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Can different teaching departments in a University be treated as one unit for the purpose of Reservations? Kerala HC says no

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The Kerala High Court recently quashed a notification issued by the University of Kerala which treated different academic departments as “one unit” for the purpose of reservations to teaching posts (Dr G Radhakrishnan Pillai v. State of Kerala and the University of Kerala).

The notification inviting applications from reserved category candidates to teaching posts, entailed granting 100 percent reservation and would amount to taking away opportunity of general category candidates to apply for the post, the Court held.

The 2017 notification in question had treated different academic departments, which only had a solitary post, as one unit for the purpose of reservation.

The Court opined that reservations should have to be made “subject-wise”, rather than treat all Professors across departments as a “cadre”.

Otherwise, the Judge remarked, “It would take away the right of consideration/reasonable opportunity to meritorious candidates belonging to general category for appointment.”

“It is crystal clear that a single post cadre reservation at any point of time on account of rotation of roster would definitely bring a situation where such a single post in the cadre will be kept reserved exclusively for the members of backward classes, in total exclusion to the general members of the public, which is not the import of provisions of Article 16 (4) (reservations for backward classes) and (4A) of the Constitution of India,” Justice Amit Rawal pointed out

The notification in question was grounded on a 2014 notification amending the Kerala University Act and Rule 14 (Reservation of appointments) of the Kerala State and Subordinate Service Rules, 1958.

Rule 14 (a) stated that the unit for the purpose of this rule would be 20, of which 2 posts are to be reserved for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes, 8 are to be for Other Backward Classes and the remaining 10 were to be filled on the basis of merit.

Rule 14 (c) provided for appointments on a rotation basis every cycle of 20 vacancies from various categories of candidates (both open and reserved categories).

In applying the amendment, all departments of the University were treated as one unit for the purpose of reservation. In practice, departments having a single post were clubbed together and reservations given on a rotational basis.

In the 2017 notification, those vacancies, specified as one post in each department, were kept reserved for various communities falling under reserved categories.

The amendment, the notification inviting applications and another notification giving 100% reservation by treating all departments as one unit were challenged before the Kerala High Court by various petitioners.

Considering all the departments as one unit would amount to 100 percent reservation, which is against the mandate of various judgments of Supreme Court, the petitioner contended.

It was explained further that all departments where there is a single post, have been clubbed together, thereby dis-entitling meritorious candidates from making applications as a result of reservation for single posts. This is impermissible, it was argued.

The High Court saw merit in the petitioner’s case.

Reliance was placed on the Supreme Court’s judgment in a review petition i.e. Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research’s case vs Faculty Association (1998), wherein the top court had said:

“Until there is plurality of posts in a cadre, the question of reservation will not arise because any attempt of reservation by whatever means and even with the devise of rotation of roster in a single post cadre is bound to create 100% reservation of such post whenever such reservation is to be implemented. The device of rotation of roster in respect of single post cadre will only mean that on some occasions there will be complete reservation and the appointment to such post is kept out of bounds to the members of a large segment of the community who do not belong to any reserved class, but on some other occasions the post will be available for open competition when in fact on all such occasions, a single post cadre should have been filled only by open competition amongst all segments of the society….there cannot be any reservation in a single post cadre…”

Justice Rawal proceeded to allow the writ petition and quash the notification under challenge, observing:

Once there is no scope of interchangeability of posts in different disciplines, each post in particular discipline has to be treated as a single post. The notification inviting application tantamount(s) to 100% reservation of posts in various disciplines, which are not interchangeable … the attempt of clubbing, as noticed from notification dated 27.11.2017, extracted (supra) is not of a different and distinct cadre, carrying different scales of pay, but in fact for all posts – Professors, Assistant Professors, Associate Professors – of all the departments as One Unit, thus it would bound to create 100% reservation of such posts. Accordingly, the writ petitions are allowed. Notification dated 27.11.2017, dated 20.7.2014 causing amendment to the Kerala University Act and dated 25.10.2017 giving 100% reservation to various posts by treating all the departments as one unit, are quashed.

Senior Advocate George Poonthottam, assisted by Advocate Navaneeth Krishnan, and Advocates Riji Rajendran, Nisha George, TV Ajayakumar, PH Rimju appeared for various petitioners.

Senior Advocate Jaju Babu, Government Pleaders PD Pramod, and B Harish Kumar, and Advocates S Krishnamoorthy, Thomas Abraham and MU Vijayalakshmi appeared for various respondents.

 

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