Kerala High Court judgment on Munsiff Magistrate Selection set aside: Supreme Court

Filling up of additional vacancies of Munsiff-Magistrate posts from the current rank list directed by Kerala High Court has been set aside. Supreme Court with the bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee set aside the judgment of the High Court in the case of High Court of Kerala VS. Reshma A. [Civil Appeal Nos. 3974-3975 of 2020].

In the instant case, a special leave petition was filed by the High Court of Kerala challenging the judgment passed by a division bench of the High Court which upheld a single bench judgment directing the filling up of additional vacancies from the merit list published on February 20, 2020. The writ petition was filed by two individuals who had participated in the selection process issued by High Court, inviting applications for the post of Munsiff-Magistrate in Kerala Judicial Services. They had contended that the vacancies shouldn’t be limited and the court should take account of all the other vacancies arising till May 6, 2021, i.e., within one year from the date on which the merit list dated 7 May 2020 was notified. These petitions were somehow accepted and were sent to the Governor for approval with an additional list of the candidates. But later on, above decision was upheld by the single bench of Kerala High Court and all the writ petitions were dismissed.

When the matter reached to Supreme Court, Bench took the reference from the previous judgment passed with similar circumstances which was Malik Mazhar Sultan vs. Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission. It was noted that in the previous case the Court had directed that the number of vacancies to be notified by the High Court for the annual selection would be calculated by including:  

    1. Existing vacancies
    2. Future vacancies that may arise within one year due to retirement
    3. Future vacancies which may arise due to promotion, death or otherwise “say 10 per cent of the number of posts.

SC observed that the process of selection in making appointments to public posts is subject to the guarantees of equality under Article 14 and of equality in matters of public employment under Article 16 and every process of selection must be done on the basis on reasonableness. “Where the authority which makes a selection advertises a specific number of posts, the process of selection cannot ordinarily exceed the number of posts, the process of selection cannot ordinarily exceed the number of posts which have been advertised.”

Therefore, it was being observed that the future vacancies fall in a different category. Future vacancies which arise during a subsequent recruitment year cannot be treated as anticipated vacancies of a previous selection year. High Court in its decision had relied on Rule 7 which stated that “Preparation of lists of approved candidates and reservation of appointments: (1) The High Court of Kerala shall, from time to time, hold examinations, written and oral, after notifying the probable number of vacancies likely to be filled up and prepare a list of candidates considered suitable for appointment to category. Supreme Court observed that High Court interpreted the Rule from a different angle and hence, SC had to set aside the decision of Kerala High Court.

Supreme Court Bench contended that if the directions of High Court had been followed, it would have hampered the fairness of the whole process.

SC gave the judgment that “To allow the concept of probable number of vacancies in Rule 7(1) to trench upon future vacancies which will arise in a succeeding year would lead to a serious constitutional infraction, Candidates who become eligible for applying for recruitment during a succeeding year of recruitment would have a real constitutional grievance that vacancies which have arisen during a subsequent year during which they have become eligible have been allocated to an earlier recruitment year”.

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