By Rajesh K Rajan
Journalists take up the cudgels on behalf of the victims of injustice, bureaucratic red-tape and systemic lacunae, yet ironically, sometimes they too fall victims to the same sad state of affairs. The case in point is veteran TV journalist Sudhanshu Ranjan who had to wage a protracted legal battle in the Supreme Court (SC) to fight for his rights. Finally, after more than 30 years he has managed to get the apex court’s order imposing a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting holding it guilty of contempt in the case involving his promotion. Following are the facts of the said case – Sudhanshu Ranjan versus Amit Khare:
In 1988, Doordarshan (DD) appointed 51 TV journalists in senior class I and class I scales through open competitive exam including written test and two rounds of interview. The recruitments were based on the recommendation of P. C. Joshi Committee’s report to bring in professionalism in the DD and elevate it to the level of an international level broadcaster.
In 1990 the prestigious Indian Broadcasting Programme Service (IBPS) was created, but these journalists were not included in it. When some of them filed a court case, the union government gave the undertaking that they were being considered for a new channel of promotion. But this undertaking was not put into effect. In 2000, Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Hyderabad directed the government to induct them into the IBPS. On this, the government moved the Andhra Pradesh High court and sought repeated adjournments but the High court in 2014 finally upheld the CAT’s decision.
Still, the government filed an SLP in the SC which too upheld the decision of the CAT and High Court on 26 September 2018. However, this judgement was not implemented, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting sent the file to the Ministry of Law proposing to review the case. The Ministry of Law saw no merit in the proposal and rejected it twice. Pinky Anand, the then, ASG wrote emphatically stated that it was not a case of review.
Still the ministry did not implement the decision forcing Ranjan to file a contempt petition in the SC. Again the ministry sought several adjournments. Subsequently, on 9 November 2019, the ministry filed an affidavit, as directed by the court, that the judgement would be implemented within three months. Again on 29 November 2019, the SC asked the ministry to implement the order within three months, that is, by 27 February 2020. Finally, the ministry issued orders for promotions up to the level of JAG (SG) in March 2020, and the last promotion was given from 1 April 2007 on notional basis denying arrears. But it did not issue any order for promotion into Senior Administrative Grade (SAG).
Finally, Ranjan had to revive his contempt petition on 10 July 2021. Subsequently, the ministry issued order on 26 July 2021, i.e., within 16 days of filing the revival petition. The promotion was made effective from 12 April 2013 on notional basis denying arrears. Finally, after directing the government file an affidavit, the court held on 16 August last that the ministry was clearly in contempt and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh to be recovered from the officers responsible for compliance. The apex court also ordered the ministry to pay salary and arrears to the petitioner with 6 per cent interest. Better late than never!