No universal rule to fill vacancies on the basis of the law which existed on the date when they arose; Supreme Court overrules 1983’s YV Rangaiah ruling 

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha*, JJ has overruled the decision in Y.V. Rangaiah v. J. Sreenivasa Rao (1983) 3 SCC 284 wherein it was held that, “the vacancies which occurred prior to the amended rules would be governed by the old rules and not by the amended rules”. The Court held that the same does not reflect the correct proposition of law governing services under the Union and the States under part XIV of the Constitution as there is no rule of universal application that vacancies must be necessarily filled on the basis of the law which existed on the date when they arose.

Issue

Whether appointments to the public posts that fell vacant prior to the amendment of the Rules would be governed by the old Rules or the new Rules?

Analysis

Noticing that a number of decisions have followed Rangaiah on the question at hand but far more decisions have distinguished it, the Court decided to examine the issue afresh and came to the conclusion that the broad proposition formulated in Rangaiah did not reflect the correct constitutional position. The Court observed that,

“The principle in Rangaiahs case has given rise to a number of decisions, most of them have disapplied Rangaiah and have in fact, watered-down the principle while distinguishing it.”

What was held in Rangaiah?

The question that arose in Rangaiah’s case related to the mandatory obligation under the old rules to prepare an approved list of candidates and also the number of persons to be placed in the list as per the vacancies available. It is in this context that the Court observed that the vacancies would be governed by the old rules.

The Court, hence, in the present case, observed,

“This decision is not to be taken to be laying down an invariable principle that vacancies occurring prior to the amendment of the rules are to be governed by old rules. It is important to note that the Court has not identified any vested right of an employee, as has been read into this judgment in certain subsequent cases.”

Constitutional status of a person in employment with the State

Going through a number of authorities, the Court culled out the following principles governing the status of a person employed with the State that led to the conclusion that the status of a Government employee involves a relationship governed exclusively by rules and that there are no rights outside these rules that govern the services:

  • Except as expressly provided in the Constitution, every person employed in the civil service of the Union or the States holds office during the pleasure of the President or the Governor (Article 310). Tenure at pleasure is a constitutional policy for rendering services under the state for public interest and for the public good.
  • The Union and the States are empowered to make laws and rules under Articles 309, 310 and 311 to regulate the recruitment, conditions of service, tenure and termination. The rights and obligations are no longer determined by consent of the parties but by the legal relationship of rights and duties imposed by statute or the rules. The services, thus, attain a status.
  • The hallmark of status is in the legal rights and obligations imposed by laws that may be framed and altered unilaterally by the Government without the consent of the employee.
  • In view of the dominance of rules that govern the relationship between the Government and its employee, all matters concerning employment, conditions of service including termination are governed by the rules. There are no rights outside the provision of the rules.
  • In a recruitment by State, there is no right to be appointed but only a right to be considered fairly. The process of recruitment will be governed by the rules framed for the said purpose.
  • Conditions of service of a public servant, including matters of promotion and seniority are governed by the extant rules. There are no vested rights independent of the rules governing the service.
  • With the enactment of laws and issuance of rules governing the services, Governments are equally bound by the mandate of the rule. There is no power or discretion outside the provision of the rules governing the services and the actions of the State are subject to judicial review.

Decisions impliedly overruling Rangaiah

After going through several judgments that followed or distinguished the decision in Rangaiah, the Court came to the conclusion that the said decision is confined to the facts of that case.

The Court reviewed fifteen cases that have distinguished Rangaiah and have carved out the following exceptions to the broad proposition formulated in Rangaiah.

  1. There is no rule of universal application that vacancies must be necessarily filled on the basis of the law which existed on the date when they arose, Rangaiah’s case must be understood in the context of the rules involved therein.
  2. It is now a settled proposition of law that a candidate has a right to be considered in the light of the existed rules, which implies the “rule in force” as on the date consideration takes place. The right to be considered for promotion occurs on the date of consideration of the eligible candidates.
  3. The Government is entitled to take a conscious policy decision not to fill up the vacancies arising prior to the amendment of the rules. The employee does not acquire any vested right to being considered for promotion in accordance with the repealed rules in view of the policy decision taken by the Government. There is no obligation for the Government to make appointments as per the old rules in the event of restructuring of the cadre is intended for efficient working of the unit. The only requirement is that the policy decisions of the Government must be fair and reasonable and must be justified on the touchstone of Article 14.
  4. The principle in Rangaiah need not be applied merely because posts were created, as it is not obligatory for the appointing authority to fill up the posts immediately.
  5. When there is no statutory duty cast upon the State to consider appointments to vacancies that existed prior to the amendment, the State cannot be directed to consider the cases.

The Court, hence, noticed,

“The consistent findings in these fifteen decisions that Rangaiah’s case must be seen in the context of its own facts, coupled with the declarations therein that there is no rule of universal application to the effect that vacancies must necessarily be filled on the basis of rules which existed on the date which they arose, compels us to conclude that the decision in Rangaiah is impliedly overruled. However, as there is no declaration of law to this effect, it continues to be cited as a precedent and this Court has been distinguishing it on some ground or the other, as we have indicated hereinabove.”

Conclusion

(a) The statement in Rangaiah that, “the vacancies which occurred prior to the amended rules would be governed by the old rules and not by the amended rules”, does not reflect the correct proposition of law governing services under the Union and the States under part XIV of the Constitution. It is hereby overruled.

(b) The rights and obligations of persons serving the Union and the States are to be sourced from the rules governing the services.

[State of Himachal Pradesh v. Raj Kumar, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 680, decided on 20.05.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice PS Narasimha


Counsels

For State: Senior Advocate P.S. Patwalia, assisted by Advocate-on-Record Abhinav Mukerji

For Respondents: Advocate Prasanjit Keshvani

For other Respondents: Senior Advocate Ravindra Kumar Raizada, assisted by Advocate-on-Record Divya Roy

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