Basis For Inter-Se Seniority ‘Must Be Merit In Limited Competitive Exam’ And Not Previous Seniority: SC

The Supreme Court has held that Seniority list of District Judges, inter-se seniority between candidates who passed the ‘Limited Competitive Examination’ must be determined on the basis of their merit in examination and not on basis of seniority in erstwhile cadre.

The Court interfered with seniority list of District Judges drawn by High Court of Rajasthan on March 15, 2019, to give proper placement for LCE candidates in a case titled as “Dinesh Kumar gupta vs High Court of Judicature at Rajasthan.”

Following dictum in 2002 All India Judges Association case, Supreme Court introduced stream of LCE for promotion to District Judges post. In list drawn by Rajasthan High Court, LCE Candidates were placed on seniority in their previous cadre without taking merit into account.

It was challenged in a bunch of writ petitions at Supreme Court.

A Bench comprising U.U Lalit and Vineet Saran held that method adopted by Rajasthan HC in placing LCE candidates defeated objective of LCE. It was noted by the bench that "LCE was introduced as incentive amongst relatively junior and other officers to improve and to compete with each other so as to excel and get accelerated promotion.” Court noted that in All India Judges Association case, it was held that promotion through LCE must be strictly on basis of merit.

Bench observed that therefore, if inter-se seniority of LCE candidates are fixed based on erstwhile seniority, this intent will be defeated. Instead of giving incentive to comparatively junior and other officers, the entire examination process will stand reduced to a mere qualifying examination rather than a competitive examination affording opportunity to meritorious candidates. The criteria shall then become a seniority subject to passing the LCE.

The HC relied on Rule 47(f) of the Rajasthan Judicial Services Rules, 2010 which stated that inter se seniority of persons promoted to District Judges Cadre in the same year ought to be same as it was in posts held by them at time of promotion.

Supreme Court held that this general rule must give way to special rule, Rule 31(2) which uses expression “strictly on the basis of merit” while dealing with posts to be filled in through LCE.

“The general principle appearing in Rule 47(4) must give way to special dispensation  to special rule 31(2) OF 2010 Rule,” the bench noted.

SC held that HC failed to appreciate true character of LCE and reservation of certain quota for that category.

“We, therefore accept the submissions made by the learned Advocate for the petitioners and declare that the inter se placement of the candidates selected through LCE must be based on merit and not on the basis of seniority in the erstwhile cadre,” the Bench concluded.

SC directed that seniority list in terms of Report dated 15.03.2019 shall be modified to extent that placement to candidate selected through LCE be given on merit and not seniority.

The Bench also held that service as Additional Judge on Ad-hc promotion will not count for seniority of District Judge.

-India Legal Bureau