On 18.05.2020, the Division Bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao and Hon’ble Justice K. Lakshman excused themselves from passing further orders in the case of Sripathi Panditharadhyula Sudeep Sharma v. the State of Telangana.
Brief facts of the case
This case is about a Writ Petition filed by the petitioners on 11.5.2020 against the fixation of fees for PG Medical Courses in Telangana. A Government Order (“G.O”) dated 14.04.2020 was issued by the State Government for the same.
The basis for the fee hike was the recommendations of Telangana Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee (“TAFRC”). Through the G.O, a large hike in fee was permitted to be charged for PG Medical courses. It was in the range of 118% to 554% for the Private Medical Unaided Minority and Non-Minority Professional Institutions for the period 2020-2023.
A petition was then filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. It prayed to the High Court, to issue a direction to set aside the said G.O. This was on the basis that the G.O is illegal and arbitrary, without jurisdiction and violates fundamental rights.
Timeline of events
17.03.2020 – Recommendation by the TAFRC to the State Government for the fee hike.
12.5.2020 – Roster notified by the Hon’ble Chief Justice that only this Division Bench will take up all Division Bench cases.
12.05.2020 – Chief Justice passes administrative order, states case as an urgent matter.
14.05.2020 – Case listed before Single Judge who directs posting this matter before Division Bench. Furthermore, the Division bench takes up the matter, asks for reasons of fee hike recommendation, and adjourns for next day at 10:30 am. Also, an undertaking was filed to present a soft copy of detailed reasons for the recommendation of the said fee hike.
15.05.2020 – At 10:15 am, the counsel for the TAFRC forwards only the table of fees proposed, without the reasons of TAFRC for the said fee hike. The bench requests the counsel for the TAFRC to make an available soft copy of the same by 1.30 pm through email. Matter adjourned to 2:30 pm.
15.05.2020 – At 10:34 am, Chairman of TAFRC (“Chairman”) forwards a memo to his counsel, who forwards the mail to the Bench at 11:01 am. This communication brought to notice of the Bench at 12 noon.
Arguments in the Court
Sri Sama Sandeep Reddy appeared for the Petitioners. Additional Advocate General appeared for the State of Telangana, and Sri A. Prabhakar for TAFRC.
The learned Counsel for the petitioners started the arguments. But the learned counsel for the TAFRC intervened and submitted that there is no urgency to hear this case on that day.
This argument was not accepted. This was because of the administrative order of the Hon’ble Chief Justice stating that the case is an ‘urgent case’.
Observations by the Bench
Although the impugned G.O stated that the fee fixed was as per the recommendations of the TAFRC, it did not disclose the reasons for such a hike.
Thus, the Bench felt that it is necessary to have a copy of the detailed reasons for such recommendations. It asked the counsel to send it by email to the court officers of the Bench.
The counsel for the TAFRC expressed some difficulty in furnishing it. Since a soft copy was sought, he gave the undertaking to furnish the same on 15.5.2020.
Since the TAFRC exercises quasi-judicial powers, its actions are amenable to judicial review. The Bench could not consider the matter without looking into such reasons given by the TAFRC.
Once again on 15.5.2020, the counsel for the TAFRC requested for adjournment on the ground that there is no urgency.
It is doubtful that between 10.30 am and 10.34 am on 15.5.2020, a mere 4 minutes, the memo running into 5 pages was dictated, printed and got signed by the Chairman. It also contained a reference to several past events.
The above timings of the events on 15.05.2020 show that by 10.34 am, the Chairman had prepared this Memo and sent it to his Counsel. It shows that he did so with a pre-determined view to pick up an issue with the Bench. And also to avoid hearing of this matter by this Bench.
The Chairman, a retired judge of Hyderabad High Court, Justice P. Swaroop Reddy questioned the integrity of the independence and impartiality of Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao. He also defended his recommendations made to the Government. And further, questioned the locus standi of the petitioners to file the Petition.
Allegations against Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao and Clarifications
The Chairman quoted two decisions of 2017. He stated that his recommendations for fee fixation of engineering courses were set aside by Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao. He points to the motives of the Justice for such orders.
The Bench states that the Chairman has a selective memory. This was because the above-stated orders were upheld by Division Bench. It consisted of the then Chief Justice T.B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Ramesh Ranganathan in appeals filed by the State Government. This was in the case of the State of Telangana and Ors. vs. Vasavi Academy of Education and Ors.
The said judgment affirmed by the Division Bench is proof that the order of Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao was not a motivating judgment against the Chairman or the TAFRC or the Government of Telangana.
The Chairman referred to the Contempt Case initiated in connection with the above cases.
The Bench states that the Chairman omits to state that the said case was closed more than 2 years ago.
The Chairman refers to a meeting with Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao at a dinner hosted by a retired High Court Judge.
The Bench Replied
The Bench calls it a figment of imagination as he does not give any date or year of the same. Also, Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao has no recollection of any interaction with the Chairman, at any such dinner.
Another Petition was dealing with the issue of surrender of PG Diploma seats by Medical colleges to get in return PG Medical seats. An interim order passed by another Division Bench of which Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao was a member, the Chairman complains that there wasn’t any mention about the fee hike for PG Medical courses.
The Bench states that case does not come within the purview of the TAFRC, as it deals with the surrender of PG Diploma seats. Also, the counsel for the State did not dispute the facts of the fee hike during the course of hearing of the said Petition. Moreover, it is the prerogative of the bench to decide what matters should be in a judicial order. The suggestions of the Chairman are unwarranted.
Contempt of Court
The Bench noted that the Chairman, in his capacity as a quasi-judicial authority, cannot in law, defend his decisions before the High Court by acting as a private litigant. A statutory authority like the Chairman cannot even challenge the adverse orders passed against him.
The Bench quoting the decision in In Re: Vijay Kurle and Ors, stated that the harsh language used in the Memo is not acceptable and that it amounts to interference with the administration of justice and also to Criminal Contempt of Court.
The Bench also relied on the statement of then Justice Indira Bannerjee in the case of R.K Anand v. Delhi High Court that condemned an attempt to Bench hunting.
Concluding observations by the Bench
The Bench opined that it is improper for the Chairman to refer to events and orders passed by Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao in the distant past in discharge of his constitutional duty. To decide disputes, sometimes the bench passes orders which are both against and also in favour of parties to a dispute.
The Bench said
“It would be difficult for any Judge to adjudicate any case, if every unsuccessful party in such case after the verdict is pronounced, imputes motives to the Judge who decided it.”
The bench further went on to mention that in various cases the State of Telangana has been successful before Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao.
Bench further states that
The Bench stated that the Chairman’s allegations omitted to mention that from 1.1.2019 (when the Telangana High Court started functioning) till 1.5.2020, Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao has dismissed 86% of the Contempt cases filed against Government Officials/ Employees of the State of Telangana. He has also allowed a mere 14% cases, that too, in cases where there was willful disobedience of the orders passed by the Court.
This High Court was also the common High Court for the State of Andhra Pradesh and the State of Telangana from 2.6.2014 to 1.1.2019. During this period, several orders passed by Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao were against as well as in favour of the State of Andhra Pradesh.
So allegation made in the Memo about passing of orders by Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao only against the State of Telangana is not correct.
The Bench has no reason to have any hostility or to show favouritism to any individual or State, or any party, for that matter.
Being Judges of the Court this Bench has to, sometimes, adjudicate disputes to which the State or a State entity is a party. If on the facts and circumstances of a given case, a decision taken is against the State/other entity of the State, no intolerance can be drawn of any prejudice against it or its citizens. In any event, the aggrieved party has a right to appeal under the law against any adverse order.
The Bench declined to initiate any proceedings for contempt, close all issues arising out of the Memo, and excused from hearing the matter. It directed the Registry to place the file before the Hon’ble Chief Justice for passing appropriate orders in the main Writ Petition. And also on the Interim Applications filed therein by the petitioners.
Impact of the Judgement & Intervention sought
The Healthcare Reforms Doctors Association(HRDA) and Telangana Junior Doctors Association(TJDA) have sent letters to the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, requesting intervention in the matter based on the merits and demerits of the case.
HRDA’s Letter Requesting Intervention
TJDA’s Letter Requesting Intervention
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