In Gangadhara Palo v The Revenue Divisional Officer & Anr the Supreme Court considered if a high court can be petitioned to review an order it had made, even if the apex court had earlier dismissed a special leave petition (SLP) against it.
Origins of the case
Palo, an employee of the State Bank of India (SBI), had filed a writ before Andhra Pradesh High Court to quash and set aside an order by a revenue divisional officer (RDO) that cancelled his social status certificate. Palo had applied to the SBI for a job that was reserved for scheduled tribe (ST) candidates, claiming to be a member of the Holva community (a recognized ST).
The SBI received complaints alleging that Palo’s social status certificate was false and referred the matter to the mandal revenue officer who confirmed that the certificate was genuine.
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Nevertheless, the issue was referred to the district collector for further legal confirmation. The district collector cancelled the social status certificate.
Palo told the high court that the cancellation was done without giving him an opportunity to present his case and as such it violated his rights under articles 14, 16 and 342 of the Indian constitution.
The high court dismissed the writ on the basis that Palo had been given reasonable opportunity to put forward his case before the district collector and that there had been no violation of natural justice.
Palo appealed this judgment in a special leave petition (SLP) to the Supreme Court, but this too was dismissed.
A second attempt
Palo then moved the high court for a review of its judgment, but was successfully opposed on two grounds: 1) it could not be entertained as the Supreme Court had already dismissed Palo’s SLP. In taking this view the court relied on the judgment in K Rajamouli v AVKN Swamy, which held that a review petition could not be maintained before a high court after dismissal of an SLP; 2) there had been an unexplained delay of over 71 days in filing the review. This eventually culminated in a civil appeal before the Supreme Court.
In the Supreme Court, the district collector argued yet again that the review was not maintainable according to the ratio laid down in K Rajamouli. It was also argued that the review could have been maintainable only if it had been filed during the pendency SLP and not after its dismissal.
Handling an SLP
However, the Supreme Court pointed out that its previous order dismissing the special leave petition had given no reason for doing so. It had simply stated ‘the Special Leave Petition is dismissed’.
It then proceeded to observe that when an SLP is dismissed by giving some reasons, however meagre (even just one sentence) there will be a merger of the judgment of the high court into the order of the Supreme Court dismissing the SLP. In such a case, a review is not possible as the judgment of the high court is itself is nonexistent. But when no reason is given the situation is different.
Special leave under article 136 of the constitution is a discretionary remedy and can be dismissed for a variety of reasons and not necessarily on merits. As such, when no reason is given when an SLP is dismissed, there cannot be a merger of the impugned judgment and such judgment can be reviewed subject to the limited grounds of review. These observations were based on UP State Road Transport Corporation v Omaditya Verma and others.
The Supreme Court did not agree with the observation in K Rajamouli’s case that “if the high court allows the review petition filed after the special leave petition was dismissed after condoning the delay, it would be treated as an affront to the order of the supreme court”.
Instead the apex court held: “We are not afraid of affronts. What has to be seen is whether a legal principle is laid down or not. It is totally irrelevant whether we have been affronted or not. …A mere stray observation of this Court, in our opinion, would not amount to a precedent. ”
The Supreme Court stressed that the power of review which is conferred upon the high court by the statute or the constitution cannot be taken away by a judicial order. As regards the delay in filing the review petition, the apex court said the high court should have taken a liberal view and condoned the delay.
In light of these observations, the Supreme Court set aside the order of the high court and directed it to decide the review petition afresh, on merits and in accordance with law.
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