“Appointments to public posts should be strictly in accordance with Articles 14 (equality before law) ) and 16 (Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) of the Constitution of India. Eligibility criteria should be uniform and there cannot be the scope of arbitrary selections by unfettered discretion being vested in the authorities,” a bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna said.
The top court was hearing an appeal filed by the Jammu and Kashmir government challenging an order of the Jammu and Kashmir high court which directed the appointment of two candidates for the single post of teaching guides in the primary school at Bundook Khar Mohalla Rainawari.
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The apex court noted that the selection under the scheme for the primary school at Bundook Khar Mohalla Rainawari was conducted in which 11 candidates applied pursuant to the Notification dated November 29, 2002.
The second respondent (Ruhi Akhtar) was selected for appointment as a teaching guide and the first respondent (Shaheena Masarat) challenged the decision which was dismissed by a single judge bench.
Aggrieved by the order, the first Respondent filed an appeal which was allowed by the division bench which directed the appointment of the first respondent within a period of one month.
It also directed the continuance of the second respondent.
The state government then moved the top court challenging the decision saying that the high court committed an error in directing the appointment of the first respondent and also the continuation of the second respondent.
The respondents were vying for one post of teacher and the high court could not have directed the appointment of both the respondents, the state government said in its plea.
The apex court was informed that Rehbar-e-Taleem (Re-T) scheme was floated by the State of Jammu and Kashmir on April 28, 2000, for promoting and decentralizing the management of elementary education with community participation and involvement.
It said that giving relaxation of the upper age limit from 2003 to 2004 on the basis of a government notification cannot be made applicable to a a selection which commenced by the issuance of the advertisement in 2002.
The apex court said that 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 the 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 the selection of teaching guides in the State. The 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 the upper age limit as mandatory. We approve the conclusion of the division bench,” the apex court said.
The top court said that construing the provision relating to the upper age limit as a directory would be conferring unbridled power in the executive to choose persons of their choice by relaxing the age beyond 35 years.
The bench said the second respondent who has crossed 35 years on the cut-off date was not eligible for appointment and the high court has correctly directed the appointment of the first respondent.
It, however, set aside the direction issued by the High Court to continue the second respondent in the service but directed the state government to accommodate her in any other vacancy as she has been continuing to work since 2004.
She shall not be entitled to any benefits prior to the date of her appointment afresh other than the salary and other allowances already paid for her services, the bench said.