The Supreme Court has ruled that eligibility criteria for selection to public posts should be uniform and strictly in accordance with Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India (State of J&K vs Shaheena Masarat).
The Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna said that there cannot be scope for arbitrary selections by unfettered discretion being vested in the authorities.
The judgment came on a plea by State of Jammu and Kashmir against a judgment of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court which had allowed a petition by a candidate for appointment to the sole post of teaching guide.
While doing so, the High Court had also allowed the candidate who had already been selected, to continue in the post.
The State challenged the same contending that the two respondents were vying for one post and the High Court could not have directed the appointment of both of them.
By way of background, a Rehbar-e-Taleem scheme was floated by J&K government in 2000 for having more community participation in elementary school teaching. Applications were invited from candidates who had completed 10+2 and had fulfilled the State government age criteria "as far as possible."
After appointments were made, one non-selected candidate approached the High Court stating that she was a perfect fit for the post, highlighting that the candidate selected was above the age limit of 35.
The single-judge dismissed her petition but a Division Bench of the High Court reversed the finding but added that the teacher who was selected in place of her would also continue in same capacity.
The Division Bench of the High Court examined the scheme and noticed that there is no minimum age limit specified and if the words ‘as far as possible’ for upper age limit are interpreted as directory, the officers would have discretion to select candidates even after they cross 45 years. Further, the Division Bench was of the opinion that there will be no uniformity in selection of Re-Ts in the State.
Hence, scheme would be rendered unconstitutional as being violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the High Court construed the provision relating to upper age limit as mandatory.
The Supreme Court agreed with this conclusion of the Division Bench.
"Appointments to public posts should be strictly in accordance with Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. Eligibility criteria should be uniform and there cannot be scope of arbitrary selections by unfettered discretion being vested in the authorities. Construing the provision relating to upper age limit as directory would be conferring unbridled power in the executive to choose persons of their choice by relaxing the age beyond 35 years. In such case, the provision would have to be declared as unconstitutional. Therefore, we are of the opinion that 35 years is the upper age limit for appointment as Re-T," the Supreme Court held.
However, the Supreme Court also noted that the Division Bench had directed continuance of respondent No. 2 also as Re-T.
This was after noting that the scheme was discontinued and Re-Ts appointed under the scheme were considered for absorption as General Line Teachers. Even if a Re-T teacher was over aged, he/she would be eligible for formal appointment in the Government by relaxation of age, the High Court had said.
However, the top court noted that the High Court could not have done so and that the age limit for appointment was indeed 35 years.
"The advertisement in question relates to appointment to a post of Re-T to which either respondent no.1 or respondent no. 2 could have been appointed. The High Court ought not to have directed the appointment of both the respondent nos. 1 and 2. Having set aside the judgment of the learned Single Judge, the High Court committed no error in directing the appointment of respondent No.1. The direction issued by the High Court to continue respondent No.2 is set aside," the Supreme Court ruled.
It, however, directed that the respondent no. 2 be accommodated in any other vacancy.