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HC dismisses petitions of chairpersons, members of CWCs & JJBs with costs

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Srinagar: J&K High Court has dismissed two petitions and imposed a cost of Rs one lakh on chairpersons and members of Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) and Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) for “forum shopping and bench hunting”.

Dismissing the writ petitions filed by Dr. Khair-Un-Nisa at Srinagar and Shalini Sharma at the Jammu bench of the High Court, a division bench today observed “the conduct exhibited by the petitioners is highly depreciable”.

Justices Sanjeev Kumar and Puneet Gupta delivering their verdict said “the dismissal of these petitions shall pave way for the selection committee to finalize the selection. We hope and trust that the Competent Authority shall act in the matter without any further delay and constitute the CWCs and JJBs in accordance with the 2015 Act and the Rules framed thereunder.”

The bench imposed an exemplary cost of Rs.1.00 lakh to be deposited by the petitioners in the Registry of this court within four weeks.

The petitioners — around 100 in number — were appointed under the different provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013 in 2018 for a period of three years. But the government later ordered their extension for a further period of one year or till fresh selection was made as per the prescribed procedure.

Meanwhile the process of selection for fresh appointments was initiated by the government vide an advertisement notification in August 2022.

The chairpersons and members challenged the advertisement notice in the Srinagar wing of the High Court. They sought that the respondent authorities of the government should allow them to continue with their duties as usual. They also sought extension of their tenure by three years more by placing reliance on Rule 4 of the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2014.

They held that they are eligible for re-appointment up to three consecutive terms based on performance appraisal to be made by Selection-cum- Oversight Committee based on recommendations of the District Child Protection Unit.

But in their petition they only prayed for interim stay of the advertisement notifications. A single judge bench granted them an ad-interim ex-parte order staying the process of selection initiated by the respondents.

The respondent government said the petitioners had no right to continue beyond the term of their extension.

While the aforesaid writ petition was pending adjudication, another writ petition No. 1748/2022 came to be filed by the petitioners in WP (C) No. 1742/2022 in Jammu wing of the court. Here they prayed for a direction that the government should start performance appraisal of the petitioners for the purpose of their re-appointment.

They also sought that the government be prohibited from taking any action disadvantageous to their interests and allow them to continue in service.

After hearing the parties, the division bench of Justices Sanjeev Kumar and Puneet Gupta held “it is nothing but a clear case of forum shopping/bench hunting, pure and simple and blatant abuse of process of law.”

The second petition on the same cause of action and the same subject matter was not maintainable, it said adding “the petitioners, by their sheer conduct of indulging in forum shopping, have lost their right to invoke the equitable jurisdiction of this court. The petitioners have tried to hoodwink this court by filing a second petition on the same cause of action, that too, in the wing other than the one in which the first petition on the same subject matter was pending.”

An attempt was made to get an additional interim order in different form which the petitioners had failed to obtain in the first petition. The reason for rushing to the Jammu wing to file the second petition was nothing short of forum shopping and, therefore, cannot be countenanced by this court on any count, remarked the court.

It said the petitioners even tried to hoodwink the court and justify the filing of subsequent petition in another wing by rearranging the sequence of names. The court found that 85 petitioners have already been selected by the selection committee on the basis of their qualification, experience and personal interaction/interview.

Although looking at the conduct exhibited by the petitioners the court could have directed their ouster from their office, yet it decided to take a lenient view and directed to impose costs worth Rs one lakh on them.

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