Direct Recruits to Rajasthan’s Tax Assistant posts cry foul after Departmental Promotees appear senior. SC finds seniority justified

Supreme Court: In the case where Direct Recruits to the newly created posts of Tax Assistants in the Finance Department of the Government of Rajasthan claimed seniority over Departmental Promotees, the bench of Indira Banerjee and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ held that the seniority of the promotees given on the basis of their dates of appointment was justified by Rule 27 of the Rajasthan Commercial Taxes Subordinate Services (General Branch) Rules, 1975.


Background


  • In 2009, the Finance Department of the Government of Rajasthan granted approval for creation of 554 posts of Tax Assistants.
  • On 4th October 2010, a Departmental Selection Committee was constituted for recruitment of both categories and proceedings were initiated soon filling all the for 554 posts of Tax Assistants. In accordance with the rules, it was proposed to fill the 80% quota of direct recruits to the extent of 443 vacancies and 111 from amongst Departmental Promotees.
  • Amendments to the Rajasthan Commercial Taxes Subordinate Services General Branch Rules, 1975, made with effect from 01.12.2010, prescribed the manner of filling of posts of Tax Assistants.
  • On 16.05.2011, provisional results were declared for the test held for Direct Recruits.
  • The results of the tests for the Departmental Promotees were announced on 14.06.2011 and the promotion letters were issued on 23.06.2011.
  • The appointment orders of the Direct Recruits were issued subsequently; on 04-07-2011.
  • On 05.06.2013, the Commercial Taxes Department of the State of Rajasthan published a seniority list in which those appointed as DPs, in the 20% quota were shown as senior to the Direct Recruits.

Why was the seniority challenged?


The Direct Recruits argued their appointment, later than the Departmental Promotees is the result of manipulation by the department (or, rather some officers in the department) who wished to favor the Departmental Promotees; and that since their selections began before that of the DPs, the second proviso is attracted, for determination of inter se seniority. They also argue that the selection- in terms of the rules, “subsequent selection” necessarily refers to a chronologically later event.

In the present case, the recruitment of the Direct Recruits began with the advertisement in January, 2011 (and Second proviso to Rule 27 (1) 14 thus, in the earlier financial year, having regard to Rule 2 (l)) whereas the selection process for Departmental Promotees began in May, 2011.

It was urged that the amended rule 27, only speaks about the seniority on the basis of date of appointment; however, the proviso (2) clarifies the rule for reckoning seniority when there are two advertisements for the same post, filled through different categories (sources) of candidates. Therefore, the main rule will only apply when the recruitment is through the same advertisement. It cannot be applied in a case where another advertisement is issued for the same post after the release of the results of the first advertisement and appointment order is given in the later case. This process of arbitrary recruitment will always deprive of the candidates in their order of seniority in their whole service tenure which is against the principles of Article 14.


What the Supreme Court said


The Court noticed that the main provision of Rule 27 of the Rajasthan Commercial Taxes Subordinate Services (General Branch) Rules, 1975 was amended  as to clearly provide that seniority in the cadre would be fixed from the dates of appointment of the employees, or officers, to the cadre. However, the provisos of the Rules 27 were retained.

On a plain reading of the Rule 27 [1] and the two provisos, the Court summarised the following position:

(a) before the amendment of 2002, seniority of personnel appointed to the “lowest categories of posts” in any department was to be determined as from the date of appointment; however, for promotees, it was to be from the date of selection;

(b) after the amendment of 2002, seniority has to be fixed (by reason of Rule 27 (1)) as on the date of appointment to the post or service;

(c) however, in the case of pre-state integration of state (of Rajasthan) or pre-integration of services, seniority could be “modified or altered by the Appointing Authority on an ad hoc basis”- this clearly was meant to be a “sunset” clause, i.e. operative for a limited period;

(d) the second proviso,- which is the one pressed into service by the Direct Recruits, states that seniority of those selected earlier will be determined over those selected latter

Explaining the scope of Rule 27, the Court said the principal mandate of the rule is that seniority is determined on the basis of date of appointment (“shall be fixed from the date of their appointment”). Proviso (2) lists out two rules. The first is that those selected and appointed through a prior selection would rank senior to those selected and appointed through a later selection process.

The Rajasthan High Court was of the opinion that this rule (i.e. proviso) applied to selections from the same source, i.e. where two sets of direct recruits were appointed, those selected through a previous recruitment process, would rank senior to those recruited through a later recruitment process. The Supreme Court termed this interpretation ‘salutary’.

It said,

“There may be various reasons why the ultimate appointment of one batch of recruits may be delayed: challenges to some part of the recruitment process (such as shortlisting, calling of candidates for interviews etc.), during which period, a subsequent recruitment may be undertaken. To forestall any apprehensions as to which of the appointees would be senior, and if those from the earlier process are appointed later, the proviso clarifies that candidates from the earlier process would rank senior, despite the main rule speaking of a date of appointment based seniority.”

The Court applied the same logic to departmental promotees, as well, if two batches of promotees are appointed, through selection. It said,

“The second limb of the second proviso clarifies that when merit based, or seniority based promotions are resorted to, the applicable norm would be seniority in the feeder cadre, to forestall any debate about the rule of merit (in the selection) being the guiding principle.”

Hence, keeping in mind that the advertisements for filling the entire cadre, in both the quotas or streams of recruitment were issued one after the other, and more importantly, that this was the first selection and recruitment to a newly created cadre, the delay which occurred on account of administrative exigencies and also the completion of procedure, such as verification of antecedents, the Court held that the seniority of the promotees given on the basis of their dates of appointment was justified.

[Mahonar Lal Jat v. State of Rajasthan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 956, 26.11.2020]


*Justice S. Ravindra Bhat has penned this judgment. Read more about him here. 

For State of Rajasthan: Additional Advocate General Dr. Manish Singhvi,

For Departmental Promotees: Senior Advocate R. Venkatramani

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