The Delhi High Court has indicted Chief of Air Staff S Krishnaswamy for indulging in "mala fide exercise of power".
The court has said that respondent No 2 (the air chief) cannot "exonerate" himself from the obligation to be fair and impartial as head of the Indian Air Force.
A bench comprising justice Vijender Jain and Justice H R Malhotra gave the ruling on air vice-marshal T S Chhatwal's petition against denial of promotion to him to the rank of Air Marshal.
"There has to be someone who never wanted the petitioner to be promoted," the court said in an unprecedented order after examining the appraisal reports of Chhatwal.
"Needle of suspicion is writ large on the respondents 1 (defence secretary) and 2 (air chief), who made sure that the petitioner is ousted from the consideration for promotion by giving such low marks," it said in the strongly-worded judgement.
The bench, which quashed the recommendations of February 2003 selection board and the 2002 promotion policy, said 37 out of total 120 marks given to Chhatwal on the basis of 20 per cent board marks was "totally disproportionate to his AR gradings and irrational, arbitrary and without any basis".
"It was mala fide exercise of power by respondents 1 (Defence Secretary and 2 (Krishnaswamy)," the court said.