Maharashtra Forest Guards and Foresters Union Vs. The State of Maharashtra and Ors. - (Supreme Court) (03 Nov 2017)
Introducing an additional restriction of graduation for participation in examination without there being any quota reserved for graduates is discriminatory
The short question arising for consideration in this case is whether the restriction introduced on the basis of educational qualification for participating in a Limited Departmental Competitive Examination ("LDCE") violates Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. The educational qualification for appointment to the post of Forest Guard in the Forester, Forest Guard, Ranger-Surveyor, Surveyor, Head Clerk, Accountant and Clerk-cum-Typist (Recruitment) Rules, 1987 ("the Recruitment Rules") is Higher Secondary School Certificate ("HSSC"). It is a feeder category for promotion to the post of Forester. By the amendment introduced in the Recruitment Rules in 2013, 75 per cent of the posts in the category of Forester are to be filled up on the basis of seniority-cum-fitness (Rule 7(1)(a)). The remaining 25 per cent is to be filled up on the basis of the LDCE (Rule 7(1)(b)).
Two main conditions have been prescribed to participate in the competitive examination - (i) the candidate should have completed minimum five years of service as Forest Guard and (ii) the candidate should be a graduate. It is the contention of the Appellant that, as far as the first condition is concerned, the Department is well within its competence to prescribe eligibility of minimum experience for a Forest Guard to get promoted as Forester even on the basis of the competitive examination since the post of Forester requires experience in service and exposure in the field. However, introducing a further restriction on the basis of educational qualification to participate in the LDCE is discriminatory.
If the young graduates are otherwise intellectually sharp and educationally proficient, they would prove to be more meritorious in the competitive LDCE. As the Rules now stand, opportunity has to be thrown open to the youngsters who are non-graduates also in the seniority list but who have completed the required number of years of service and yet are otherwise alert, efficient and proficient. Denial of the same would certainly be violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
There is no quarrel with the well-settled proposition that, there can be a classification based on the educational qualification, if so warranted by the circumstances. But in the present case, based on the educational qualification, a class within a class has been created violating the guarantee of equality by restricting the participation in the LDCE only to graduates.
It was a case where the validity of the Rule which prescribed ratio of 3:2 for direct recruits and promotees-the former being degree holders and latter being diploma holders was challenged as violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. It was held that, higher educational qualification has relevance in so far as holding of higher promotional post is concerned in view of the nature of function and duties attached to the post. Still further, this Court held that, prescribing a lesser quota for diploma holders does not suffer from such an infirmity as to make a diploma holder totally unfit for holding the post and hence, the ratio was not "inequitable so as to mock at the guarantee of equality".
The whole purpose of the LDCE is to encourage and facilitate the Forest Guards to get accelerated promotion on the basis of merit. Since, seniority is the criterion for promotion to three-fourth of the posts, one-fourth is given a chance to compete in a competitive examination. It is also to be noted that, there is no quota prescribed on the basis of higher educational qualification. The LDCE is meant for selection for promotion from the entire lot of Forest Guards irrespective of seniority but subject to minimum five years of service. In that situation, introducing an additional restriction of graduation for participation in the LDCE without there being any quota reserved for graduates will be discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India since it creates a class within a class. The merit of the 25 per cent cannot be prejudged by a sub-classification. It violates the equality and equal opportunity guarantees. The Forest Guards, irrespective of educational qualifications, having formed one class for the purpose of participation in the LDCE, a further classification between graduates and non-graduates for participating in the LDCE is unreasonable. It is a case of equals being treated unequally.
Rule 7(2) of the Recruitment Rules to the extent that it imposes the requirement of being a graduate is declared unconstitutional. However this judgment shall not affect the promotions already made. But for further promotions, the LDCE shall be held afresh granting opportunity to all eligible Forest Guards. The appeal is allowed.
Tags : EXAMINATION PARTICIPATION RESTRICTION