Similar cases yield opposite verdicts from Supreme Court

NEW DELHI - Two strikingly similar cases have yielded differing verdicts from the Supreme Court, with prominent lawyers voicing fears that getting relief from the apex court may be ‘a gamble’. The identical cases pertain to two government school teachers, both facing the prospect of losing their jobs after putting in several years of service, albeit for no fault of theirs.

One bench of the apex court this month upheld the sacking of one teacher, saying, ‘We cannot show misplaced sympathy’. Another bench reinstated the other teacher, saying: ‘The law is not merciless.’

Former additional solicitor general K.K. Sud told IANS: ‘Individual perceptions of judges do influence their decisions and make them deliver different verdicts on the same set or identical set of facts.’

Supreme Court lawyer Suresh Chand agreed: ‘The trend does exist and is disconcerting. ‘

Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal had observed before an apex court bench last year, ‘In the US and Britain, the decisions by the various benches of their apex courts happen to be the same and identical over identical matters. But here in India, it’s a gamble.’

‘While one bench may term a matter serious enough to warrant urgent hearing, another bench may dismiss it outright,’ Venugopal had said.

The latest cases pertaining to the two teachers - in which the verdicts came within a few days of each other - perhaps demonstrate this.

The first case pertained to Banibrata Ghosh, a government school in Nadia district of West Bengal, while the second was that of primary school teacher D.M. Premkumari of Mysore in Karnataka.

In Ghosh’s case, a bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice V.S. Sirpurkar said: ‘The counsel for the teacher says we should take a compassionate view of the matter since as a result of this judgement he would be thrown in the state of unemployment. We are afraid we cannot show any such misplaced sympathy.’

Justice Katju’s bench asked the West Bengal government to consider ‘condoning the age bar for Ghosh’s fresh appointment.’

After putting in around 18 years of service as a government school teacher, Ghosh may possibly have become ineligible to seek fresh employment.

The second case was that of Premkumari. Belonging to the backward Telugu Shetty caste entitled to reservation in state jobs, she had secured the teacher’s job in a primary school in Mysore in 1994.

But the district level government authorities in 1996 asked her to quit, saying she belonged to a different category of backward caste, which did not qualify for quota in that particular job.

However, this time a bench of Justice Tarun Chatterjee and Justice H.L. Dattu let her continue in the job, saying: ‘Though the judiciary does not believe in misplaced sympathy, the law is not merciless.’

‘If her appointment is struck down and if she is now asked to seek employment elsewhere, in our opinion, it would cause great hardship and injustice, as by now she must have crossed the upper age limit for seeking public employment.’

Former additional solicitor general Sud pointed out that the possibility of identical cases yielding different verdicts from different judges was fuelling the trend of ‘bench hunting’.

‘This phenomenon is increasingly leading to instances of what we call bench-hunting, where lawyers or litigants often force a stern judge to quit hearing his case and have his case transferred to another judge on frivolous grounds,’ said Sud.

‘It was surely because of this that real estate tycoons, the Ansal brothers, got their cases transferred from a bench headed by Justice B.N. Agrawal to some other bench in the apex court,’ said Sud. The Ansals are the prime accused in the 1997 Uphaar tragedy, in which a fire at a Delhi theatre killed 59 people.

‘The Ansals had made Agrawal quit hearing their case by raising a plea that they had the right to be represented in court through a counsel of their choice, which is former union law minister Ram Jethmalani. The latter, they said, was too embarrassed to appear before him for some personal reasons and, accordingly, the judge should quit hearing his case,’ said Sud, recalling the incident.

-Indo-Asian News Service



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