Supreme Court: The bench of UU Lalit and Vineet Saran, JJ has held that the inter se placement of the candidates selected to the Cadre of District Judge through Limited Competitive Examination (LCE) must be based on merit and not on the basis of the seniority in the erstwhile cadre.

The Court arrived at the aforementioned finding while dealing with the challenge to the Report of the Committee of five Judges of the Rajastha High Court under the Chairmanship of the Chief Justice of the High Court.

The report dated 15.03.2019 stated,

“merit of those promoted through LCE should by virtue of Rule 32(2) be considered as the benchmark for promotion, inter-se seniority amongst them in the feeder cadre being maintained by prescription of Rule 47(4), subject to the exception that if an officer by regular method of promotion is able to otherwise secure promotion in the same year in the regular line on his turn and on that basis he gets a higher placement in the seniority, regardless of his selection in the LCE, he should not be put to a disadvantageous position and allowed to retain his position in the seniority based on his regular promotion. In other words, such officer would be entitled to retain seniority, either on the basis of LCE or on the basis of regular promotion, whichever is more beneficial to him.”

Placing reliance on Rule 47(4), the Committee in its Report dated 15.03.2019 held that the inter se seniority of persons promoted to the District Judge Cadre in the same year ought to be the same as it was in the posts held by them at the time of promotion.

Rule 47 (4) of 2010 Rules reads as,

“Inter-se seniority of persons promoted to the District Judge cadre in the same year shall be the same as it was in the post held by them at the time of promotion.”

Whereas Rule 31(2) of the 2010 Rules states,

“Twenty five percent posts in the cadre of District Judge shall be filled in by promotion from Senior Civil Judges strictly on the basis of merit through limited competitive examination conducted by the Court.”

Rule 31(2) of Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, 2010 uses the expression “strictly on the basis of merit” while dealing with posts to be filled in through LCE. The merit is to be assessed in terms of the scheme laid down in the relevant Schedule. After considering various parameters stated in said Schedule, the successful candidates are selected on the basis of merit. The list of successful candidates becomes the basis for final selection subject to qualifying parameters such as suitability, medical fitness etc.

Holding that the High Court, in its Report dated 15.03.2019, completely failed to appreciate the true character of LCE and reservation of certain quota for that category, the Supreme Court said that the general principle appearing in Rule 47(4) must give way to the special dispensation in Rule 31(2) of 2010 Rules.

The Court explained that if the list is to be drawn up according to merit, it is possible that the last person in the list of selectees may be the senior most and going by the Report of the Committee, if all the selectees are promoted in the same year such last person may as well be at the top of the list of promotes through LCE. In that event, the seniority shall become the governing criteria and the excellence on part of a comparatively junior candidate may recede in the background.

“Instead of giving incentive to comparatively junior and other officers, the entire examination process will stand reduced to a mere qualifying examination rather than a competitive examination affording opportunity to meritorious candidates. The criteria shall then become seniority subject to passing the LCE.”

The Court, hence, directed:

“the seniority list issued in terms of Report dated 15.03.2019 shall stand modified only to the extent that appropriate placement to the candidates selected through LCE be given on the basis of their merit in the examination and not on the basis of their seniority in the erstwhile cadre. Let the appropriate changes be made within four weeks of this Judgment.”

[Dinesh Kumar Gupta v. High Court of Judicature of Rajasthan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 420 ,decided on 29.04.2020]

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