Employers cannot prescribe arbitrary qualifications for jobs: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court, in the matter of an employment dispute, observed that although employers have the authority to prescribe qualifications for a particular post, such qualifications should be given due consideration and should not be arbitrary. The bench consisting J. Ashok Bhushan, J. R Subhash Reddy and J. R Shah, in the matter of Chief Manager, Punjab National Bank & Anr. v. Anit Kumar Das [Civil Appeal No. 3602 of 2020], held that lower educational qualification can be a criteria for employment of a candidate, given that there is a rationale behind it.
The appellant Bank had invited applications for the post of Peon by publishing an advertisement in the local newspaper. The advertisement clearly mentioned the eligibility criteria for the candidate to have passed 12th class or its equivalent and basic reading/writing knowledge of English. It also specifically provided that the candidate should not be a graduate. The respondent, upon submitting the applications got selected for the employment, after which it came to the knowledge of the appellant that the respondent was in fact a graduate, and thus, his candidature was cancelled. Aggrieved, the respondent filed a writ petition before the High Court arguing that higher education cannot be a basis for denying employment, relying on Mohd. Usmain Gani v. District and Sessions Judge, Nagpur [Civil Appeal No. 1010 of 2000]. The HC allowed the petition and directed the Bank to allow the respondent to discharge his duties as a Peon.
The present appeal arises out of this judgement, wherein the counsel for the appellant argued that firstly, the respondent never challenged the eligibility criteria, and further, he deliberately and willfully suppressed the material fact of having been a graduate. Further, that the criteria is decided keeping in mind the nature of the job, and that of the Peon does not require an employee with higher qualification than as prescribed. Hence, the Bank should not be ordered to appoint the respondent as a Peon.
The SC placed reliance on Yogesh Kumar v. Government of NCT of Delhi [(2003) 3 SCC 548], wherein it was stated that “recruitment to public service should be held strictly in accordance with the terms of advertisement and the recruitment rules, if any. Deviation from the rules allows entry to ineligible persons and deprives many others who could have competed for the post”. The SC hence, held that the respondent was ineligible for the employment and the HC had erred in finding otherwise. The court further stated that “Qualifications are prescribed keeping in view the need and interest of an Institution or an Industry or an establishment as the case may be. The Courts are not fit instruments to assess expediency or advisability or utility of such prescription of qualifications. However, at the same time, the employer cannot act arbitrarily or fancifully in prescribing qualifications for posts”.