Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a service matter where upon reshuffling and on insertion of two OBC candidates into general category select list, two general category candidates already appointed and working since long would have been expelled or removed, thereby unsettling the entire selection process, the bench of MR Shah* and BV Nagarathna, JJ exercised its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India to do complete justice to all the candidates involved.

Factual Background

BSNL issued notification in 2008 for filling up the post of Telecom Technical Assistants (TTAs). The recruitment was to be made by conducting a competitive examination of eligible candidates in an objective type paper of 200 marks. However, in the exam which was conducted no person from general category candidate got more than 40% marks. However, four candidates from OBC category obtained more than 33% marks.

Despite the poor pass percentage of candidates in the TTA examination, BSNL relaxed the qualifying marks by 10% for all candidates owing to the acute shortage of manpower. Accordingly, the qualifying marks were refixed at 30% for general category and 23% for reserved category.

However, two candidates, who were found to be more meritorious than the general category candidates subsequently were found eligible to be appointed against the reserved category – OBC. Therefore, the respondent No.1, who was wait listed No.1 in OBC category, approached the Tribunal for a direction to prepare a fresh list for all candidates based on relaxed standard and act on the said combined merit list. It was, inter alia, pleaded that there cannot be two cut-off marks for a single selection. It was submitted that there was an unreasonable classification by providing another set of cut-off marks and the action was discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.

It was the case on behalf of the original applicant that those two candidates belonging to OBC category, who were having more merit were required to be adjusted against the general category seats and consequently the seats reserved for OBC category were required to be filled in from remaining reserved category candidates on merit.

Tribunal’s ruling

Tribunal directed BSNL to consider the candidature of the respondent No.1, if sufficient vacancies exist for placement of the candidates of OBC and further his candidature shall be considered against the present and future vacancies on OBC category.

High Court’s Ruling

Rajasthan High Court dismissed the writ petition preferred by BSNL by observing that the BSNL should have given appointment to the two candidates belonging to OBC category, against the vacancies which were not reserved vertically in the event of shuffling the said two persons to general category (admittedly both the candidates have secured and/or have more merit than the general category candidates, who were appointed). The High Court further observed that consequently the respondent no. 1 could have been selected against the vacancies reserved for the OBC.

Supreme Court’s Ruling

When the matter reached the Supreme Court, various decisions were taken note of wherein it was held that the reserved category candidates securing higher marks than the last of the general category candidates are entitled to get seat/post in unreserved categories. Further, even while applying horizontal reservation, merit must be given precedence and if the candidates, who belong to SCs, STs and OBCs have secured higher marks or are more meritorious, they must be considered against the seats meant for unreserved candidates. It is further observed that the candidates belonging to reserved categories can as well stake claim to seats in unreserved categories if their merit and position in the merit list entitles them to do so.

Applying the law laid down by the Supreme Court in various decisions to the facts of the case on hand, the Court noted that the two candidates, namely, Alok Kumar Yadav and Dinesh Kumar, belonging to OBC category, were required to be adjusted against the general category as admittedly they were more meritorious than the last of the general category candidates appointed and that their appointments could not have been considered against the seats meant for reserved category. Consequently, after considering their appointments in the general category, the seats meant for reserved category were required to be filled in from and amongst the other remaining reserved category candidates on merit such as respondent No.1.

“If such a procedure would have been followed, the original applicant – respondent No.1 would have got appointed on merit in the reserved category seats in the vacancy caused due to the above procedure.”

Therefore, the findings of the High Court were upheld.

The Court, however, was also alive to the fact that by reshuffling and on insertion of two OBC candidates into general category select list, two general category candidates already appointed shall have to be expelled and/or shall have to be removed, who are working since long and it may unsettle the entire selection process. Therefore, to strike a balance and to ensure that the two general category candidates, who are already appointed will not have to be removed and at the same time, respondent No.1 being a reserved category candidate also gets accommodated, if he is so appointed, in exercise of the powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, the Court ordered that on reshuffling and on respondent No.1 being appointed now against the reserved category seats and while the Alok Kumar Yadav and Dinesh Kumar, belonging to reserved category, to be treated in the general category seats, two candidates already appointed and belonging to general category shall not be removed. However, respondent No.1 shall get the seniority from the date the general category candidates were appointed, who were having lesser merit than Alok Kumar Yadav and Dinesh Kumar.

[Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. Sandeep Choudhary, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 524, decided on 28.04.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah


Counsels

Amicus curiae: Senior Advocate Dr. Rajeev Dhavan and Advocate Gaurav Agrawal

For BSNL: Advocate Pradeep Kumar Mathur

For respondent no.1: Advocate Puneet Jain

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where OBC female category candidates had challenged the appointment of General category female candidates, who had secured lower marks, as Constables in Uttar Pradesh Police, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit*, S. Ravindra Bhat** and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has directed that all candidates coming from ‘OBC Female Category’ who had secured more marks than 274.8928, i.e. the marks secured by the last candidate appointed in ‘General Category–Female’ must be offered employment as Constables in Uttar Pradesh Police.

However, the employment of General Category Females with cut off at 274.8928 are not to be affected in any manner merely because of this judgment.

Background

Pursuant to Supreme Court’s order dated 24.07.2019, selection to the 3295 posts in accordance with merit and consistent with reservation policy of the Government was undertaken by the Uttar Pradesh Government. According to the results declared on 11.11.2019, 188 posts in ‘General Female Category’ were filled up. While doing so, the claim of ‘OBC Female Candidates’ was not considered or taken into account.

The last candidate appointed in the category of ‘General Female’ had secured 274.8298 marks. 21 OBC applicants who secured marks greater than the candidate with 274.8298 challenged the action on part of the State Government in refusing to consider the claim of ‘OBC Female Category’ candidates in respect of ‘General Female Category’ seats.

Lalit, J, for himself and Bhat and Roy, JJ

The Court discussed the views of various High Courts and categorised them as “first view” and the “second view”. The High Courts of Rajasthan, Bombay, Uttarakhand, and Gujarat have adopted the “first view” while dealing with horizontal reservation whereas the High Court of Allahabad and Madhya Pradesh have taken a contrary view i.e. the “second view”.

First view

Candidates belonging to any of the vertical reservation categories are entitled to be selected in “Open or General Category”. If such candidates belonging to reserved categories are entitled to be selected on the basis of their own merit, their selection cannot be counted against the quota reserved for the categories for vertical reservation that they belong.

Second view

According to the second view, different principles must be adopted at two stages; in that:-.

(I) At the initial stage when the “Open or General Category” seats are to be filled, the claim of all reserved category candidates based on merit must be considered and if any candidates from such reserved categories, on their own merit, are entitled to be selected against Open or General Category seats, such placement of the reserved category candidate is not to affect in any manner the quota reserved for such categories in vertical reservation.

(II) However, when it comes to adjustment at the stage of horizontal reservation, even if, such reserved category candidates are entitled, on merit, to be considered and accommodated against Open or General Seats, at that stage the candidates from any reserved category can be adjusted only and only if there is scope for their adjustment in their own vertical column of reservation.

Such exercise would be premised on following postulates: – (A) After the initial allocation of Open General Category seats is completed, the claim or right of reserved category candidates to be admitted in Open General Category seats on the basis of their own merit stands exhausted and they can only be considered against their respective column of vertical reservation. (B) If there be any resultant adjustment on account of horizontal reservation in Open General Category, only those candidates who are not in any of the categories for whom vertical reservations is provided, alone are to be considered. (C) In other words, at the stage of horizontal reservation, Open General Category is to be construed as category meant for candidates other than those coming from any of the categories for whom vertical reservation is provided.

Analysis of both the views

The second view, based on adoption of a different principle at the stage of horizontal reservation as against one accepted to be a settled principle for vertical reservation, may lead to situations where a less meritorious candidate, not belonging to any of the reserved categories, may get selected in preference to a more meritorious candidate coming from a reserved category as has happened in the present matter.

Admittedly, the last selected candidates in Open General female category while making adjustment of horizontal reservation had secured lesser marks than the Applicants. The claim of the Applicants was disregarded on the ground that they could claim only and only if there was a vacancy or chance for them to be accommodated in their respective column of vertical reservation.

The Court further noticed that if the consideration for accommodation at horizontal reservation stage is only with regard to the concerned vertical reservation or social reservation category, the candidates belonging to that category alone must be considered. For example, if horizontal reservation is to be applied with regard to any of the categories of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Other Backward Classes, only those candidates answering that description alone can be considered at the stage of horizontal reservation.

“But it is completely different thing to say that if at the stage of horizontal reservation, accommodation is to be considered against Open/General seats, the candidates coming from any of the reserved categories who are more meritorious must be side-lined.”

Noticing that the second view is neither based on any authoritative pronouncement by the Supreme Court nor does it lead to a situation where the merit is given precedence, the Court said that subject to any permissible reservations i.e. either Social (Vertical) or Special (Horizontal), opportunities to public employment and selection of candidates must purely be based on merit.

“Any selection which results in candidates getting selected against Open/General category with less merit than the other available candidates will certainly be opposed to principles of equality. There can be special dispensation when it comes to candidates being considered against seats or quota meant for reserved categories and in theory it is possible that a more meritorious candidate coming from Open/General category may not get selected. But the converse can never be true and will be opposed to the very basic principles which have all the while been accepted by this Court.”

Hence, rejecting the second view, the Court held that it will not only lead to irrational results where more meritorious candidates may possibly get sidelined as indicated above but will, of necessity, result in acceptance of a postulate that Open/General seats are reserved for candidates other than those coming from vertical reservation categories.

Bhat, J in his concurring opinion

“Reservations, both vertical and horizontal, are method of ensuring representation in public services. These are not to be seen as rigid “slots”, where a candidate’s merit, which otherwise entitles her to be shown in the open general category, is foreclosed, as the consequence would be, if the state’s argument is accepted. Doing so, would result in a communal reservation, where each social category is confined within the extent of their reservation, thus negating merit. The open category is open to all, and the only condition for a candidate to be shown in it is merit, regardless of whether reservation benefit of either type is available to her or him.”

[Saurav Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1034, decided on 18.12.2020]


*Justice UU Lalit has penned this judgment. Read more about him here.

** Justice S. Ravindra Bhat has penned a concurrent opinion. Read more about him here