State of Assam Vs. Ranga Mahammad
& Ors  INSC 174 (21 September 1966)
21/09/1966 HIDAYATULLAH, M.
RAO, K. SUBBA (CJ) SIKRI, S.M.
CITATION: 1967 AIR 903 1967 SCR (1) 454
D 1968 SC 647 (2,6,11,12,13) R 1970 SC 370
(8) R 1972 SC1028 (15) F 1975 SC 613 (34,35) RF 1976 SC1841 (17) F 1977 SC2328
(59) R 1979 SC 193 (35,38) R 1979 SC 478 (152)
Constitution of India, Arts. 233 and
235-'Posting'of District Judges under Art. 233-Whether includes transfers or
only first appointment to cadre or on promotion-Whether consultation under Art.
233 with High Court mandatoryWhether 'transfer' can only be ordered by High
Court under Art. 235-Court's power to expunge remarks from a judgmentWhen exercised.
The respondent, filed petitions under Am. 226
and 227 in the Assam High Court asking that notifications by the State
Government of the transfer of one District & Sessions Judge and the
appointment and posting of another be quashed on the ground that the High Court
alone could make the transfers and. in any event, the High Court was to be
consulted and was not consulted before the impugned orders were made. The High
Court held that there was no consultation with regard to the posting of one of
the District Judges and that his transfer was irregular as the High Court alone
could have ordered it; and furthermore that the transfer of the other.
District Judge was for a like reason also
Holding, however, that none of the District Judges
could be said to occupy wrongly the office of District & Sessions judge,
the High Court declined the writ of quo warranto and dismissed the petition,
but without costs to the State Government. One of the learned Judges of the
High Court who comprised the Division Bench that heard the petitions,, in a
separate but concurring judgment, passed some scathing remarks on the action of
the Government which he described as mala fide and actuated by some ulterior
On being moved by the State Government, the
High Court granted certificates under Art. 132 of the Constitution to appeal to
the Supreme Court on the ground that the judgment involved the interpretation
of Arts. 233 and 235 of the Constitution. By these appeals the State Government
sought a reversal of the opinion of the High Court on the two Articles.
Three questions arose for decision in the
appeal:(a) who is to order transfer of a District Judge-the State Government or
the High Court; (b) is the provision regarding consultation in Art. 233 mandatory
or directory and if the former, whether the High Court was not in fact
and (c) whether the remarks complained of
about the State Government made by the learned Judge should be expunged.
HELD: (i) Under Art. 233 the Governor is only
concerned with the appointment, promotion and posting to the cadre of district
Judges but not with the transfer of District Judges already appointed or
promoted and posted to the cadre. The latter is a matter of control of District
Judges which is vested in the High Court under Art. 235. [460 G] The word
posting means either to station someone at a place or to assign someone to a
post, I.e. a position or a job, especially one to which a person is appointed.
In Art. 233 it bears the second meaning. The word occurs in association with
the words 'appointment' and 'promotion' and takes its colour from them. These
words indicate the stage when 454 455 a person first gets a position or job and
'posting'by association means the assignment of an appointee or promotee to a
position in the cadre of District Judges. The word 'posting' cannot be
understood in the sense of 'transfer' when the idea of appointment and
promotion is involved in the combination. This meaning is quite out of place
because 'transfer' operates at a stage beyond appointment and promotion.
Transfer, therefore, falls within the control vested in the High Court. [460
C-G] State of West Bengal v. Nripendranath Bagcht, 1 S.C.R.
771, referred to.
(ii) As the High Court acting under Art. 235
and not the State Government is the authority to make transfers, no question
can arise of a consultation on this account. In the present case, however,
consultation as required by Art.
233, was necessary before one of the District
Judges was promoted and posted as a District Judge.
Chandra Mohan v. U.P.  1 S.C.R. 77,
(iii) The power to expunge is an
extraordinary power and can be exercised only when a clear case is made out.
Although the opinion of this Court may be that the learned Judge need not have
made the remarks complained of, it could not be said that in making them he
acted with such impropriety that the extraordinary powers should be exercised.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeals
Nos.1367 and 1368 of 1966.
Appeals from the judgment and order dated
April 19, 1966 of the Assam High Court in Civil Rules Nos. 171 and 236 of 1965.
Purshottam Trikamdas, A. K. Sen, Naunit Lal
and Vineet Kumar,for the appellant (in both the appeals).
Sarjoo Prasad, Vinoo Bhagat and S. N. Prasad,
for respondent No. 4 (in both the appeals).
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
Hidayatullah, J. These are two appeals by certificate against a common judgment
of the High Court of Assam & Nagaland at Gauhati, dismissing two writ
petitions filed by one Ranga Mahammad against D. N. Deka and B. N. Sarma,
District & Sessions Judges respectively of Lower and Upper Assam Districts
questioning the transfer of the former from Jorhat to Gauhati and the
appointment and posting of the latter at Jorhat. The petitioner had asked that
the relevant notifications by the Government be quashed on the ground that the
High Court alone could make the transfers and, in any event, the High Court had
to be consulted and was not consulted before making the orders. The petitions
were heard and disposed of by a Divisional Bench consisting of Chief Justice
Mehrotra and Mr. Justice S. K. Dutta.
456 The Chief Justice held that there was no
consultation with regard to the posting of Deka, that the transfer of Deka to
Gauhati was irregular as the High Court alone could have ordered it, and that
the transfer of B. N. Sarma was for a like reason also irregular. Holding,
however, that none of the District Judges could be said to occupy wrongly the
office of District & Sessions Judge the High Court declined the writ of quo
warranto. The petitions ,were accordingly dismissed but without cost to the
State Government. In a separate but concurring judgment Dutta J. passed some
scathing remarks on the action of the Government which he described as mala
fide and actuated by some ulterior motive.
The High Court on being moved by the State
Government granted certificates under Art. 132 of the Constitution on the
ground that the judgment involved the interpretation of Arts. 233 and 235 of
the Constitution. By these appeals the State Government seeks the reversal of
the opinion of the High Court on the interpretation of Arts. 233 and 235 of the
Constitution. The main contention is that the High Court was, in fact,
consulted and, alternatively, that the power to transfer District Judges lies
with the State Government and not with the High Court. The State Government
also asks for the expunction of the remarks of Mr. Justice Dutta
The State of Assam consists of only three Sessions
Divisions. They are : The Upper Assam Districts, the Lower Assam Districts and
the Cachar Districts with Jorhat, Gauhati and Silchar respectively as the
Headquarters of the three District Judges. The Government of Assam with the
concurrence of the High Court has made the Assam Judicial Service (Senior)
Rules and rule 5 deals with recruitment.
In the Senior Judicial Service of the State
there are two grades-Senior Grade 1 and Senior Grade 11. Grade I has four posts
earmarked for Registrar, and three District Judges, and Grade 11 consists of
the Additional District Judges.
Under sub-rule (1) of rule 5 the Chief
Justice of the High Court fills the post of the Registrar by virtue of Art. 229
of the Constitution of India preferably from Grade 1 or Grade 11 of the
Service, and under sub-rule (ii) the other posts of the cadre are filled by the
Government in consultation with the High Court, but not more than onethird of
the posts in each Grade of the cadre may be filled up by direct recruitment.
The other posts are filled up by promotion from Grade II of the cadre or Grade
I of the Assam Judicial Service (Junior) respectively.
One would think that with so few posts in the
cadre and places there would be little scope for disagreement but unfortunately
there was. On December 6, 1962 the Chief Justice appointed A. Rahman, District
Judge, Gauhati, as Registrar and recommended that D. N. Sarma, Additional
District & Sessions Judge be promoted and appointed District Judge,
Gauhati, and in B. N. Sarma's 457 place D. C. Sharma should be appointed as
Additional District & Sessions Judge. This proposal was accepted by
Government. It appears, however, that one Medhi, District Judge, was retiring
and there was a vacancy. It also appears from the correspondence which has been
placed in our hands that there was some conversation on the telephone between
the Chief Justice and the Finance Minister regarding R. C. Choudhury (Joint
Secretary Legal Department) whom the Minister suggested for officiation in that
vacancy and the Chief Justice expressed his willingness to receive him.
Later by a D. O. letter of January 5, 1963
the Chief Justice pointed out that the Rules did not permit this to be done.
He observed that not more than one-third of
the District Judges could be recruited from the Bar and as Choudhury could only
be recruited as a member of the Bar there was no vacancy for direct
recruitment. The Minister who had accepted the telephone conversation as final
and was about to issue the necessary notification replied that as Sharma was to
continue for a year, Sharma's post could be given to Choudhury and suggested
reconsideration of the case. The Chief Justice replied that . the question was
not of filling Sharma's vacancy but Medhi's and that Choudhury could not be transferred
from the Legal Department to the Judicial Service because appointments as
District & Sessions Judges must be made in accordance with Art. 233 of the
Constitution. He explained that an appointee had to be either a person in the
Judicial Service of the Union or the State or an Advocate of 7 years' standing
and that persons from other services could not be transferred and appointed as
District Judges. He ended by saying that he could have taken Choudhury as a
member of the Bar if the High Court recommended him, but Rule 5(ii) of the
Assam Judicial Service (Senior) Rules, which reserved two out of the three
posts for promotees, was in the way. He declined to take Choudhury directly
from the Legal Department and recommended D. N. Deka's. name for promotion as
District Judge to hold the charge at Jorhat.
This letter apparently nettled the Minister
for his letter of the 24th January was worded somewhat strongly. It seems that
the Minister thought that the Chief Justice was retreating from a position
previously accepted by him. He traced the history of the correspondence and the
conversations and expressed his amazement at the change of opinion. He pointed
out that the intention was not to transfer Choudhury but to give him judicial
experience and observed that the constitutional provisions could not be invoked
when Choudhury had put in seven years' practice at the Bar and was qualified.
He concluded by saying "I am sorry, that I have to write all this but you
will understand that I have no other alternative in view of the embarrassing
situation created by your letter. I would 458 'still request you to consider
whether noncooperative and embarrassing attitude of this nature is in' the
interest of the State. I do not propose to enter into any further controversy
regarding appointment of Shri Choudhury which I feel is also not good in the
interest of the administration." Thus ended the episode of Choudhury but
the result of the unpleasantness it occasioned was unfortunate in other
respects. The Chief Justice wrote on February 7, 1963 observing that there 'was
no question of adopting any noncooperating or embarrassing attitude and that
all the points raised by the Minister could be ,explained satisfactorily.
He, however, saw no point in saying more as
Choudhury's name was to be dropped. He enquired why Rahman was not released
although it had no connection with the other matter and the appointment of the
Registrar was entirely ,a matter for the Chief Justice. He requested that
Ralunan be released soon and recommended the appointment of B. N. Sarma as
District Judge in his place. He also suggested S. C. Barua's transfer from
Cachar to Gauhati. In the vacancy of Medhi he recommended D. N. Deka's
promotion and recommended his -transfer to Jorhat. A notification was issued on
June 22, 1963 -appointing Deka as District Judge with Headquarters at Jorhat.
Nothing was done regarding the other recommendations. On September 7, 1963,
this is to say, exactly seven months after the ,last letter of the Chief
Justice, the Secretary to the Government of Assam wrote to the Registrar that
the State Government after careful consideration could not accept the
suggestion about the transfer -of Barua and proposed the transfer of B. N.
Sarma to Jorhat and of Deka to Gauhati immediately as Jorhat was without a
District Judge for months. The Registrar, in reply, wrote back to say that the
matter had become stale and the High Court would like to reconsider the matter.
Some letters were exchanged but they arc not
on the file of this Court. On January 22, 1964 the Registrar of the High Court
wrote to say that B. N. Sarma should go to Silchar, Barua to Jorhat and Deka to
Gauhati. To this a final reply was given by the Government on February 19, 1964
informing the High Court that the recommendations were not acceptable except as
to Deka's transfer from Jorhat to Gauhati. B. N.
Sarma was accordingly transferred to Jorhat
leaving Barua where he was Notifications transferring Deka and Sarma were
issued the same day.
One Ranga Mahammad of Gauhati then filed two
petitions in the High Court of Assam under Arts. 226 and 227 of the Constitution
questioning the jurisdiction of Deka, District & Sessions Judge, Jorhat. He
averred that the High Court was not consulted regarding Deka's appointment and
posting at Gauhati. By the second petition he questioned the transfer of B. N.
Sarma 459 to Jorhat. On rule being issued in the two petitions, Government put
in a detailed return pointing out that it had acted within its powers and had
also consulted the High Court. The High Court did not accept the submissions of
the State Government. The state Government now appeals.
Three questions arise and they are : (a) who
is to order transfer of a District Judge-the State Government or the High
Court;(b) is the provision regarding consultation in Arts. 233 and 235
mandatory or directory and if the former, whether the High Court was not in
fact consulted; and (c) should the remarks of Mr. Justice Dutta about the State
Government be expunged ? The answer to the first question depends on a true
construction of Arts. 233 and 235 of the Constitution. The text of these
articles is set out below.* The question we have posed resolves itself into a
question of a very different but somewhat limited form,, namely, whether the
power to transfer District Judges is included in the 'control' exercisable by
the High Court over District Courts under Art. 235, or in the power of
"appointment of persons to be and the posting and promotion, of district
judges" which is to be exercised by the Governor under Art. 233, albeit in
consultation with the High Court. If the sense of the matter be the former,
then the High Court and if the latter, the Governor, would possess. that power.
The right approach is, therefore, to enquire what is meant by "posting"
and whether the term does not mean the initial posting of a District Judge on
appointment or promotion to a vacancy in the cadre, permanent or temporary. If
this be the meaning, as the High Court holds, then the transfer of District Judges
already appointed or promoted and posted in the cadre must necessarily be
outside the power of the Governor and fall to be made by the High Court as part
of the control vested in it by Art. 235.
"233.Appointment of district Judges.
(1) Appointments of persons to be, and the
posting and promotion of, district Judges in any State shall be made by the
Governor of the State in consultation with the High Court exercising
jurisdiction in relation to such State.
(2) A person not already in the service of
the Union or of the State Shall only be eligible to be appointed a district
judge if he has been for not less than seven years an advocate or a pleader and
is recommended by the High Court for appointment" "235. Control over
The control over district courts and courts
subordinate thereto including the posting and promotion of, and the grant of
leave to, persons belonging to the judicial service of a State and holding any
post inferior to the post of district Judge shall be vested in the High Court;
but nothing in this Article shall be construed as taking away from any Such
person any right of appeal which he may have under the law regulating the
conditions of his service or as authorising the High Court to deal with him
otherwise than in accordance with the conditions of his service prescribed
under such law." 460 The history of the Arts. 233-237 in Chapter VI
(Subordinate Courts) of Part VI of the Constitution, was considered elaborately
in the State of West Bengal & Anr. v. Nripendranath Bagchi(1) and it was
pointed out that the articles were intended to make the High ,Court the sole
custodian of control over the judiciary except in so far as exclusive
jurisdiction was conferred upon the Governor in regard to the appointment and
posting and promotion of District ,Judges. Therefore, unless the transfer of a
District Judge can be said to be a "posting" of a District Judge the
High Court must ,obviously enjoy the exclusive power.
In its ordinary dictionary meaning the word
'to post' may denote either (a) to station someone at a place, or (b) to assign
-someone to a post, i.e. a position or a job, especially one to which -a person
is appointed. See Webster's New Word Dictionary (1962). The dispute in this
case has arisen because the State Government applies the first of the two
meanings and the High Court the second. In Art. 233 the word 'posting' clearly
bears the second meaning. This word occurs in association with the words
"appointment' and 'Promotion' and takes its colour from them. These words
indicate the stage when a person first gets a position or job ,and 'posting' by
association means the assignment of an appointee or promotee to a position in
the cadre of district Judges. That a special meaning may be given to a word
because of the collocation of words in which it figures, is a well-recognised
canon of construction.
Maxwell ("On Interpretation of
Statutes" 11th Edn. p. 321 and the following pages) gives numerous
examples of the application of this principle, from which one may be given
here. The words 'places of public resort' assume a very different meaning when
coupled with 'roads and streets' from that which the same words would have if
they were coupled with 'houses'. In the same way the word 'posting' cannot be
understood in the sense of 'transfer' when the idea of appointment and
promotion is involved in the combination.
In fact this meaning is quite out of place
because -'transfer' operates at a stage beyond appointment and promotion. if
'Posting' was intended to mean 'transfer' the draftsman would have hardly
chosen to place it between "appointment" and "promotion"
and could have easily used the word 'transfer' itself. It follows, therefore,
that under Art. 233, the Governor is only concerned with the appointment, promotion
and posting to the cadre of district Judges but not with the transfer of
district Judges already ,appointed or promoted and posted to the cadre. The
latter is obviously a matter of control of district Judges which is vested in
the High Court. This meaning of the word 'posting' is made an the more clear
when one reads the provisions of Arts. 234 and 235.By the first of these
articles the question of appointment is (1)  1 S.C.R. 771.
461 considered separately but by the second
of these articles posting and promotion of persons belonging to the judicial
service of the State and holding any post inferior to the post of a district
Judge is also vested in the High Court.
The word 'post' used twice in the article
clearly means the position or job and not the station or place and 'posting'
must obviously mean the assignment to a position or job and not placing
in-charge of a station or Court. The association of words in Art. 235 is much
clearer but as the word 'posting' in the earlier article deals with the same
subject matter, it was most certainly used in the same sense and . this
conclusion is thus quite apparent.
This is, of course, as it should be. The High
Court is in the day to day control of courts and knows the capacity for work of
individuals and the requirements of a particular station or Court. The High
Court is better suited to make transfers than a Minister. For however
well-meaning a Minister may be he can never possess the same intimate knowledge
of the working of the judiciary as a whole and of individual Judges, as the
High Court. He must depend on his department for information. The Chief Justice
and his colleagues know these matters and deal with them personally.
There is less chance of being influenced by
secretaries who may withhold some vital information if they are interested
themselves. It is also well-known that all stations are not similar in climate
and education, medical and other facilities. Some are good stations and some
are not so good. There is less chance of success for a person seeking advantage
for himself if the Chief Justice and his colleagues, with personal information,
deal with the matter, than when a Minister deals with it on notes and
information supplied by a secretary. The reason of the rule and the sense of
the matter combine to suggest the narrow meaning accepted by us. The policy
displayed by the Constitution has been in this direction as has been explained
in earlier cases of this Court. The High Court was thus right in its conclusion
that the powers of the Governor cease after he has appointed or promoted a
person to be a district Judge and assigned him to a post in cadre. Thereafter,
transfer of incumbents is a matter within the control of District Courts
including the control of persons presiding there as explained in the cited
As the High Court is the authority to make
transfers, there was no question of a consultation on this account. The State
Government was not the authority to order the transfers. There was, however,
need for consultation before D. N. Deka was promoted and posted as a District
That such a consultation is mandatory has
been laid down quite definitely in the recent decision of this Court in Chandra
Mohan v. U. P.(1) On this part of the case it is sufficient to say that there
(1)  1 S.C.R. 77.
462 This brings us to the question whether
the remarks of Mr. Justice Dutta should be expunged. There is no doubt that the
State Government and the High Court were working together till Choudhury's name
was suggested. This is not the first time when cordiality was ruined because a
Secretary's name was suggested by the Minister and was not acceptable to the
High Court. The Assam High Court's stand has been completely vindicated by
Chandra Mohan's case cited above. Choudhury could not be transferred from
another department and under the rules he could not be recruited from the Bar
as there was no vacancy. Consultation loses all its meaning and becomes a
mockery if what the High Court has to say is received with ill-grace or rejected
out of hand. In such matters the opinion of the High Court is entitled to the
We have considered very carefully the
question of expunging Mr. Justice Dutta's remarks, The power to expunge is an
extraordinary power and can be exercised only when a clear case is made out.
That another Judge in Mr. Justice Dutta's place would not have made those
comments is not the right criterion The question is whether Mr. Justice Dutta
can be said to have acted with impropriety. Although we think that Mr. Justice
Dutta need not have made the remarks we cannot say that in making them he acted
with such impropriety that the extraordinary powers should be exercised.
The appeals accordingly fail and are
dismissed but there will be no order about costs.
R.K.P.S. Appeals dismissed.