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Rule of law is one of the essential and underlying features of the Indian Constitution. It sets out the structure by which the power of the State is limited and not unfettered. Equality before the law and fairness in the application of the law are the two most important aspects of the rule of law. Article 14 and 16 of our Constitution ensures that the State shall treat all persons equally in matters of employment. Therefore, the selection process in any public institution should be fair and justified.
Appointments at public offices should not be guided by bribery or nepotism. As noted in the case of State of Punjab and Ors. vs. Brijeshwar Singh Chahal and Ors., “Appointments made arbitrarily, without any clear selection process or for political reasons, will be subject to judicial review and will be liable to be quashed.”It is in the public interest that the selection and appointment process should be transparent in order to make it foolproof. The present case in which the Apex Court confirmed the termination of 8,882 ad hoc teachers in Tripura is based on similar lines. The Division Bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court, in Ajoy Debbarma and others Versus State of Tripura and others, observed that because their very selection and appointments were found to be unconstitutional and invalid, the candidates concerned could not be given any other advantages.
Facts of the Issue
In 2014, the selection of 10,323 teachers by the state government of Tripura was challenged before the High Court in Tanmoy Nath vs. State of Tripura & others. It was argued that the selection process contained discrepancies. The Hon’ble High Court concluded that the selections and the relevant policies were illegal and arbitrary, as the appointments were not in accordance with the provisions of the National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993, and suffered due to favoritism and nepotism. Consequently, the Apex Court issued directions to the Tripura government that the State should establish a new employment policy within two months. The selections shall be made as soon as possible and no later than 31.12.2014, in accordance with the new policy. The Hon’ble Court also made it clear that no other advantages will be given to the candidates.
“We would like to make it clear that there can be no preference or reservations dependent on age other than the benefits mentioned by us above. No preference shall be granted to dependent government officials or retired government employees or retrenched employees etc. There can be no linguistic or religious minority reservations, except on an area-wide basis.”
In 2017, the decision of the Tanmoy Nath case was appealed against in the Supreme Court. The Apex Court while rejecting the appeal, modified the orders of High Court and directed the Government of Tripura to complete the fresh selection process by 31 December 2017 or before that.
The time given by the Supreme Court in the directions issued in the 2017 Order has been extended from time to time and the Supreme Court has finally issued instructions on 01.11.2018, extending the service duration of the teachers concerned to the completion of the 2019-2020 academic session.
Consequently, as per the instructions issued by the Supreme Court in 2018 and the direction issued in Tanmoy Nath‘s case, the teachers’ services were terminated after the 2019-20 academic session was over. Some of them have challenged their termination before the High Court of Tripura. The Hon’ble High Court dismissed their petition stating that petitioners seek review of the decision given in Tanmoy Nath‘s case which is not in accordance with the law, more so on the doctrine of merger. This judgment of Hon’ble High Court was challenged in the Supreme court. The Apex Court dismissed this appeal on the basis that the validity and legality of the complete selection process and the appointment of approximately 10,323 teachers were discussed in detail in the Tanmoy Nath case. The Supreme Court further directed that the State is obligated to undertake a selection procedure in which the applicants concerned are eligible participate, with age relaxation. The Court also pointed out that the attempt on the part of the State to offer some alternative employment is not to degrade the teachers, but to offer some consolation even in cases where the candidates do not succeed in selecting the teachers’ positions.
Thus, the above factual scenario led to the passing of the judgment by the Hon’ble Court of termination of 8882 teachers in Tripura with no other advantages to the concerned candidate.
Legal Provisions Involved
The legal provisions involved in the present case are Article 14 and Article 16 of the Constitution of India. Articles 14 and 16 falls within the framework of a constitutional right to equality. Article 14 focuses on the fundamental right to equality and Article 16 provides for the right to equal opportunity in matters relating to public employment. Thus, Article 14 read with Article 16 implies that the selection process in case of public employment should be such that all qualified applicants are given the equal chance of being selected.
Then comes the aspect of the Doctrine of Merger, which states that if the dispute before the superior court has been disposed of in some way i.e. either by affirming the judgment or order or by setting aside or by amending the same, the judgment of the Supreme Court shall be the final, binding and operational decision and the impugned order/judgment shall stand merged into the order passed by the Superior Forum, i.e. the impugned order/judgment retains no identity or enforceability of its own.
The termination of teachers who were employed in the school education department has become a central political issue in the State of Tripura. The decision of the Supreme Court indeed seems to be a viable option, considering the law of the land, as the selection process is purely based on an oral interview which is contrary to the National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993. The nepotism and favoritism in employing government teachers are against the spirit of equality, which is enshrined in Article 14 and Article 16 of the Constitution of India. As in the case Ramana Shetty v. International Airport Authority, the Apex Court had opined that “This Court relies on the observations of E.P. Royappa and Maneka Gandhi have again stated that state action must not be influenced by extraneous or irrelevant considerations, as that would be a denial of equality.” The present decision of the Supreme Court, therefore, confirms with the basic laws of the land.
It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court decision of no other advantages to be given to the concerned candidate apart from age relaxation. This clearly shows the balanced decision of the Supreme Court in the present matter. The Court upheld the superiority of the law of the land, by disallowing any other advantages to candidates and simultaneously upheld the importance of equal opportunity by allowing age relaxation.
As the entire selection process was illegal and invalid, the only reasonable option that the Court could resort to, was to terminate the employment of the concerned candidates. The issue regarding the validity and legality of the entire selection process and the termination of 8882 government teachers was smoothly dealt with by the Hon’ble Court. The age relaxation allowed by the Hon’ble Court for application of post of teacher till 31.03.2023 will certainly provide the opportunity to the eligible and competent candidate to get selected for the post of government teacher in the legal and valid manner. Thus, the judgment handed down by the Hon’ble Court is rational and appreciable.
Author: Palak Jain, Institute of Law, Nirma University.
Editor: Astha Garg, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.