T. VALSAN (D) THR. Lrs. & ORS. V K. KANAGARAJ & ORS.
Date of Order:
8 May 2023
Hon’ble Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Hon’ble Justice Abhay S. Oka and Hon’ble Justice Manoj Misra
Appellants: T. Valsan (D) Thr. Lrs. & Ors
Respondents: K. Kanagaraj & Ors
The Supreme Court propounded that seniority should be calculated from the date of appointment. The Apex Court held that there was no distinction between the period served before or after acquiring the degree, based on the wording of the rules and the Electricity Department's understanding and implementation of the Electricity Department, Group B (Technical) Assistant Engineer (Electrical) Recruitment Rules, 1979.
- As per the Government of Pondicherry, Electricity Department, Group B (Technical) Assistant Engineer (Electrical) Recruitment Rules, 1979 for the post of Junior Engineer, 50% of the vacancies are to be filled by promotion, and the remaining 50% are to be filled by direct recruitment. The next avenue of promotion is to the post of Assistant Engineer (Electrical). Under the said Rules, 80% of the vacancies for the post of Assistant Engineer are to be filled up by ‘promotion’ and 20% by ‘direct recruitment’. The promotion is made among Junior Engineers with three years of regular service for those with a degree in electrical engineering and seven years of regular service for those with only a Diploma in electrical engineering. A subsequent amendment was made where the amended Rules reserved 50% for those Junior Engineers who possess a Degree in Engineering with regular service of 3 years. The other 50% was reserved for those Junior Engineers who possess Diploma with regular service of 7 years.
- The Puducherry administration construed the Rules to mean that as long as the Diploma holder acquires a degree, the period spent in service as a Junior Engineer, before the acquisition of an engineering degree, would be counted.
- However, in order to earn their promotion to the post of Assistant Engineer, a Junior Engineer, possessing an Engineering Degree, has fewer years of service while a Diploma holder, the requisite period for service was more. But while working as a Junior Engineer, there is no difference between a degree holder and a diploma holder.
- As a result, the question arose as to whether the time spent working as a Junior Engineer prior to earning a degree should be omitted when calculating the eligible term of service for advancement to the position of Assistant Engineer for a Diploma holder.
- The Appellants approached the Central Administrative Tribunal, Madras Bench, challenging the decision of the Puducherry administration to promote the Junior Engineers, who were originally Diploma holders and acquired degree during service, as Assistant Engineers under the Degree quota, immediately after they acquired their degree without insisting on a three-years of continuous service from the date of acquisition of the degree. This was alleged to have resulted in denying promotion to the Junior Engineers, who joined the service as Degree holders.
- The CAT, vide an order dated 20.11.2009, partly found in favour of the Appellants and opined that the qualifying service for Junior Engineers, who obtained their degree during their service for the purposes of promotion to Assistant Engineer under the Degree quota, would have to be considered from the date when they obtained the degree. This view of the CAT was based on Shailendra Dania & Ors. v. S.P. Dubey & Ors. [(2007) 5 SCC 535]
- The Respondents challenged this decision by filing multiple writ petitions before the High Court. The Court ruled in their favour by relying on D. Stephen Joseph v. Union of India & Ors. [(1997) 4 SCC 753]. and M.B. Joshi v. Satish Kumar Pandey [(1993) Supp. (2) SCC 419]. It said if a rule is specific, counting experience only from the date of acquiring a higher educational qualification would violate the purpose of incentivizing employees to pursue further education. The department has a past practice of considering the entire tenure of a Junior Engineer, which has become a rule. However, since this rule has been interpreted by the High Court, the CAT cannot rely on the decision regarding other rules. Regarding the proper interpretation of the contested rule, the Court contrasted the Shailendra Dania & Ors., a later judgement of three judges, from the earlier judgement of two judges in the D. Stephen Joseph.
- Should the period worked as a Junior Engineer before earning a degree be excluded when determining the eligible service period for promotion to the position of Assistant Engineer for a Diploma holder?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT:
- The argument presented was that the promotion requirements, which include both educational qualifications and years of experience, are cumulative. Those with higher educational qualifications provide better service, and distinguishing between employees with different qualifications is necessary for efficiency. Allowing diploma holders to be promoted to the same level as degree holders would undermine this distinction. Additionally, it was argued that the appellants had qualified for a longer period than the respondents.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:
The respondents argued that the decision made in the D. Stephen Joseph case does not contradict the decision made in the Shailendra Dania case. Additionally, the respondents cited two other court decisions, namely Anil Kumar Gupta v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Chandravathi P.K. & Ors. v. C.K. Saji & Ors., which supported the D. Stephen Joseph case. The two judgments stated that individuals with diplomas could include their service period before obtaining a degree to be eligible for promotion as Assistant Engineers in the Electricity Department of the Union Territory of Puducherry. Therefore, the D. Stephen Joseph case cannot be considered sub-silentio.
- On examining the controversy in the context of the arguments urged and the judicial precedents, we can say that actually, the issue is no more res integra in view of the judgement of this Court in C. Chakkaravarthy & Ors. v. M. Satyavathy, IAS & Ors. [(2015) 16 SCC 652]. In this case, the court found merit in the petitioner's argument that promotion to the post of Assistant Engineers in the service shall be based on merit alone, and that seniority cannot be a factor.
- The court also rejected the government's procedure of considering the date of acquiring the degree as a determining factor. The government was entitled to restrict the zone of consideration based on the number of vacancies, but it could not draw up a list of eligible candidates based on the date they acquired eligibility, which was dependent on the date they acquired the degree qualification.
- The court found it fair and reasonable to use the date of entering service as a Section Officer/Junior Engineer as the yardstick for drawing up the list of eligible candidates. The review DPC had committed a mistake by relying on the date of acquiring eligibility, which needs to be corrected. There was no necessity for a Degree to perform the job of a Junior Engineer, and all persons were alike. The distinction only came into play when the merit-based promotion had to take effect. Thus, as to when the person obtained the degree as a method of advancement of his knowledge and entitling him to an earlier consideration in the time period would not be relevant.
- The Supreme Court in Chandravathi P.K. & Ors. referred to a number of earlier judgments on the issue, including D. Stephen Joseph, Satpal Antil v. Union of India, Anil Kumar Gupta, A.K. Raghumani Singh v. Gopal Chandra Nath and Pramod K. Pankaj v. State of Bihar. The principle laid down is that in the absence of any statutory provision or rule made thereunder or under the proviso appended to Article 309 of the Constitution of India, once an incumbent is appointed to the post according to rules, their seniority has to be counted from the date of appointment. The importance of past practice was highlighted in the case of Shailendra Dania & Ors.
- In the instant case, for 50% of promotions, the rule's language stipulates that candidates must have three years of regular employment and a degree in electrical engineering. In contrast, the other 50% need a diploma in electrical engineering and seven years of stable employment.
- Without making a distinction between the years served before or after receiving the degree, the service period provided as a Junior Engineer is not taken into account. The regulations have been consistently followed in the Electricity Department over time, thus it is important to give the rules' creators' viewpoint the respect it deserves.
The Court agreed with the High Court that the time period served before or after acquiring a degree does not make a difference as long as the degree is acquired and is the basis for considering promotion. It took the view that judgement in D. Stephen Joseph is the applicable law, and accordingly dismissed the appeal.