Read Judgment: Chandan Banerjee &Ors. vs. Krishna Prosad Ghosh & Ors

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, September 22, 2021:The Supreme Court has opined that persons drawn from a common source who have been integrated into a cadre can be differentiated on the basis of educational qualifications for the purpose of promotion to supernumerary posts.

The Three Judge Bench of Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Hima Kohli observed that classification between persons must not produce artificial inequalities, and rather must bear nexus to the object and purpose sought to be achieved to pass the muster of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.

Judicial review in matters of classification is limited to a determination of whether the classification is reasonable and bears a nexus to the object sought to be achieved, and therefore, Courts cannot indulge in a mathematical evaluation of the basis of classification or replace the wisdom of the legislature or its delegate with their own, added the Bench.

The observation came to be passed in reference to a judgment of the Division Bench of Calcutta High Court upholding a circular of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) which prescribed separate conditions for diploma and degree holder Sub-Assistant Engineers (SAE) for supernumerary appointments as Assistant Engineers (AE).

The background of the case was that the appellants, who are SAEs possessing a diploma in engineering, instituted a writ challenging the circular and gradation list on the ground that classification within the same cadre of SAE for the purpose of appointment to supernumerary posts violates Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.

Although the Single Judge held the circular to be arbitrary and unconstitutional, the Division Bench reversed such decision and held the classification made on the basis of educational qualifications for supernumerary appointments to the higher post of Assistant Engineer, valid.

After considering the arguments and relevant circular, the Top Court noted that the locus classicus on the question whether educational qualifications can be used as a criteria for classification between persons integrated into one class for the purpose of promotion, came to be answered in the decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court in State of Jammu & Kashmir v. Trilokinath Khosa, wherein it was observed that a judicial scrutiny can extend only to the consideration whether the classification rests on a reasonable basis and whether it bears nexus with the object in view.

The Top Court therefore found it impossible to accept the respondents’ submission that the classification of Assistant Engineers into degree-holders and diploma-holders rests on any unreal or unreasonable basis.

The classification on the basis of educational qualifications made with a view to achieving administrative efficiency cannot be said to rest on any fortuitous circumstance and one has always to bear in mind the facts and circumstances of the case in order to judge the validity of a classification, added the Court.

“It cannot be denied that SAEs once promoted to the post of an AE in these supernumerary posts would be performing the task and functions of an AE. Thus, it is not merely a change in the designation of an SAE to an AE, but involves an increase in workload, supervisory functions, and performance of the regular functions of an AE. Since that is the case, we do not find any reason why the rationale underlying the need for higher degree-holders in the AE cadre through regular promotion would not be applicable in the case of supernumerary posts”, observed the Bench.

The Apex Court therefore opined that it is not for them to decide whether a higher educational qualification would fulfill the objectives of the management, as long as the nexus between the educational qualification and the need for higher efficiency is not absurd, irrational or arbitrary.

Thus, the Apex Court found that the separate eligibility conditions for promotion to supernumerary AE posts on the basis of educational qualification was in line with the past promotion practices of KMC and was not an unreasonable classification.

Accordingly, the Bench held that the circular and the subsequent gradation list do not suffer from the vice of arbitrariness and discrimination, and therefore, in matters of public policy and public employment, the legislature or its delegate must be given sufficient room to decide the quality of individuals it seeks to employ as against different positions.

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