Service Rules shall Prevail Over Conflicting Government Resolutions; holds Supreme Court

Karanveer Singh Khaira and Utkarsh Goel

Introduction

The Supreme Court, in its recent judgement, Ashok Ram Parhad & Ors. v The State of Maharashtra & Ors., held that Service Rules have a statutory effect and thus, shall prevail in Service Jurisprudence, and government resolutions cannot contradict the rules. The case was another addition to the list of disputes between direct recruits and promotees inter alia their seniority. The position for which recruitment was held in the present dispute was Assistant Conservator of Forest (hereinafter ‘ACF’). The recruiting process for the aforementioned position was twofold: nomination (direct appointment) and promotion. The present petition was brought before the Supreme Court as an appeal against the High Court of Maharashtra. This article aims to briefly outline and analyse the decision. 

Facts of the Case

The ACF position was filled by a combination of nomination (direct appointment) and promotion. Recruits to ACF via promotion take charge on the day they are promoted to the position and are not obliged to complete the two years of ACF training and one year of field training required of those appointed by nomination. Instead of issuing probationary appointment orders, the Appellants were directed to pre-appointment training.

The petitioners petitioned the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal for a decision that their employment as ACF should be considered from the start of the training. The Tribunal granted the application in part, declaring that the appellants will be eligible for employment as ACF from the start of their training. Respondent No. 1’s review petition before the Tribunal was denied.

Thereafter, the government approved a resolution stating that successful completion of the training term would be regarded regular service from the date of training’s beginning for all service reasons. The resolution further stated that ACF selected by nomination will be considered from the beginning of their training, and seniority will be determined appropriately.

Meanwhile, Respondents 4 to 9 filed a writ suit in the High Court, both against the appellants and against the Maharashtra government. These private responders claimed to have been Range Forest Officers from 1987 to 1990 before being promoted to ACF in 2014-2015. Their complaint was that, although being promoted as ACF before the appellants, they were listed as junior to the appellants on the ACF seniority list. Their argument was that the 1984 Rules stated that time spent training at the Government Forest College by directly appointed ACF would not be counted towards the required period of service for appointment to the Divisional Forest Officer (hereinafter ‘DFO’) cadre.

High Court’s Decision

The High Court gave its opinion on the Tribunal’s order regarding payment of salary and pay scale to appellants from the start of their training period, stating that it would not affect respondent nos. 4 to 9. The respondents’ rights would only be affected when considering seniority for promotion to the post of DFO. The High Court also noted that a previous case (R.S. Ajara & Ors.) regarding seniority determination for directly recruited ACF in Gujarat State Forest Services Class II involved a government resolution that considered the training period when determining seniority in the absence of specific rules.

The High Court’s reasoning was grounded in the Divisional Forest Officer (in Maharashtra Forest Service, Class I) (Recruitment) Rules, 1984[i] (hereinafter referred to as the “1984 Rules”), which were created under the Proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution and have legal force. In contrast, the Government Resolution was issued under Article 162 of the Constitution by the General Administration Department of the Government of Maharashtra and therefore does not supersede the 1984 Rules.

The High Court ruled that the seniority of individuals appointed to the post of ACF by nomination would be determined from the date of issuance of their appointment order after successfully completing their training, while those appointed to ACF by promotion would be determined separately.

Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court while reaffirming the high court’s decision noted that, the resolutions were made in the context of ensuring that the individual who successfully completes the training receives monetary compensation for his training phase and is not deprived of it. Since the Proviso to Rule 2 of the 1984 Rules makes the date of appointment for direct recruits clear, this cannot equate to granting seniority from the date of initial recruitment process to calculate inter se seniority.”

The court also noted that, although the direct appointees have little expertise in the industry due to being newly hired, the promotees have been executing the duty for some time.

Conclusion

The case emphasises the need of following statutory regulations and laws in service jurisprudence.  The ruling of the Supreme Court reinforces the idea that government resolutions cannot override rules, and that the seniority of people nominated to positions must be established in accordance with the applicable regulations. This case also illustrates the continuous debates over seniority between direct recruits and promotees, emphasizing the necessity for a fair and open procedure for assessing inter se seniority. Largely, the ruling clarifies the legal provisions governing appointment and seniority determination in the Maharashtra Forest Service, Group A (Junior Grade) (Recruitment) Regulations, 1998,[ii] and establishes a precedent for similar instances in the future.

The said decision settles dust on the dispute between government resolutions which are enacted contrary to service rules to fulfill certain promises. The Supreme Court in the present case has stressed on the fact that the rules were made under constitutional provisions and thus could not be overridden by contrary government resolutions. This case is going to be landmark for future service disputes where subsequent government resolutions play an important role in deciding seniority. The same would also affect thousands of seniority disputes currently under trial in various Tribunals, High Courts and the Supreme Court.


[i] Divisional Forest Officer (in Maharashtra Forest Service, Class I) (Recruitment) Rules, 1984.

[ii] Maharashtra Forest Service, Group A (Junior Grade) (Recruitment) Regulations, 1998.


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