Tripura High Court Holds Income-Based Selection Criteria in Public Employment Unconstitutional

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On 5th August 2020, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Tripura High Court Mr. Akhil Kureshi dealt with the case of Smt. Subarana Chakraborty vs State of Tripura & Ors assessing the validity of a selection process.

Facts of the Case 

The government issued an advertisement inviting applications for five posts of Senior Instructor, out of which one was reserved for Scheduled Caste, 2 for Scheduled Tribe and 2 were available for unreserved candidates. The petitioner failed to apply for the post on time and got an extension from the court through a writ petition following which he applied for the post.

After such an application, the government notified two guidelines specifying the selection criteria and added a category of “need” which carried a weightage of 25 marks, however, this category was absent from the guidelines that were in force while the applications were open. The Petitioners were awarded 0 marks in this category and failed to be selected.

Issues Involved

  1. Whether the government can modify the selection process after the acceptance of applications?
  2. Whether the inclusion of the “need” category is violative of Art 14?

Arguments Advanced

Petitioners argued that the selection process commences from the date of issue of advertisement for the posts and any change in the method of evaluation after the release of advertisement could not be made. Further, the insertion of the “need” category creates a class within similarly situated citizens and thus is hit by Art 14.

Respondents argued that the Petitioner who willingly participated in the selection process, cannot challenge its validity. The process involved is not arbitrary rather guided by the selection policy of which the Petitioners were aware.

Court’s Observations and Decision

In the context of whether the Petitioner has gone through the selection process willingly can challenge the same, the Court observed that the Government notified several new guidelines in quick succession and without sufficient publication or notice. The latest guidelines which were used to scrutinize the applications were issued when the selection process was underway and there is a legitimate expectation on the part of Petitioners that such guidelines will not be made applicable.

Court commenting on the Petitioner’s request of annulling the whole selection process stated that the Petitioners themselves do root for a set of guidelines that were published after the advertisement, and they also missed the deadline initially set and applied after a court granted an extension. In such a case, the thumb rule of the revised selection policy does not apply to the selection process that has already begun cannot be applied.

Concerning whether the “need” category is arbitrary, the Court examined what exactly was evaluated under this category. The need was defined as a) total income of the family does not exceed 2.5 lakh per year and b) There is no member in the family with government employment. 

This category as awarded 25 marks. If neither of these conditions is satisfied then-candidate would get a zero in this category. This prescription was held to be unreasonable, discriminatory, and arbitrary.

Since a candidate who does not fulfill both the conditions would be knocked out of the process due to the large proportion of marks, the criteria hold even if the candidate may have better qualifications and competence. Selection for public employment cannot be made on such a basis.

Thus, such a category creates a subcategory within a homogenous class of eligible candidates and thus would be class legislation which is prohibited under Art 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Further, the term family has not been defined, thus the income limit seems even more unreasonable as there can be a difference in the number of earning members in each family. Public employment is to be granted based on suitability and the “need” category defies logic and is irrational.

The court, therefore, asked the respondents to eliminate the marks under the “need” category from the selection process of all unreserved category candidates including the Petitioners, and reassess the marks obtained by all candidates to arrive at the final result. If on such revaluation, the Petitioners are found to be more meritorious, they shall be selected to the post.


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