Equivalency Certificates For Educational Qualifications Will Have Restrospective Application Unless Specified Otherwise: Supreme Court
In the field of academics, application of the principle of equivalency in relation to degrees in two subjects would mean that they had the same standing or status all along.
The Supreme Court in the case of Praveen Kumar C.P. v. Kerala Public Service Commission has held that applicants possessing the degree of B.Ed. (Biological Science) are eligible to apply for the post High School Assistant (Natural Sciences) in Kerala. The two-judge Bench set aside the Kerala High Court's decision which asserted that equivalency will operate from the date on which the government orders declaring equivalency were issued.
Facts of the case
Two appeals were filed by Praveen Kumar C.P. and P. Anitha Devi before the Supreme Court claiming eligibility for appointment as an HSA (Natural Science) in the State of Kerala.
Both the appellants' possessed B.Ed. degree (Biological Science), however, the employment notification issued by the Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) stipulated the following conditions as the eligibility criteria –
- Applicants should have taken Botany or Zoology or Home Science or Micro Biology as Main subjects for graduation or post graduation.
- B.Ed./BT in the "concerned subject."
The primary issue involved was whether the appellants' B.Ed. degree in biological science would be considered equal to B.Ed. in the "concerned subject" for the purpose of their recruitment to the HSA post in Kerala.
The KPSC refused to consider their degree as equivalent to B.Ed. in natural sciences after which the appellants filed two petitions before the Kerala Administrative Tribunal (KAT). The Kerala Government issued two Government Orders while the case was pending before KAT. The Government Orders stated that the appellants' degree B.Ed. in Biological Science was equal to B.Ed. in Natural Sciences.
Based upon the said two orders of the Government, the Tribunal ordered KPSC to include the names of the appellants in their results.
KPSC approached Kerala High Court appealing against the order of the tribunal. Their main contention was that both the Government Orders cannot be given retrospective effect from the date of the notification of the HSA post, but that it can only operate prospectively. Hence, the appellants would not be eligible for the said post and their names could not be included in the ranked list.
The High Court accepted the contentions of the KPSC and held that the Government Orders could not be given retrospective effect from the date of employment notification, as it would lead to "change in the rules of game midway" which is not permissible in law.
Supreme Court's findings
After hearing the arguments of both the parties the Supreme Court asserted that a plain reading of the two Government orders shows that the appellants' degrees were equivalent to the required qualifications contained in the eligibility criteria for the post of HSA.
The Court held that the GOs which declared appellants' degrees to be equivalent to those required as per the notifications were not general orders but were person specific, relating to the two appellants. Court held on the basis of the text and tenor of the GOs declaring equivalence that they were retrospective in application.
"Once the GOs specifically declared that their B.Ed. degrees were equivalent to the designated subject which formed part of the employment notification, the GOs in substance have to be interpreted as clarificatory in nature and these cannot be construed to have had elevated the status or position of the degree they already had after the declaration was made in the GOs. The subject GOs only recognized an existing state of affairs so far as the nature of the degrees were concerned and did not create fresh value for the degrees which the appellants possessed. Though these equivalent orders were not in existence on the dates of issue of employment notifications, the GOs in substance recognize such status from the dates of obtaining such degrees. The GOs do not reveal any intervening circumstances which could be construed to imply that the respective degree acquired the equivalent status because of such circumstances occurring subsequent to grant of their B.Ed. degrees," the Court held.
Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Aniruddha Bose opined that treating the appellants' degrees as equivalent to those required under the applicable notifications, based on GOs issued after the recruitment process begins, would not result in a change in the rules of the game midway, but was a case of interpreting the rules when the game was on.