Seniority not to be disturbed: Supreme Court
In a recently reported decision [H.S. Vankani v. State of Gujarat, AIR 2010 SC 1714] the Supreme Court has declared that under service laws, 'seniority' is a civil right of the government servant and should not be raked up to lead to disputes. Observing that it was a vital factor affecting the performance of civil servants, the Supreme Court went on to analyse the role played by seniority as a consideration in government employment to hold that once settled, it should not be disturbed so as to lead to contentious situations.
The Bench inter alia observed as under;
23. We are of the view that the Government has committed a grave error in unsettling the inter se seniority of the graduates and non-graduates which was settled as early as in the year 1982. The State Government in its letter dated 12.10.1982 had taken the view that two years’ training was imparted to non-graduates of 1979-81 batch and one year training was imparted only to graduates of 1980-81 batch since candidates with lesser qualification required through training compared to the candidates with higher qualification. Due to this basic difference in the educational qualification between the 1979-81 and 1980-81 batches, the Government took a conscious decision that it was not proper to unsettle the settled seniority even if there was delay in the appointment of non-graduates. Subsequent to that decision, three gradation lists were published, recognizing the seniority of the respondents over the appellants. Neither the Government order dated 12.10.1982 nor the Gradation lists were challenged before any forum which in our view had attained finality. After a period of two years yet another representation was submitted which was rejected by the Conservator of Forests vide his communication dated 5.3.1987 referring to the earlier Government order dated 12.01.1982. Fresh gradation list was published on 1.1.1989 where also respondent’s seniority was recognized. Representations dated 23.05.1989 and 03.05.1990 preferred by the appellants were also not favourably considered by the Government or the Chief Conservator of Forests. The Under Secretary of the Forest and Environment-Department had however put up a note on 29.09.1993 evidently under pressure from the candidates of the 1979-81 batch misinterpreting rule 14 of the 1969 Rules, stating the candidates of 1979-81 batch should be placed above the candidates of 1980-81 batch. Rule 14 of the Rules determines the inter se seniority of the candidates of a particular batch and does not determine the inter-se seniority between two batches, whose educational qualification, years of training and the date of joining, etc. differ. Rule 14 of 1969 Rules and Rule 22 of 1974 Rules also further reemphasis that fact. The note put up by the Under Secretary on 29.09.1993 is, therefore, contrary to Rule 14 of 1969 Rules and Rule 22 of the 1974 Rules.
24. 1969, 1974, and 1979 Rules clearly stipulate how the seniority has to be reckoned. Rule 14 of 1969 Rules and 22 of 1974 Rules are in pari materia which states that seniority of the Rangers shall be governed by their respective ranks in the final examination at the Rangers College irrespective of their joining the service and on successful completion of the training course the candidates shall be appointed as Rangers if they pass with higher standard certificate. Both the groups are governed by these rules in the matter of their intra seniority and the government had rightly settled the seniority vide orders dated 12.10.1982 and 05.03.1987 and the gradation lists were also rightly published. The Government in our view have committed a grave error in unsettling the settled seniority vide its proceedings dated 29.9.1993.
25. Seniority is a civil right which has an important and vital role to play in one’s service career. Future promotion of a Government servant depends either on strict seniority or on the basis of seniority-cum-merit or merit-cum-seniority etc. Seniority once settled is decisive in the upward march in one’s chosen work or calling and gives certainty and assurance and boosts the morale to do quality work. It instills confidence, spreads harmony and commands respect among colleagues which is a paramount factor for good and sound administration. If the settled seniority at the instance of one’s junior in service is unsettled, it may generate bitterness, resentment, hostility among the Government servants and the enthusiasm to do quality work might be lost. Such a situation may drive the parties to approach the administration for resolution of that acrimonious and poignant situation, which may consume lot of time and energy. The decision either way may drive the parties to litigative wilderness to the advantage of legal professionals both private and Government, driving the parties to acute penury. It is well known that salary they earn, may not match the litigation expenses and professional fees and may at times drive the parties to other sources of money making, including corruption. Public money is also being spent by the Government to defend their otherwise untenable stand. Further it also consumes lot of judicial time from the lowest court to the highest resulting in constant bitterness among parties at the cost of sound administration affecting public interest. Courts are repeating the ratio that the seniority once settled, shall not be unsettled but the men in power often violate that ratio for extraneous reasons, which, at times calls for departmental action. Legal principles have been reiterated by this Court in Union of India and Another v. S.K. Goel and Others (2007) 14 SCC 641, T.R. Kapoor v. State of Haryana (1989) 4 SCC 71, Bimlesh Tanwar v. State of Haryana, (2003) 5 SCC 604. In view of the settled law the decisions cited by the appellants in G.P. Doval’s case (supra), Prabhakar and Others case, G. Deendayalan, R.S. Ajara are not applicable to the facts of the case.