The Uttarakhand High Court Division Bench presided by Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Alok Kumar Verma has ordered the government to reinstate IFS Officer Ravi Bhartari as the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest/ Head of Forest Force (PCCF/HoFF), thus putting a full stop at a 16-month long conflict of Rajiv Bhartari with the Government of Uttarakhand.
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Rajiv Bhartari an IFS Officer was promoted to the post of PCCF/HoFF, for which he took charge on 01.01.2021, however on 25.11.2021 he was transferred to the post of Chairman, Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board. Also, in 2022, respondent no.4 was appointed at the post of PCCF/HoFF. Aggrieved by such transfer the petitioner had approached the Supreme Court through a Writ Petition, however, the Court declined to interfere and ordered that the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) could decide the case more efficiently.
In pursuance of the order directed by the Supreme Court, the CAT acknowledged the fact that transfer order of Rajiv Bhartari was made simply on the basis of a note prepared by the concerned minister. The CAT noted that no such procedure has been prescribed in the statutory law, rule or regulation to transfer the case post officer only on the basis of a note prepared by the concerned minister without recommendation of the CBS.
The CAT while relying on the catena of judgements of the Supreme Court in which the Apex Court has observed that when a transfer order is passed in lieu of punishment the same is liable to be set aside as being wholly illegal, ordered to restore the post back to the applicant while also acknowledging that without following a proper procedure, injustice has been done to the applicant.
Submissions made by the petitioner
Learned Counsel, Mr. Abhijay Negi, appearing on behalf of the petitioner submitted that despite the direction issued by the Tribunal in which transfer of the petitioner was quashed, the respondents have still not complied with the same.
Mr. Negi also submitted that as the petitioner is due to retire on 30.04.2023, it is essential that he be retired from the post of PCCF/HoFF only as that would be honourable for the officer of the State.
Reliefs that were sought by the petitioner
- It was prayed by Mr. Negi on behalf of the petitioner that an urgent interim relief is granted to the petitioner for restoration of his post.
- It was also prayed that a relief of quo-warranto is granted against the respondent no. 4, as he has no authority to hold the post of PCCF/HoFF in light of order granted by the CAT.
- The petitioner also sought a direction to restrain respondent no.4 from functioning as PCCF/HoFF, in view of the judgement of the CAT.
Reply by respondents
Mr. C.S. Rawat, who is Chief Standing Counsel for the State of Uttarakhand appearing for the respondent authorities submitted that the respondents shall be challenging the order of the Tribunal shortly through a Writ Petition.
Learned Counsel. Mr. Rahul Gupta appearing on behalf of the respondent no.4, submitted that a charge-sheet contending serious allegations has been filed against the petitioner. This was addressed by Mr.Negi that the said charge-sheet was issued only after the Tribunal had made the said reinstatement order.
Order of the High Court
The Division Bench of the High Court after acknowledging the facts found by the Tribunal noted that the order of transfer was made merely “on the basis of a Note prepared by the concerned Minister and without following the statutory procedure”.
The High Court also found that appointment of respondent no.4 was not placed before the CSB even as a post facto approval.
Hence, the High Court ordered that Rajiv Bhartari be reinstated to the post of PCCF/HoFF but with a restriction that he shall not interfere with the documents concerned related to the proceedings of charge-sheet.