"Wrongful Appointment" - SC Holds OBC Person Disentitled To Claim Right To Continue In Post Earmarked For ST Category
The Supreme Court while terming the appointment of a person belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBC) to a post earmarked for the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category as wrongful appointment, has held that the OBC category person cannot be retained in an ST category post.
"According to our understanding of the circumstances, the High Court instead of granting equitable relief to the Respondent no. 1, should have held that he cannot continue to usurp the benefits meant for a ST category person.", the Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy observed.
In this case, one Mahesh Kumar Gonnade had obtained a Caste Certificate showing him to be "Halba" Scheduled Tribe. Based on this certificate he joined service as a Management Trainee (Technical) against a Schedule Tribe quota vacancy at the Bhilai Steel Plant of the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL).
In 2008 questions were raised about his caste status, and his entitlement to the benefits meant for the Scheduled Tribe category. Accordingly, his caste certificate was forwarded to the High-Level Caste Scrutiny Committee, Raipur to determine whether he belonged to the Halba Scheduled Tribe community or "Halba/Koshti" the Other Backward Class community.
After due enquiry, the Committee submitted a report stating that he belonged to the Halba/Koshti community, which is categorized as OBC in the State of Chhattisgarh.
Accordingly, his ST certificate was canceled and order for termination of his service was issued. The Bhilai Steel Plant also ordered for forfeiture of all his service benefits such as CPF, Gratuity, Pension, Leave Encashment, etc.
Aggrieved Mahesh Kumar Gonnade moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), to challenge the termination. However, it came to be dismissed in limine because he had not challenged the adverse finding of the High-Level Caste Scrutiny Committee, Raipur.
Thereafter, he filed a writ petition before the Chhattisgarh High Court challenging CAT's decision and seeking protection of his service. The Division Bench of the High Court by placing reliance on State of Maharashtra Vs. Milind and Ors.1 (hereinafter "Milind") granted relief to the writ petitioner.
In the process, the High Court overlooked that the writ petitioner opted to abstain from the proceedings of the High-Level Caste Scrutiny Committee.
Contentions by Parties
Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appearing on behalf of the appellant- Bhilai Steel Plant argued that the High Court had erroneously relied on the ratio in Milind (supra). He contended that the High Court had conspicuously missed the point that the relief in the cited case was restricted to the concerned litigant and the ratio was not intended to be of universal application.
Placing strong reliance on Union of India vs. Dattatray & Ors.2 (hereinafter "Dattatray"), the appellant's counsel argued that Milind's judgment was made applicable only for the doctor litigant in the larger interest of the society and the ratio thereof, cannot be indiscriminately applied in cases of persons who undeservingly secure public appointments to reserved category jobs.
He further argued that Mahesh Kumar Gonnade had not challenged the adverse conclusion of the Caste Scrutiny Committee.
On the other hand Senior Advocate, Anupam Lal Das, appearing for the respondent- Mahesh Kumar Gonnade contended that his service could not have been terminated without issuing him a show-cause notice.
Adverting next to the adverse finding as given by the High-Power Caste Scrutiny Committee to the effect that he did not belong to the Halba ST community, Senior Advocate, Anupam Lal Das argued that the adverse conclusion was drawn mainly because he had failed to produce any pre 1950 document, showing his caste as Halba.
Advocate Sumir Sodhi appearing for the state of Chhattisgarh submitted that Mahesh Kumar Gonnade (not being an ST category person) is disentitled to continue in service, as he secured employment to a post earmarked for the ST category.
The Court observed that the High Court had misapplied the ratio in Milind's case.
"The pronouncement in Dattatray clearly suggests that the High Court misapplied the ratio in Milind, since the appointment of the respondent no. 1 as Management Trainee (Technical), cannot be compared to the education and appointment of a medical doctor." the Court observed.
The Court noted that "…the High Court disregarded the Government's circular dated 11.01.2016 whereby the previous circular (01.10.2011) was cancelled with the specific observation that Milind's judgment was clarified subsequently in Dattatray, by declaring that when a person secures appointment on the basis of a false certificate, he cannot be permitted to retain the benefit of wrongful appointment."
The Court further noted that the Halba ST certificate on the basis of which he had secured employment was canceled by the Committee in 2015, and such finding of the Caste Scrutiny Committee remained unchallenged to date.
The Court held "As a consequence, the respondent no.1 is disentitled to claim any equitable relief by virtue of his long service, particularly when he, despite the notice, avoided the proceedings of the Caste Scrutiny Committee. Also conspicuously, he does not challenge the adverse finding against him."
The Court noted that the High Court should not have granted relief by invoking the principles of natural justice, and by adverting to the ratio in Milind (supra) which was not applicable to Mahesh Kumar Gonnade, and which eventually was clarified in Dattatray (supra).
"The above would show that the High Court clearly fell into an error by granting relief to the respondent no.1 who is disentitled to claim any right to continue in a post earmarked for the ST category. The ratio in Milind (supra) was incorrectly applied in the impugned judgment since it is not the case of the respondent no.1 that he belongs to the ST category.", the Court noted further.
Therefore the Court held that the respondent being an OBC cannot be retained in an ST category post and that he was disentitled to any pensionary benefit by virtue of his wrongful appointment. However the Court opined that the emoluments paid to him should not be recovered.