On May 7, 2014, the Tripura High Court had terminated the appointment of 10,323 government school teachers on various grounds. The Supreme Court had in 2014 granted a stay on the High Court’s order.
On March 29, the Supreme Court bench of justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit, vacated the stay, and modified the High Court’s order, directing the state Government to complete fresh selection process on or before December 31, 2017. The bench allowed those teachers appointed earlier to apply again, and continue till the completion of the fresh selection process.
According to reports, the Supreme Court’s vacation of stay has resulted in a social crisis of sorts, with the teachers not being confident enough to be selected again under the fresh process of appointment.
Before the high court, the petitioners had challenged the constitutional validity of the employment policy of the state. The petitioners alleged that the policy is extremely vague and ambiguous, lays down no guidelines and vests the selecting/appointing authority with unfettered arbitrary discretionary powers.
Thus the employment policy followed by the state Government gives preference to those in the age group of 35 to 37 years (40 to 45 years for reserved categories), provides preference for OBCs, provides reservation for linguistic and religious minorities, and children of employees, and 30 per cent seats are reserved only on an economic criteria.
Interviews for the jobs were held area-wise, and this, the petitioners alleged, amounted to giving reservation on area-wise basis and, therefore, the selection was bad.
The state Government, however, contended before the High Court that the petitioners had applied for the posts, and appeared before the interview board without any demur and took a chance of being selected. Having faced the interview board, the petitioners cannot now turn around and challenge the mode of selection, the state Government argued.
The High Court however, held that there is nothing which debars a candidate who has appeared in the interview from raising a contention that the interviews were not conducted properly or that they were conducted in such a manner that the selection was highly unfair.
Curiously, the state Government had not even published the employment policy in the gazette, or referred to in any of the advertisements issued in 2002, 2006 and 2009. “How can poor unemployed persons be aware of an employment policy which was never made public? It was only an interdepartmental communication. Therefore, the petitioners cannot be debarred from challenging the revised employment policy,”, the High Court had held.
The High Court expressed its surprise that the state Government could not defend its reservation on the basis of age. The policy gives advantage to those above 35 years of age in respect of general candidates, and above 40 years of age in respect of reserved category candidates, and requires that a minimum of 25 per cent vacancies in a particular grade/posts shall be filled in by such candidates.
The policy also gives employment to dependents of persons who die-in-harness. The High Court held that die-in-harness scheme cannot become a source of employment to recruit people who are only the next of kin of the deceased government employees.
The state Government also could not defend its preferential treatment for the wards of retired government servants and retrenched employees, to orphanages or homes run by the state Government or local bodies.
Referring to the clause which permits reservation for minorities, the High Court asked how the State could justify it.
The policy also states that 70 per cent of the vacancies shall be filled up on the basis of seniority-cum-merit, and 30 per cent on the basis of need, without laying down any guidelines on how seniority-cum-merit is to be assessed.
The High Court also found that the reservation only on economic basis is not permissible under the Constitution.
In Tripura, no primary school teachers were appointed from 1996 to 2013. Despite advertisements being issued time and again, no selections were made. Reservation of 25 per cent of posts for persons in the higher age category, was challenged on the ground that the classification of age had no nexus with the object sought to be achieved.
The High Court held that the requirement of adequate number of teachers is even more important than that of Judges and no post of teacher shall remain vacant.