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CLAT Clearance Mandate For NTPC Law Officer Appointment Violative Of Article 16: Kerala High Court

Hannah M Varghese
16 Jun 2022 4:26 AM GMT
CLAT Clearance Mandate For NTPC Law Officer Appointment Violative Of Article 16: Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court has held that the condition mandating applicants to clear CLAT for applying to the post of Assistant Law Officer in National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC) was violative of Article 16 of the Constitution of India.

However, to avoid upsetting the entire selection process, Justice V.G. Arun directed the respondents to accept the petitioner's application and test her eligibility through a selection process.

"Ext.P3 notification insofar as it confines the selection process to only candidates who had participated in the CLAT-2021 PG programme, violates Article 16 of the Constitution of India. Having held so, rather than upsetting the whole selection process, I deem it more appropriate to direct the second respondent to accept the petitioner's application and conduct a selection test or interview for testing her eligibility for appointment to the notified post. Further action with respect to the appointment shall be taken depending on the outcome of such selection test/interview."

The Court was adjudicating upon a plea moved by an aspirant to the post of Assistant Law Officer in NTPC and an LL.M student at CUSAT with a specialization in Intellectual Property Rights. She completed LLB with an average score of 70% and claims to have several academic accolades to her account, therefore eligible to apply for the post of Assistant Law Officer at NTPC.

However, the notification issued by the Corporation mandates that the candidate must have appeared for CLAT-2021 to be considered for the post and that they will be shortlisted based on the rankings in the said examination.

Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate Maitreyi S. Hegde submitted that being a public sector undertaking falling within the definition of Article 12 of the Constitution, the NTPC cannot shut out the chances of persons like the petitioner, merely for the reason that she is pursuing her Post Graduation programme in a University that is not part of the consortium of National Law Universities.

It was further argued that there is no nexus between the objective sought to be achieved by imposing such a condition since CLAT exam is meant for assessing the academic brilliance of students, whereas the NTPC is seeking to select the best among legal professionals.

On the other hand, SG Tushar Mehta submitted that fixing the eligibility criteria for appointment to a particular post is the absolute prerogative of the employer. He added that CLAT is a national-level examination conducted by the Consortium of National Universities for filtering and selecting the brightest students. Being convinced of the standard of law graduates selected through CLAT PG programmes, not only the NTPC, but various other PSUs are following the same process.

The Court agreed that fixing the eligibility of a particular post is within the domain of the employer and cannot be the subject matter of judicial review, unless found to be arbitrary, unreasonable or having no rational nexus to the objective sought to be achieved. However, in this case, the challenge was not against qualification or eligibility, but the selection process - that incorporation of the restrictive selection criteria was indirect discrimination.

The Judge pointed out that out of the 1721 law colleges in India, only 23 are members of the Consortium of National Law Universities. The argument that graduates from other law colleges would also have appeared for the CLAT-PG cannot also be countenanced, since such candidates would only be a minuscule minority. Further, it was emphasised that the selection is based on a test conducted much prior to the issuance of the notification.

As contended by the petitioner, law graduates aspiring to be appointed in public sector undertakings cannot be expected to appear for an admission test anticipating that in future that test will be made the criterion for selection to PSUs. Further, even candidates who had appeared for the previous year's CLAT PG and performed well were not eligible.

Therefore, it was held that the notification confining the selection process only to candidates who had appeared for the CLAT-2021 PG programme amounts to indirect discrimination.

The Judge also found that the focus of the test was on academics and not on assessment of the skill set expected of future law officers. Hence, the selection process indeed had no rational nexus with the objective.

"Even if the argument that students graduating from NLUs acquire more skill and knowledge than their less fortunate brethren is accepted, that is no reason to deny a level playing field to the others. There is no logical basis for the assumption that professionalism and competence is the fiefdom of only those passing from elite institutions. The process now adopted is more like a walkover to the finals for a chosen few, without competing in the preliminaries."

The Court added that the respondents' argument that it is inexpedient to conduct a selection test across India for filling up ten posts also fails when tested on the touchstone of Article 16.

"As long as the Constitution guarantees equality of opportunity to the citizens, the State and its instrumentalities have a corresponding duty to ensure such opportunity to all."

As such, the respondents were directed to conduct a selection process for the petitioner within one month.

Case Title: Aishwarya Mohan v. Union of India & Ors

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 280

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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