General category open to all, foreclosing slots for reserved candidates in general category would result in communal reservation: Supreme Court

The controversy that arises in the present round of litigation is the correct method of filling the quota reserved for women candidates (“horizontal quota”). alit ravindra
General category open to all, foreclosing slots for reserved candidates in general category would result in communal reservation: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday held that open (general) category in employment is open to all including reserved category candidates and all are entitled to seats available under open category where merit is the only criterion.

Thus, reserved category candidates who are more meritorious having secured more marks than the last ranked general category candidate should be given employment under general category, the top court said.

A three-judge bench of Justices UU Lalit, Ravindra Bhat and Hrishikesh Roy also held that 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."

The Court was hearing appeal by persons who had participated in the Selection Process initiated for filling up posts of Constables in Uttar Pradesh Police and applied in the categories of Other Backward Class (OBC) - Female and Scheduled Caste (SC)- Female.

The last candidate selected in open female category had scored 274.8928 marks but at least 21 OBC-Female candidates who scored more marks than that were not selected.

It was the case of the applicants that the state has not correctly applied the rule of reservation, and denied such OBC women candidates the benefit of “migration”, i.e. adjustment in the general category vacancies.

The Court held that that 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. Any view or process of interpretation which will lead to incongruity as highlighted earlier, must be rejected," the judgment said.

Justice Bhat in a separate concurring judgment stated that open category is open to all and the only condition for a candidate to be eligible for a seat in the open category is merit.

He stated that it is too late in the day for Uttar Pradesh to contend that women candidates who are entitled to benefit of social category reservations, cannot fill open category vacancies.

"The said view is is starkly exposed as misconceived, because it would result in such women candidates with less merit (in the open category) being selected, and those with more merit than such selected candidates, (in the social/vertical reservation category) being left out of selection," said Justice Bhat in his judgment.

He held that reservations, both vertical and horizontal, are methods of ensuring representation in public services and "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.

"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," the Court said.

The Supreme Court, thus, held that 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.

Appropriate letters in that behalf should be sent to the concerned candidates within four weeks, the top court ordered.

[Read judgment]

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