HC: State govt couldn’t have issued GR detrimental to EWS candidates

The Bombay High Court on Friday declared as “illegal” a decision of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) to follow government resolutions (GRs) issued by the erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) regime that stipulated that eligible candidates from the Maratha community could retrospectively avail benefits under the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota.

While the verdict was passed on Friday, the judgment copy was made available on Saturday.

The HC held that such GRs were not applicable to the recruitment process initiated by the MSEDCL for appointments under the EWS category. Maintaining that the GRs will not affect the selection process, it asked the MSEDCL to proceed with the selection process as per rules prevailing in 2019, when it had issued advertisements for over 400 pots.

“The state government could not have issued a GR to the detriment of EWS category candidates… the action on the part of the respondents in applying the impugned GRs retrospectively to the said selection process… is illegal and bad in law,” the HC said.

The EWS quota is open to all those not covered by any other quota and whose family’s annual income is below Rs 8 lakh.

Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand S Karnik passed the order while hearing petitions filed by candidates selected to MSEDCL posts under the EWS category and by those selected or aspiring for posts reserved for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) in the company.

The EWS category candidates had told the HC that they had applied for MSEDCL jobs under EWS quota, which is separate from the SEBC category. They had added that Maratha community candidates cannot seek jobs under the EWS quota retrospectively while applying through the SEBC category.

On June 27, 2019, the HC had upheld the Maharashtra government’s decision to provide reservation to the Maratha community under the SEBC Act, 2018, which was challenged in the Supreme Court.

The MSEDCL advertisements for jobs mentioned a condition that recruitment will be subject to the outcome of the SC decision. After the SC put an interim stay on Maratha reservation on September 9, 2020, the MSEDCL could not proceed to fill vacant posts reserved for SEBC candidates.

Thereafter, the state issued a GR on December 23, 2020, stating that those SEBC candidates, who otherwise fulfil the eligibility criteria prescribed for open or EWS categories, may be considered for the vacancies meant for open or EWS categories. They can obtain EWS certificates for direct recruitment to civil posts for 2020-21.

On February 10, 2021, the state industries, energy and labour departments issued a letter to MSEDCL, asking it to implement the GR of December 23, 2020 and also giving the GR retrospective effect – allowing even those SEBC candidates who had participated in recruitment process held in 2019 to avail EWS benefits. In May 2021, however, the SC struck down Maratha quota.

Senior advocate Rajendra Deshmukh, appearing for EWS candidates, argued that the action of the state and the MSEDCL in favour of SEBC category candidates was “completely arbitrary” and “unconstitutional”. However, candidates belonging to the SEBC category justified the decision and sought it to be implemented.

The HC said, “It is not as if the SEBC category candidates were not put to notice about the matter pending before the Supreme Court… still they chose to apply under SEBC category.”

Expressing “surprise” over the government and the MSEDCL’s decision, the HC said that state was not justified in contending that EWS category candidates had no vested rights. Instead, after the SC stay, “the state government could have taken a stand that SEBC candidates were now precluded from participating in the recruitment process”, the HC noted.

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The court held that issuing impugned circulars that allowed candidates who had initially applied through SEBC category to avail EWS quota at an advanced stage of the recruitment process – after the select list has been published – was “arbitrary,” “unconstitutional” and “impermissible”.

Allowing pleas by EWS category candidates seeking appointment in MSEDCL, the HC said, “While we have sympathy for SEBC candidates, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the situation is the result of their own making.”

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