The Uttarakhand High Court has recently held that merely because the Minister is one of the members of the CSB, it does not authorize him to transfer the petitioner. The Court has, therefore, ordered the reinstatement of Senior Indian Forest Service Officer Rajiv Bhartari as PCCF/HoFF (Principal Chief Conservator of Forest/ Head of Forest Force).

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Alok Kumar Verma said, “Merely because the Minister concerned is one of the members of the CSB that itself does not authorize him to unilaterally take a decision to transfer the petitioner in the manner that he did. … We, therefore, direct that respondent No. 4 shall forthwith stand divested of his duties as PCCF/HoFF, and the writ petitioner shall forthwith be restored to the said post. He shall be permitted to take-over charge at 10:00 AM tomorrow i.e. on 04.04.2023.”

The Bench, however, restrained the petitioner from taking any decision on any matter concerning the charge sheet issued to him and directed that he shall not deal with any file or matter relating to the charge sheet since there are allegations made against him and the charge sheet has been issued against him.

Advocate Abhijay Negi appeared for the petitioner while Standing Counsel Karan Anand, Advocate General S.N. Babulkar, CSC C.S. Rawat, and Advocate Rahul Gupta appeared for the respondents.

In this case, the petitioner was removed from the post in the year 2021 as part of a major reshuffle in the Forest Department due to allegations of a large-scale cut down of trees and construction works in the Corbett zone. He was removed from the post of PCCF and made the head of the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board.

The petitioner had moved to the Central Administrative Tribunal. Thereafter, he approached the High Court challenging his removal as the PCCF alleging that it was done for political reasons.

The High Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel observed, “Despite the Tribunal allowing the Transfer Application of the petitioner on 24.02.2023 quashing the petitioner’s transfer and directing restoration in the post of PCCF/HoFF, the said order was neither immediately assailed by the Government, nor even by respondent No. 4. They have taken their own sweet time, while the date of retirement is fast approaching, and today Mr. Rawat submits that the writ petition will be filed shortly.”

The Court noted that the Tribunal based on the record found that the transfer of the petitioner was made merely based on a Note prepared by the concerned Minister without following the statutory procedure and hence, the order of the Tribunal should be implemented forthwith.

“Pertinently, even after the petitioner was transferred out and respondent No. 4 has been brought-in as PCCF/HoFF, the matter was not placed before the CSB for post facto approval”, further noted the Court.

The Court, therefore, directed that the petitioner be restored to the post of PCCF and permitted to take over the charge at 10 a.m. on April 4.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for the next hearing on April 24, 2023.

Cause Title- Rajiv Bhartari v. Union of India and others

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