Imposing additional norms will result in discrimination and denial of equal opportunity

If the rules for selection to the Indian Administrative Service contain a requirement, it must be applied uniformly and strictly, and none from the eligible group can be eliminated from being considered on any criterion other than those which are provided in the rules, the Supreme Court has ruled. “If there is a criterion laid down for selection, the administration has to confine [itself] to the same, and it cannot impose an additional criterion… If that is done, it will no longer remain an exercise of discretion but will result in discrimination. It will mean treating similarly situated employees dissimilarly, and denying equal opportunity to some of them in the matter of public employment on the basis of a criterion which is not laid down, resulting in violation of Articles 14 and 16(1) of the Constitution,” said a Bench of Justices H.L. Gokhale and J. Chelameswar.

In the instant case, “if the rules were to provide that in the event of a large number of persons coming into the zone of consideration, the names of the seniormost alone will be forwarded, then it would have been a different situation. In the absence any such restrictive rule, the decision of the respondents cannot be justified.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Gokhale said non-consideration of appellant B. Amrutha Lakshmi’s claim by the Andhra Pradesh government “was totally unjust. Hence, even though the appellant cannot get relief in the nature of a direction to consider her for the selection for 2011…, she must get damages for non-consideration on unjust grounds. This is because the Commissioner for Commercial Tax had acted to reduce the zone of consideration, contrary to the rules, and in spite of a letter dated July 1, 2010, from the Principal Secretary Revenue (CT-I) Department, which had clarified that the Commissioner may send the proposals of the eligible candidates of the cadre of Assistant Commissioner and above, who were of outstanding merit.”

Message to administration

The Bench said: “The award of damages is necessary also because a message must go down that those who are responsible for administration of the State cannot trample upon the rights of others on the grounds which are unsustainable in law. We, therefore, direct the State of Andhra Pradesh to pay damages of Rs. 50,000 to the appellant…, over and above the litigation cost of Rs. 25,000.”

The cases of the appellant and persons similarly situated were entitled to be considered by the committee and “the opinion rendered by us will have to operate prospectively in the matter of application of the concerned rules, for future selections.”

The Bench granted similar relief to another appellant Irrinki Srinagesh, directing the State to pay him Rs. 50,000 towards damages and Rs. 25,000 as costs. It would be open to the government to recover these amounts from the then Commissioner of Commercial Tax, and/or other officers responsible for non-consideration of the appellants’ claim.

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