The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that educational qualification is a valid ground for classification between persons of the same class in matters of promotion and is not violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. It said that educational qualification can be used for introducing quotas for promotion for a certain class of persons; or may even be used to restrict promotion entirely to one class, to the exclusion of others.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath, and Hima Kohli said that 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 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.
The top court upheld a verdict of the Kolkata High Court approving the validity of the July 3, 2012 circular of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), which prescribed separate conditions for diploma and degree holder Sub-Assistant Engineers (SAE) for appointments as Assistant Engineers.
Holding that the promotional policy of KMC for supernumerary posts is not irrational or arbitrary or to the detriment of diploma holder SAEs, the bench said, 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.
As long as these decisions are not arbitrary, this Court must refrain from interfering in the policy domain. Referring to earlier top court verdicts, the bench said, Generally speaking, educational qualification is a valid ground for classification between persons of the same class in matters of promotion and is not violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
It said that persons drawn from different sources and integrated into a common class can be differentiated on grounds of educational qualification for the purpose of promotion, where this bears a nexus with the efficiency required in the promotional post.
Classification between persons must not produce artificial inequalities. The classification must be founded on a reasonable basis and must bear nexus to the object and purpose sought to be achieved to pass the muster of Articles 14 and 16, the bench said. It said that a classification made on grounds of educational qualification should bear nexus to the purpose of the classification or the extent of differences in qualifications.
Educational qualification may be used for introducing quotas for promotion for a certain class of persons; or may even be used to restrict promotion entirely to one class, to the exclusion of others, the bench said, adding that the educational qualification may be used as a criterion for classification for promotion to increase administrative efficiency at the higher posts.
Analysing the case of diploma holder SAEs, the bench said The appellants seek to challenge the impugned circular on the limited ground that the eligibility conditions for promotion to the supernumerary posts of Assistant Engineers (AEs) are different for diploma-holder SAEs, who require twenty-five years of experience to be eligible, as opposed to degree-holder SAEs, who require thirteen years of experience, it said.
The top court noted that diploma holder SAEs have contended that they have appeared in a common examination for recruitment of SAEs and once the graduates and diploma holders have qualified at the common examination, that is a single source of recruitment and any differentiation on the basis of educational qualification would be invalid.
Referring to a 1974 verdict, the bench said that whether there are two different streams of recruitment or a single source of recruitment merged into a common pool, the classification that was upheld in Trilokinath Khosa (1974 verdict) was based on the educational qualification which was linked to the purpose of enhancing administrative efficiency in the organization.
The top court said, in any case, it is not for this Court 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. The bench said in a line of decisions, this Court has held that educational qualifications may be linked to higher administrative efficiency, and thus classification on this basis is not in violation of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
It noted that the impugned circular indicates that these supernumerary posts were created for the removal of stagnation amongst SAEs and the KMC has urged before this Court that the distinction in education qualification for promotion has been made for the purpose of enhancing administrative efficiency. Therefore, we find that the separate eligibility conditions for promotion to supernumerary AE posts on the basis of educational qualification are in line with the past promotion practices of KMC and are not an unreasonable classification, the bench said.
The top court said that while creating supernumerary posts, KMC has not completely restricted the promotional avenues of diploma holder SAEs who have stagnated in their service and it has provided adequate opportunity to them to advance in their career, although on different terms and conditions.