B.K. Pavitra v. Union of India,
2017 SCC Online SC 109, decided on 09.02.2017.
The Assistant Engineers of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category recruited in the year 1987 were promoted to the cadre of Assistant Executive Engineers whereas the Assistant Engineers recruited in 1976, who were considered according to general merit, for promotion to the said cadre, did not get promoted on account of consequential seniority under Karnataka Determination of Seniority of the Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (To the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act, 2002. High court upheld the validity of the Act and the Appellants appealed to Supreme Court.
The issues raised were:
- Whether the State Government has shown the compelling reasons, before making provision for reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in matters of promotion?
- Whether the extent of reservation provided for promotion in favour of the persons belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes at 15% and 3% respectively, in Karnataka is justified?
The appellants argued that the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category candidates got early promotion and because of the consequential seniority, percentage of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category candidates was much higher than the permitted percentage. This would lead to filling up of all the top positions by the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category students without general merit candidates getting to higher positions.
As a result of this consequential seniority, the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category candidate would reach the third level by the age of 45 and fourth, fifth and sixth level in a few years after that, but the general merit candidate would reach the third level at 56 years of age and retire before reaching the fourth level.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court declared the provisions of the impugned Act, to be ultra vires of the Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution, to the extent of doing away with the ‘catch up’ rule and providing for consequential seniority to persons belonging to the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category candidates. However, the court also stated that this judgment will not affect those who have already retired and for financial benefits already taken.
Mere fact that there is no proportionate representation in promotional posts for the population of the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes category is not by itself enough to grant consequential seniority to candidates who are otherwise junior. If the State wants to exercise its power under Article 16(4A), it has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and there has to be inadequacy of representation of that class in public. The State will have to make sure that its reservation policy does not go above the ceiling limit of 50%.