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Above: A worker cleans a railway track at a station in Mumbai. Many overqualified people apply for such menial jobs in government/Photo: UNI

The Madras High Court has ruled that recruiting people with high educational qualifications for menial jobs would result in lowering the efficiency level in public administration

By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai

In a verdict whose far-reaching consequences are likely to shake up the already overcrowded government job market, the Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu government to review within 12 weeks the rules governing the selection and appointment to several government jobs. The order especially relates to posts falling under Group 3 and Group 4 categories.

Describing these categories of services as basic services, the Court directed the government to prescribe not only the minimum educational qualifications but also maximum educational qualifications for job aspirants. It justified the move by saying that fixing maximum qualifications for getting a government job was aimed at providing a level playing field and thus enabling suitable candidates to get government jobs by taking part in the open competitive process.

Justice SM Subramaniam delivered the judgment in the second week of July while rejecting a petition from M Sakkaraichamy, a mechanical engineering graduate, who had moved the High Court to direct the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission to recruit him as an assistant in the revenue department of the state government.

In his affidavit, Sakkaraichamy said that he had cleared both the written examination and personal interview, yet was denied the job because he held a bachelor of engineering degree, considered to be overqualification for the job. He further submitted that he was declared not possessing the requisite educational qualifications and as per the notification issued for these jobs by the state government, the required degrees were BA, BSc, BCom, BBA, BBM or BLit.

The judge said: “Acute unemployment issues prompted overqualified persons to apply for such posts under Group 4 services as well as for the basic services. However, the competent authorities may not be in a position to effectively extract work from these employees with reference to the job responsibility. For instance, if a professional degree holder or a master degree holder was appointed as Office Assistant, Sweeper or Driver or any other basic services, the administrative officials cannot direct them to perform certain duties and responsibilities by virtue of their professional qualifications. They may not perform their duties as rules required. Those employees would be reluctant in performing their duties and responsibilities and therefore, the very purpose and object of prescribing educational qualifications for a particular job profile was not only defeated, but the same would result in lowering the efficiency level in public administration”.

Lamenting that the massive unemployment situation was the main reason for this scenario, the judge said: “On account of large-scale unemployment problem in our great nation, it was unfortunate that the engineering degree holders, agricultural degree holders and other professional degree holders and the master degree holders were participating in the recruitment process even for Group 4 services and for basic services in government departments and even in high court services. However, the state was dutybound to provide equal opportunity in public employment to all the citizens, who were all aspiring to secure public employment through open competitive process.

“If overqualified candidates were appointed for performing the duties and responsibilities attached to Group 4 services and basic services, undoubtedly, efficiency level in the public administration would be brought down. After getting appointment these over­qualified persons were not performing their duties and responsibilities attached to the posts under Group 4 services as well as basic services.”

The judge also pointed out that the Madras High Court itself was feeling the heat by appointing postgraduates to the posts of sweepers and sanitary workers. “After joining the public service, they are refusing/neglecting to perform certain menial jobs which are all duties and responsibilities prescribed in the service rules. Conflicting situations are arising. Higher officials are unable to function effectively and efficiently for want of adequate support from these employees,” he lamented.

The judge said that he was of the firm view that from a constitutional perspective the appointment of over­qualified persons should be construed as a clear violation of Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 16 (equality in matters of public employment).

“Equality among equals is the constitutional mandate. Unequals cannot be treated equally,” the judge noted in his judgment.

“If the concept of treating unequals as equals is developed, then we are breaching the fundamental rights. Making unequal persons sit for a common examination will cause discrimination and naturally the overqualified person can easily secure more marks. While overqualified persons get many opportunities to participate in different recruitment processes, those with lesser educational qualifications do not enjoy such a privilege. Therefore, the educational qualifications must be commensurate with the nature of posts notified under the recruitment notification,” he added.

Incidentally, a few months back, Justice Subramaniam had passed an order on the same subject. The issue then was related to an order passed by a serving commandant of the Tamil Nadu Special Police (TSP). A police inspector, P Muthu, had filed a petition in the Madras High Court against the orders of the commandant, who declared Muthu a deserter after the latter was absent for over 21 days without informing his senior officers.

The judge, while dismissing Muthu’s petition, said that appointment of over­qualified candidates at the entry level cadres like Grade II constables and jail wardens, firemen and head constables was contributing to the growing indiscipline and insubordination in the police force. He had then directed the state home secretary and the DGP to prescribe the maximum educational qualification for the jobs within eight weeks.

In his order, Justice Subramaniam had said: “The growing indiscipline within the police force was visible to the public. Negligence, lapses and dereliction of duty were common. Police personnel on duty were indiscriminately using smartphones to play games, chat and watch movies. Adequate checks and measures were not undertaken to control the misconduct by the department. The causes for indiscipline have to be analysed in the interest of public safety and for an orderly society.

“If postgraduates or those with professional degrees were appointed in entry level cadres, then it would become very difficult for senior officials to control them. Educational qualifications and eligibility criteria for a post or cadre were normally commensurate with the job profile. Prescription of such criteria and qualifications had a certain purpose and object. In the event of appointing overqualified candidates these get defeated.”

Interestingly, the reactions to this High Court judgment are mixed and not everyone is ready to buy the theory that the recruitment of highly qualified persons would hamper basic public services.

“In my view this is a wrong judgment. When a person with the so-called high educational degrees, whether from professional courses like engineering or law or from arts and commerce groups, applies for menial jobs, it shows the massive unemployment scenario in this country. There are hundreds and thousands of government jobs suitable for these sort of qualified persons lying vacant for years,” says Ramakanth Ojha, a retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer and former principal chief conservator of forests.

He further added: “The courts which are worrying about the large-scale unemployment problem should first direct the concerned government authorities to first fill up those vacancies and then they can think about issuing directions to the government about fixing the maximum educational qualification ceiling for those who are applying for menial jobs.”

Echoing the same viewpoint but with a slight variation, Adhi Veera Pandian, a practising advocate in the Madras High Court, said: “There is nothing called a menial job or a higher job. By fixing maximum qualifications for a job, you are actually demeaning those human beings who are doing/performing that work whether he or she is a school dropout or a postgraduate.

“One has to look at the issue from only one viewpoint—whether that person in the so-called menial job is performing her/his duty as per the requirements of rules and regulations of the concerned government manual. If he/she fails on that front, the concerned authorities can take action under the relevant provisions of government manuals/provisions and service rules. For any job in this world, you can only prescribe a minimum qualification but certainly not maximum qualification.”

However, there is solid support for this judgment from the top echelons of the police force in Tamil Nadu. “We welcome this judgment wholeheartedly. We are facing this problem day in and day out for the past decade in the police department. A sub-inspector of police who has 33 years of service with 10th standard as his qualification often has a protracted tussle—sometimes even physical altercations—with his constable because that particular constable is raking up one issue or another with him. The main reason behind this is the ego war between the two. The constable is a postgraduate and he refuses to obey the orders of the sub-inspector who is more qualified. Both sides have been called in several times for counselling but all in vain,” said a serving additional director general of police, Tamil Nadu.

The situation is perhaps all the more complex due to the high number of women in the Tamil Nadu police. “Tamil Nadu is the number one state in India in terms of the strength of women in police, especially at the constabulary level. There are hundreds of police stations where women officers contribute at least 50 percent of the total strength. So a postgraduate police constable’s ego refuses to obey the orders of his superiors who are just 10th or 12th standard pass,” he added.

The Tamil Nadu government is still playing safe and has so far chosen to remain silent after the verdict.

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