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Judicial Officers Acquiring PG Qualification During Service Also Entitled To Benefit Of Advance Increments : Kerala HC [Read Judgment]

‘There is no justification for treating persons who have acquired Post Graduate Degrees while in service differently from persons who were possessing such Post Graduate Degrees at the time of recruitment for the purpose of denial of the benefit of advance increments’ the HC held.

The High Court of Kerala has frowned upon the distinction made by Government between judicial officers who acquired Post Graduate qualification while in service and those who had such qualification at the time of recruitment for granting incremental benefits.

As per recommendations of Shetty Commission on service conditions of judicial officers, three advance increments were directed to be granted to persons having higher qualification like Post Graduation in Law.  The recommendation was made on the ground that “post graduation in law is a difficult course and it is better to reward appropriately such candidates”. The Shetty Commission recommendations were directed to be implemented by the Supreme Court in All India Judges Association vs. Union of India [(2002) 4 SCC 247] .

Though the Government of Kerala implemented the recommendations,  the benefit of advance increments was limited to only those who possessed post graduate qualification at the time of recruitment. The officers who acquired PG qualification during their service were excluded from the benefit. Challenging this distinction, certain judicial officers approached the High Court. The single judge held that Government cannot make such discrimination, and ordered the extension of benefit to those judicial officers. Against this, the state filed writ appeal before the Division Bench.

The Government placed reliance on the  words “selected candidates” in the recommendation to contend that the recommendation was only to grant three advance increments to the selected candidates.  It was argued that the recommendation cannot be extended by a process of interpretation to persons who are in service also.

However, the Division Bench of Justice K Surendra Mohan and Justice Annie John did not accept the argument, and held :

As clear from the recommendations of the Shetty Commission already extracted above, what was necessary was to grant the benefit of advance increments to the selected candidates having higher qualifications like Post Graduation in Law. The recommendation was made on the  premise that acquisition of a Post Graduate Degree in law was a difficult task. If so, the same reasoning would support the grant of advance increments to even persons who acquire the Post Graduate Degree while in service. However, we are of the view that, there is no justification for giving a restrictive interpretation to the words “selected candidates” in recommendation No.8.48 of the Shetty Commission extracted above to limit the benefits to only those persons possessing Post Graduate Degrees at the time of recruitment.

It was further held that there was no justification for treating persons who have acquired Post Graduate Degrees while in service differently from persons who were possessing such Post Graduate Degrees at the time of recruitment for the purpose of denial of the benefit of advance increments. There is no rational basis for such classification.

Reference was made to the Allahabad High Court has in Sanjay Shanker Pandey v. State of U.P. [2017 LabIC3812] which held that the principle of equal pay for equal work as well as the concept of legitimate expectation are violated by denial of the increments. The Court also took note of the judgments of Punjab and Haryana High Court in Priya Sood v.State of Punjab [2011(3) SCT319(P&H)], Punjab & Haryana High Court v. Priya Sood [2011(3)SCT 334(P&H)], Anil Kumar v. State of Punjab [MANU/PH/2929/2015]Virender Parshad v. State of Haryana [2013(2)SCT 728 (P&H)], holding that denial of the benefit of advance increments to persons who have acquired Post Graduate Degrees while in service was both discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

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