Right Under Article 14 Doesn't Mean Giving Equal Treatment Or Equal Protection Of Law To Unequals: Calcutta HC
The Calcutta High Court has held that the right under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution does not mean giving equal treatment or equal protection of the law to persons who are unequals. The Single Bench of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya observed that such persons require differential treatment for preserving their unique and individual characteristics.
"The object cannot be to treat persons across all spectrums as equals but to first segregate the spectrums according to the special features of each and ensure that persons within these individual groups are not treated discriminated against", the Court noted.
The Court was adjudicating upon the imposition of enhanced qualifications for selection of Headmasters/Headmistresses in Secondary, Higher Secondary and Junior High Schools.
The Petitioners in this case were serving as Assistant Teachers of High Schools in Calcutta. They had claimed to be eligible for being appointed as Headmaster/Headmistress in the concerned schools on the basis of the marks obtained by them which were in the range of 45%-50% in the post-graduate level.
The Petitioners had contended that as per the Selection Rules 2016, the required qualification of a candidate for appointment to the post of Headmaster/Headmistress in schools was a Master's degree from a recognized University with at least 45% marks at the post-graduate level.
Senior Advocates Kalyan Bandhopadhay and Ekramul Bari, appearing on behalf of the petitioners had argued that the required percentage was increased from 45% to 50% vide notification which was violative of the petitioners' right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.
They further contended that the impugned Notification restrained the petitioners from participating in the recruitment process even though they had completed 10 years of continuous service. It was also submitted that the impugned notification created a classification of the petitioners as teachers in one class and the Headmaster/Headmistress in another class in respect of all their educational qualifications.
On the other hand Government pleader, Anirban Ray, appearing for the respondent-state defended the impugned Notification on the ground that the National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993 provided for certain uniform provisions which were applicable to all schools imparting pre-primary, primary, upper primary, secondary or senior secondary education and that the State was bound by the said Act.
He contended that the State enacted the impugned amendment Notification pursuant to the Regulation issued by the National Council for Teacher Education and that the increase in the eligibility criterion for becoming Headmaster/Headmistress from 45% to 50% was for the purpose of increasing the standard of education imparted to the students of the State.
On the issue whether the impugned Notification created any unreasonable classification between teachers eligible for selection as Headmaster/Headmistress and those who were already occupying the said post, the Court observed that the ground that petitioners were deprived of an opportunity for being considered for the post of Headmaster/Headmistress was not acceptable.
"The petitioners cannot have any legitimate expectation for being recruited to the post of Headmaster/Headmistress in the concerned schools from the time of joining the said schools since the post of Headmaster/Headmistress is not a promotional post and the petitioners would hence be required not only to fulfil the eligibility criteria for being recruited to the post but also clear certain rounds of selection including written examination and/or interview", the Court held.
The Court further observed that Section 12A of the NCTE Act authorized the 'Council', to maintain a standard of education in schools by way of regulations which also included the power to determine the qualification of persons for being recruited as teachers.
The Court noted that the argument that Headmasters/Headmistresses were not being subjected to the qualifying percentage of 50% was fallacious.
The Court held that "the two positions namely, of an Assistant Teacher and a Headmaster/Headmistress are therefore conceptually and functionally different. Moreover, since the impugned Notification is prospective in nature, there can be no scope of a person who is presently holding the post of a Headmaster/Headmistress being subjected to the eligibility criterion of 50% marks in Master's Degree from a recognized University at the post-graduate level."
The Court also observed that the two classes of teachers appointed by the School Service Commission and those by the Public Service Commission were distinct and disparate from each other since the mode and manner of selection and appointing authorities were wholly different.
The Court relied on a catena of cases and held that the enhancement of the benchmark classification from 45% to 50% for recruitment to the post of Headmaster/Headmistress didn't violate the constitutional safeguard to equality before the law and equal opportunities in matters of public employment.
"The Notification has a rationale and a most credible nexus with the object of upgrading the standard of teachers who are to be recruited as Headmasters/Headmistresses. Requiring a higher academic classification for the post of Headmaster/Headmistress cannot be said to be violative either in logic or in practice", the Court held while dismissing the writ petitions.