Reporter’s Diary: When the Review Petitioner succeeds

Bar & Bench November 9 2018

Reporter’s Diary is a series that brings you interesting snippets from court hearings across the country. It attempts to offer our readers a glimpse into interactions between judges and lawyers, and the observations made in cases of importance.

With the case related to the entry of women into Sabarimala poised to be heard again in the form of review, it is interesting to note how the Supreme Court deals with the review petitions.

It is not as if the Court mostly dismisses these petitions during the lunch hour in their chambers, after a perfunctory circulation among the judges who decided the main petitions. It is not, as many would tend to assume, that the judges who sit on the review bench like to use the phrase, “Having gone through the record carefully, we have not found any error apparent on record and as such we have dismissed the said review petition” almost as a cliché to dismiss each and every review petition listed before them. Once in a while, some review petitions do manage to pass the threshold, and get listed for hearing in open court.

On October 4, a Bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit and Ashok Bhushan decided to hear a review petition in open court, after the review petitioner, Avinash Kumar, made a convincing plea in his petition to reopen the case, decided by the Bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Lalit on August 25 last year.

In this case, the Special Leave Petitioner, Suresh Kumar sought age relaxation for appointment to the post of washermansafai karamchari meant for general category, though he belongs to the reserved category. The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Chandigarh Bench held that age relaxation would be admissible to him.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court set aside the CAT’s order, and held that as a general category candidate, he has to satisfy the requirements meant for such post. While applying for general category, he cannot claim age relaxation which is meant for a candidate belonging to the reserved category, the High Court held in 2014.

In their order last year, Justices Goel and Lalit had held that “having regard to the peculiar facts of the present case”, the age relaxation sought by the petitioners ought to be given to them, and directed the respondents to pass an appropriate order within two weeks from August 25, 2017.

The review petitioner, Avinash Kumar, argued that the selection was for one post of washerman, and that he was selected and held the post.  However, as a result of the August 25, 2017 order, he was to be replaced by the special leave petitioner, a fact which was apparently overlooked while hearing the case by the Goel-Lalit JJ Bench, due to which he was likely to lose his job.  Although there was a huge delay in filing the review petition, the Lalit-Bhushan JJ Bench condoned it, in view of its merits.

In another case, a review petitioner aged more than 78 years, and who had already served more than 17 years in jail, was released on bail, subject to such conditions as may be imposed by the trial court, by the Bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and AM Khanwilkar on October 22.  The Bench took this extraordinary decision out of compassion, even while directing the prisoner to file his rejoinder affidavit within four weeks.