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"The power to relax is not a fundamental right of reservation to be enforced under Part III of the Indian Constitution", the Bench observed.
The Madras High Court on Thursday dismissed pleas filed seeking for the relaxation of the upper age limit to write the District Judge exam from 45 years to 48 years for other Backward Classes, on par with the age relaxation given for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) candidates.
The Bench of Chief Justice AP Sahi and Justice Subramonium Prasad dismissed the pleas after finding that there was no such relaxation of upper age limit extended to such reserved categories (apart from SC/ST candidates) in the Shetty Commission Report, which was subsequently accepted by the Supreme Court in the case of All India Judges' Association and others v. Union of India.
Opining that the issue has therefore attained finality, the Bench concluded that it was bound by the same position. All the same, while it admitted that the High Court may be endowed with sufficient powers to relax the age limit, the Bench declined to do so, observing,
“It is not that the power to relax cannot be inferred, as, the Constitution empowers the High Court under Articles 233 and 235 of the Constitution to exercise such authority by prescribing a rule.
The judgment in the case of All India Judges' Association and others v. Union of India (supra) also while accepting the Shetty Commission report does not debar the grant of further relaxation up to 48 years, but the recital of 48 years for SC/ST and 45 years for others is a valid indicator of prescription.
It is not the case of the petitioners that no candidates of the Backward Classes are unable to apply or their numbers are so less on account of the prescription of 45 years upper age limit that some justification for relaxation in age can be culled out.”
The petitioner had contended that the denial of the benefit of age relaxation for other backward classes was discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. This was in view of the fact that SC/ST candidates were extended the age relaxation, as were backward class candidates for the lower cadre of judicial officers.
However, the Bench found that there is no violation of any fundamental rights. In this regard, the Court emphasised that reservation is different from relaxation of age. As recorded in the judgment,
Further, it was observed,
"The power to relax is not a fundamental right of reservation to be enforced under Part III of the Indian Constitution. It is in cases of hostile discrimination or manifest arbitrariness that can a challenge be raised upon exercise of such power. Reservation and relaxation have therefore to be understood as two separate concepts and hence, relaxation is not a synonym for reservation.”
The Court also went on to add,
“Additionally, it is an admitted position that the SC/ST category candidates are placed on a different scale as compared to the other Backward Classes. This is supported by the constitutional scheme by making separate provisions for both these classes."
Inter alia, the petitioner had also pointed out that in a notification issued on January 13, 2019 while advertising for appointment as District Judges, the upper age limit stated was up to 48 years for backward class candidates.
The High Court authorities, however, told the Court that such an age relaxation was not permissible under the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Service (Cadre and Recruitment) Rules, 2007. It was submitted that prescriptions to the contrary in the January 13, 2019 advertisement were inadvertent and erroneous. Later, when none of the candidates who wrote the preliminary exam cleared the same, another notification was issued on December 12, 2019, which stated the correct age limits.
In view of these submissions, the Court also agreed that the January 13 notification cannot be relied upon by the petitioner.
“An advertisement contrary to rules cannot create a vested right or even give rise to a legitimate expectation beyond the rules. “
Madras High Court
Before parting with the matter, the Court also addressed a grievance made by the petitioner over the District Judges exam not having been conducted since 2013 until 2019. It had been argued that the same affected the rights of the persons who expected to be considered for the post. In response, the Court said,
“… a loss of opportunity on account of delay in the holding of examinations by itself, without there being any mala fides attributed, cannot be a ground to reinterpret or introduce any further relaxation in age to the benefit of the petitioners.”
With these, among other, observations, the High Court dismissed the plea.
The lead petitioner in the matter, NS Sivakumar, was represented by senior counsel Om Prakash and advocate V Vasanthakumar.
Various other petitioners were represented by advocates V Arun, M Muthappan, K Ravi, Anantha Padmanaban, Muthappan, V Lakshmanan and R Sankarasubbu.
The respondents were represented by State Government Pleader V Jayaprakash Narayanan, and advocate B Vijay (for the High Court authorities).
[Read the Judgment]