise or grade-wise, as per their requirement and policy decisions.

The Court also noted that the mere ipse dixit of the petitioners was the prejudice and monetary loss caused to them; not even a single instance of a junior employee was promoted before a senior employee was presented by the petitioners. Therefore, the Court held this contention entirely bereft of any material support and dismissed the petition accordingly.

[Shripad Dwarkanath Gupte v. Union of India, 2024 SCC OnLine Bom 1324, decided on 10-05-2021]

*Judgment by: Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Advocates for the Petitioners: Vicky Nagrani

Advocates for the Respondents: R. R. Shetty, Rui Rodrigues, and Anurag R. Saxena

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