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Supreme Court Stresses Need for Explicit Pleading in Cases Involving Statutory Challenges

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Published on: 06 September 2023 at 17:26 IST 

The Supreme Court has reasserted the necessity of a specific pleading and request in cases aiming to strike down statutory provisions or declare rules as ultra vires.

In a recent judgment, the Court emphasized that such challenges must be explicitly raised in the pleadings for a valid legal consideration.

The Court’s observation highlighted the well-established legal principle that, to challenge and declare provisions of law or rules as ultra vires, it is essential to have a specific pleading that questions the rules and seeks relief accordingly.

This requirement was notably absent in the present case, denying the Union of India an opportunity to address and counter such claims. Additionally, the Court opined that the High Court’s declaration of Rule 4(b) as ultra vires in a writ petition challenging a CAT order was not justified.

The case revolved around an appeal against the Orissa High Court’s judgment, which had declared Rule-4(b) of the Ministry of Information Technology (In-situ promotion under Flexible Complementing Scheme) Rules, 1998 as legally invalid.

The High Court’s ruling directed the appellant to reconsider the promotion of the respondent (Manjurani Routray).

In this matter, the respondent, employed as a Principal System Analyst (Scientist D) at the National Informatics Centre in Cuttack, sought promotion under the Flexible Complementing Scheme (FCS) after her juniors had been promoted. Her appeals for reconsideration were dismissed, leading her to approach the Central Administration Tribunal (CAT). During this process, Rule 4(b) was introduced.

The Tribunal requested the appellant to clarify promotion guidelines and inform the respondent about the reasons for her non-promotion. Dissatisfied with the Tribunal’s decision, the respondent filed a writ petition before the High Court. Although the legality of Rule 4(b) was not explicitly challenged, the High Court declared it “ultra vires” and directed amendments in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directives.

The Supreme Court, however, noted that the respondent’s writ petition only sought to overturn the CAT’s order and did not challenge the validity of Rule 4(b). Therefore, the Court concluded that the High Court’s declaration of Rule 4(b) as ultra vires was not warranted.

As a result, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside the High Court’s order, eliminating any contention regarding the illegality of the respondent’s promotion denial.

Case Title: Union of India v. Manjurani Routray