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Case Analysis Of R.K. Jain v/s. Union Of India 1993 Air 1769

This is a case analysis of a renowned case, R.K. Jain Vs Union of India & Ors. (1993), which was a Writ Petition in the form of a P.I.L. The case has been summarized and analyzed under the following heads- Brief Facts of the Case, Issue of the Case, Arguments from the Petitioner's side, Arguments from the Respondent's side, Legal Aspects, Precedents of High Court and Supreme Court, Overview of the Judgement, Conclusion, Suggestions, and References.

In the instant case, the matter revolved around the allegations of mal-functioning of the CEGAT and the appointment of the new President of CEGAT. It is a landmark judgement taken by a 3-judge bench, where the Honourable Supreme Court highlighted the extreme ineptitude and incompetence of administrative tribunals in exercising their constitutionally-granted power of judicial review and underlined the necessity of taking immediate remedial steps to transform them into institutions capable of dispensing inexpensive, effective and satisfactory justice.

It analyzed various previously settled cases of the Supreme Court and High courts, provisions of the Constitution of India, provisions under Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1987, etc.

Introduction

In the matter of R.K. Jain Vs Union of India & Ors.[1], the 3-judge Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice A.M. Ahmadi, Justice M.M. Punchhi, and Justice K. Ramaswamy, evaluated the alleged malfunctioning of the Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal ("CEGAT") and the supposedly improper appointment of the Senior Vice President as President of the said tribunal.

The Court scrutinized the legality and validity of the appointment under the Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 1987 (referred to as the 'CEGAT Rules 1987'). This judgement, passed on the 14th of May 1993, is a landmark one as it propounds essential principles for the independent functioning of tribunals for efficient and effective justice delivery.

Brief Facts of the Case
  1. On the 26th of December 1991, the Petitioner, an Editor of Excise Law Times, via a letter, informed the Chief Justice of India that ever since the retirement of the President of the CEGAT in 1985, no new president had been appointed due to which the Tribunal wasn't able to function efficiently. He further alleged improper functioning in the CEGAT and sought the Court's intervention regarding these matters.
     
  2. On the 25th of February 1992, the Supreme Court, in view of the received letter being treated as a Writ Petition in PIL, issued a Rule Nisi to the Central Government to act instantaneously towards the appointment of a new President of the CEGAT, preferably a senior High Court Judge.
     
  3. After the directions were issued, Respondent No. 3, namely Harish Chander, was appointed as the President. He had been appointed as a Judicial Member of the CEGAT initially and had then been appointed as Senior Vice-President. The Petitioner subsequently filed another petition challenging his appointment as the President on certain grounds.
     
  4. On the 4th of May 1992, the Hon'ble Supreme Court issued a Rule Nisi based on which the documents concerning the appointment were to be produced in the Court, but the Minister of State for Finance and the Finance Secretary filed affidavits claiming privilege under Article 74(2) of the Constitution of Indian and Sections 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act providing the rationale that the Government did not object at the Court's reviewing of the rule but are claiming the privilege against its disclosure to the Petitioner.

Issue of the Case
  • Whether the appointment of Harish Chander i.e. Respondent No. 3 as the President of CEGAT legally valid?
Arguments from the Petitioner's Side
The Petitioner, R.K. Jain, an Editor of the Excise Law Times, argued that the absence of a President of CEGAT had adversely affected the functioning of the Tribunal. Through a letter to the CJI, he sought directions for the immediate appointment of a new President of the CEGAT. When the Respondent No. 3 was appointed as the President, the Petitioner challenged it on the following grounds:
  1. The appointment was in breach of the judicial order dated February 25, 1992, which was passed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court acknowledging the convention that a sitting or retired Judge of the High Court only should be appointed as President, after consulting the Chief Justice of India. The Petitioner claimed that no serious attempts were made towards this direction by the Government.
     
  2. The appointment of the President in contradiction to the convention is a breach of the commitment that has been reiterated time and again by the Government, even before the creation of an Act, that judicial independence of CEGAT is sine qua non to ensure justice is imparted efficiently.
     
  3. Though the Rules allow for such appointment, the rejection of Harish Chander's appointment as a Delhi High Court judge by the CJI on account of doubts about his integrity, and his subsequent appointment as the President of CEGAT will reduce the public's faith in the Tribunal's efficacy.

The Petitioner also proposed that the Rules 10 (1), (3), and (4) of the CEGAT Rules 1987 should be struck down being in violation of Article 43 of the Constitution of India[2] as they are ultra vires of the basic structure of the Constitution requiring the independence of the Indian Judiciary.

Arguments from the Respondent's Side
On behalf of the Union of India:
The Union of India claimed that the Petitioner cannot inspect the rule relevant for appointment of the President, as the Respondent planned to claim privilege under Sections 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act and Article 74(2) of the Indian Constitution.

It was asserted that a Cabinet Sub-Committee had permitted the appointment of Respondent No. 3 as the President of the CEGAT, and the appointment was made by the President of India by operation of Article 77(3) and 74(1) of the Constitution. The concerned rule consisted of documents containing advice provided to the President of India regarding the appointment of Respondent No. 3 as the President of CEGAT. As Article 72(2) of the Indian Constitution, as well as Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, barred the Court from inquiring about the nature of advice given to the President, the documents enjoyed immunity from disclosure. The Respondents claimed that public disclosure of the Rule would cause public injury, preventing candid discussions to take place within Minister/Cabinet Sub-Committees and presentation of views by bureaucrats, adversely affecting public service.

On behalf of Respondent No. 3 (Harish Chander):

Mr. Harish Chander contested that he had an immaculate and outstanding record of service without any undesirable remarks, and non-consideration of his selection as a judge in Delhi High Court by the CJI should not be held against him.

Since Respondent No. 3 acted as the Senior Vice-President of CEGAT, he was validly appointed as the President as the Government was entitled to appoint any Member, Vice Chairman, or Senior President as the President of the CEGAT.

Legal Aspects
The case is centered on the interplay between the following statutory and constitutional provisions:

Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 1987:
  1. Rules 2c[3]- This rule, in 1993, provided that a member of the Tribunal includes unless specified otherwise, a President, a Senior Vice-President, a Vice-President, a technical member, and a judicial member.
     
  2. Rule 3[4]- This provides for the qualifications required for being appointed as a judicial member of the CEGAT. A person must have held a judicial office in the territory of India for a minimum of 10 years, had been a member of the Indian Legal Service with a post of Grade-I or higher for a minimum of three years, or had been an advocate for a minimum of ten years to be appointed as a judicial member. The sub-rules further provide how to compute the period of service by the applicant.
     
  3. Rule 6[5]- It provides for the method of recruitment of the members of the CEGAT by the creation of a Selection Committee, consisting of a Judge of the Supreme Court (acting as chairman of the committee), Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Finance, Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Law, the President of India, and a maximum of two other persons nominated by the Central Government.
     
  4. Rule 10[6]- It specifies the guidelines for appointment of the President of CEGAT, providing that the person must be or have been a Judge of a High Court, or be a member of the CEGAT to be the President of the CEGAT. It also specifies the tenure of the President i.e. up to a period of 3 years or till the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.

Indian Evidence Act, 1872:
  1. Section 123[7]- It tells the provision for evidence regarding the affairs of the State, providing that evidence from unpublished official records can only be used with permission of the head officer of the concerned department, who can withhold or give permission as he deems fit.
     
  2. Section 124[8]- It specifies that no public officer can be forced to reveal information received by him in official confidence when he considers the disclosure will adversely impact public interests.
     
  3. Section 162[9]- It provides that a witness summoned to Court to produce a document shall do so and the validity of any objection provided by him will be decided by the Court. The Court is allowed to inspect the document if it deems fit unless it refers to matters of State.

Constitution of India, 1950:
  1. Article 74 (2)[10]- It specifies that the Court cannot inquire into the question of whether any or what advice was provided by the Ministers to the President.
     
  2. Article 75 (3)[11]- This specifies that the Rajya Sabha (Council of Ministers) is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha (House of the People).
     
  3. Article 323 (A)[12]- This provides for the establishment of administrative tribunals for the adjudication of complaints and disputes relating to the recruitment and conditions of service of government servants under the central and state government, local authorities, or other authorities within the territory of India or owned and/or managed by the Government.
     
  4. Article 323 (B)[13]- It specifies the creation of tribunals for other requirements and empowers the State to set up tribunals for various matters like levy, collection, enforcement, and assessment of any of the tax matters.
     
  5. Schedule III[14]- It contains the forms of oaths or affirmations of various constitutional posts and reiterates all the oaths specified in the Articles 75(4), 99, 124(6), 148(2), 164(3), 188, and 219 of the Constitution.

Precedents of High Court and Supreme Court
Several case laws were examined and cited throughout the pleadings and some of the judgments were the most essential for establishing the major principles as held in the final judgement.
  1. The cases of Attorney General v. Jonathan Cape Ltd.[15] and Sankey v. Whitlan[16] were cited to portray that regardless of the summoned documents being official state documents and non-disclosure being pleaded by the ministers, the plea of privilege was rejected by the Courts and the ministers were directed to produce the Cabinet papers. Whitlam v. Australian Consolidated Press[17]was utilized in a similar sense, as in the instant case it was held that the public interest in maintaining the secrecy of Cabinet discussions outweighs the contrary public interest of providing the Defendant appropriate documents and his private right to the documents to facilitate his case.
     
  2. The case of State of U.P. v. Raj Narain & Ors.[18]is a landmark judgement which was used to highlight that an objection affidavit claiming immunity needs to be filed consisting of appropriate reasons about why public interest immunity needs to be granted, the merits of which are scrutinized by the Court. It also held that whenever public and private interests are in conflict with one another, the latter must yield to the former.
     
  3. Another landmark case of S.P. Gupta & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.[19] was cited to establish that the court would allow the objection only if the disclosure of the State documents might be injurious to the public interest, but if not then the objection can be overruled.
     
  4. The cases of M.B. Majumdar v. Union of India[20] and J.B. Chopra v. Union of lndia[21] were relied upon by the Bench to reiterate that the Tribunals are unable to function as effective alternatives of the High Courts.

Overview of the Judgement
Dicta as per Justice K. Ramaswamy:
  1. He opined that whenever a claim for non-disclosure of State Documents is made to preserve public interest, it is the Ministers' responsibility to file an affidavit under oath describing the grounds on which and the reasons why the public interest immunity is being claimed. Article 75(4) and Schedule III of the Constitution do not pardon the Ministers from specifying the reasons for demanding immunity from the disclosure of State documents, how an internal matter was dealt with, or from producing summoned documents in the court when a Rule Nisi has been issued.

    Instead, the Minister must follow orders of the court and aid the Government. If the Court is satisfied with the affidavit then it may approve the request, and if the Court still desires to conduct a further investigation upon whether it injures public interest, it may hold relevant proceedings in camera.

    The Cabinet is bequeathed the privilege of non-disclosure by Collective responsibility under Article 75(3) of the Constitution, but the requirement of confidentiality has to be nurtured not merely from the principle of collective responsibility but also from the practicality of whether it is essential to be undertaken or not. In the present case, the Court did not find a need to disclose official documents.
     
  2. Secondly, as the tenure of the President of the CEGAT is up to the age of 62 years or a period of 3 years, whichever is earlier, so a sitting High Court Judge obtains little incentive for acting as a President of CEGAT as his term as a judge also lasts till the age of 62 years. Instead of obtaining incentives, he'll end up losing the privileges of being a High Court judge if he chooses to be the President. Moreover, all his decisions will become subject to the writ jurisdiction (under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution[22]) of the High Courts. He recommended providing an extended tenure of at least three years to incentivize this post for the judges.
     
  3. Lastly, he opined that as Respondent No. 3, being a member of the Appellate Tribunal, was fully qualified for the post of the President as per the CEGAT Rules 1987, the court would not challenge the appointment.

Dicta as per Justice A.M. Ahmadi (expressing concurring opinion of his and Justice M.M. Punchhi):
  1. The judges called for the Central Government to make some sincere efforts towards appointing a High Court judge as the President to instill public faith in the Tribunal, and promote judicial independence which is sine qua non for a sound justice delivery system. They suggested that an independent body, like the Law Commission of India, must make an encompassing analysis of the functioning of tribunals in India and suggest necessary measures for improvement.
     
  2. It was also directed the concerned administrative body to make an immediate inquiry into the alleged improper functioning of the CEGAT.

Judgement:
  1. The petition was dismissed and it was held that disclosure of the contents of State documents to the petitioner or his counsel was not essential.
  2. It was also directed that the Government should scrutinize the numerous allegations made against Respondent No. 3 and the malfunctioning of the CEGAT.
  3. Lastly, Sub-rule (4) of Rule 10 of the CEGAT Rules 1987 must be sufficiently altered so as to make the post of the President of CEGAT satisfactorily attractive to the sitting High Court Judges.
     
Rationale:
  1. The Latin legal maxim, 'Salus Populi Suprema Lax Esto', meaning that 'the welfare of the public is the supreme law', acts as the foremost principle for granting public interest immunity from disclosure. Information related to international relations, national security, diplomatic affairs, etc. are per se classified in nature, and conservation of public interest requires absolute immunity from the disclosure of such sensitive information. Yet, it was reiterated that the Court is not bound by the affidavits filed seeking public interest immunity, and it retains the power to balance injury to the public interest with that of injustice and denial of private rights to the Petitioner.
     
  2. Furthermore, it was observed that the Court cannot sit in judgement over the decision of the Central Government with regards to the selection of a person as the President of CEGAT if the person was sufficiently qualified to hold the post qualified under the CEGAT Rules 1987.

Conclusion
Therefore, the 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India unanimously held that the appointment of Harish Chander i.e. Respondent No. 3, as the President of CEGAT was accurate as per the requirements specified under CEGAT Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1987. Further, the Central Government was granted public interest immunity against disclosure of official documents under Sections 123, 124, and 162 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Suggestions:
The justices expressed their distress over the incompetence of the alternative mechanism devised for judicial reviews, due to the lack of presence of Committee members from a legal background. In the essence of the directions given by the judges to the Government, the Bench highlighted the importance of a sound justice system to be established to ensure retaining faith of the people in the Law and ensure efficient governance of a country like ours.

Justice Ahmadi and Justice Punchhi opined that an independent and impartial justice delivery system is a sine qua non to maintain the faith of the litigant and produce desired results. Directions were pronounced by the Bench hoping that recommendations of an expert body would be adopted by the Government to remedy the rampant ineffectiveness of tribunals and make them capable of becoming a satisfactory alternative to Special Leave Petitions under Article 136[23]. This case acts as a benchmark in highlighting the need for increasing independence of lower-level judiciary for better justice delivery in India, and appropriate steps must be taken in this direction.

End-Notes:
  1. R K Jain v Union of India & Ors 1993 AIR 1769.
  2. Indian Constitution, art 43.
  3. Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1987, r 2c.
  4. Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1987, r 3.
  5. Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1987, r 6.
  6. Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal Members (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1987, r 10.
  7. Indian Evidence Act 1872, s 123.
  8. Indian Evidence Act 1872, s 124.
  9. Indian Evidence Act 1872, s 162.
  10. Indian Constitution, art 74 (2)
  11. Indian Constitution, art 75 (3).
  12. Indian Constitution, art 323 (A).
  13. Indian Constitution, art 323 (B).
  14. Indian Constitution, sch III.
  15. Attorney General v Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1976 QB 752.
  16. Sankey v Whitlan, [1979] 53 ALR 11.
  17. Whitlam v Australian Consolidated Press, [1985] 60 ALR 7.
  18. State of U P v Raj Narain & Ors, [1975] 2 SCR 333.
  19. S P Gupta & Ors v Union of India & Ors 1982 2 SCR 365
  20. M B Majumdar v Union of India AIR (1990) SC 2263
  21. J B Chopra v Union of lndia [1987] 1 SCC 422
  22. Indian Constitution, arts 226, 227
  23. Indian Constitution, art 136

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