Centre sets ball rolling for quota in promotions
Collection of quantifiable data on the inadequacy of representation of social groups is a prerequisite condition for providing quotas in promotion, according to a raft of judgments by the Supreme Court over the last two decades.
The Centre is set to start the process of collecting data on the representation of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) employees at all levels of government, according to an official order, marking the crucial first step in implementing reservation in promotion for these groups that have emerged as key electoral forces in recent years.
Collection of quantifiable data on the inadequacy of representation of social groups is a prerequisite condition for providing quotas in promotion, according to a raft of judgments by the Supreme Court over the last two decades. The latest of these verdicts came on January 28, and the apex court has since refused to review its stand on the importance of data before implementing quotas.
An order by the central department of personnel and training (DoPT) dated April 12, seen by HT, asked all ministries and departments to adhere to the Supreme Court’s guidelines – the first time in six years that it has initiated the process of giving reservation in promotion to SCs and STs.
The move appears to be aimed at ameliorating the two communities that are angry at the years-long delay in clearing promotions for officers belonging to these groups. SCs and STs have 15% and 7.5% reservation in government jobs, respectively, and together form more than a quarter of the country’s population. In recent years, they have emerged as a key political lever with the potential to make or break elections, with many political parties vying for their support.
A former DoPT employee said the process of reservation in promotion had come to standstill as the government was mired in litigations.
On its part, the government had issued an interim order in 2018 but the ongoing cases prevented it from being implemented. “Whatever the government tried to do, it seemed to be in contempt of one court order or another, therefore, the process couldn’t be completed,” the official said.
The government’s April 12 memorandum referred to the January verdict and said three conditions were laid down by the apex court – the collection of quantifiable data regarding the inadequacy of representation of SCs and STs, the application of this data to each cadre separately, and the cadre being the unit of operation of the promotion roster.
“All ministries are required to ensure that the above conditions are complied with before implementing the policy of reservation in promotions and carrying any promotions based thereon,” the memorandum added.
The document also asked the ministries to appoint a liaison officer to ensure reservation rosters were strictly maintained. The order also says that any promotion orders issued will be subject to further orders by the Supreme Court in a pending batch of cases on the subject.
Reservation in promotion for SC and STs is a fraught issue that has been stalled for years due to a lack of quantifiable data on SC/ST employees, leading to repeated protests and simmering resentment among the numerically significant communities that view government jobs as a key avenue for social and economic mobility.
According to the CSS Forum, a representative body for these officials, regular promotions for all employees, including SC and ST employees in the central secretariat have been stalled for at least last six years.
Data maintained by the forum says that across 70-odd ministries, 12,000 officials have been affected by the logjam. In February, around a thousand officials from the central secretariat demonstrated in front of the minister Jitendra Singh, demanding immediate start of promotion.
According to CSS general secretary Manmohan Verma, the reservation in promotion system applies for section officers and below. “Once the official becomes an undersecretary, the system ceases to apply,” he said.
CSS is responsible for appoint assistant section officers and section officers.
“This will also apply other grade services which induct lower division clerks through central secretariat clerical service. The order marks a step in initiating the process, but we will have to see how long it will take to implement it.”
“The CSS forum believes that this memorandum brought out by the personnel department related to the promotion in the reservation can soon resume the regular promotion which has been stalled for the last several years in the secretariat,” said a statement by the group.
The DoPT memorandum said the DPC (Departmental Promotion Committee), has to “carefully assess” the suitability of officers considered for promotion and added that the appointing authority will only issue appointment or promotion orders after conditions are met. The ministries were told to urgently bring these to the notice of all subordinate offices, public sector undertakings and statutory bodies.
Several state governments and the Centre have repeatedly asked the apex court to relax its stipulation on data, arguing that it was impossible to collect at short notice and was leading to administrative problems, but the top court has not budged. Experts also point out that since the government has never had cadre-level data on the representation of SC/ST employees at all levels, collection of such information may take a long time.
The logjam in reservation in promotion dates back to 2006, when a Constitution bench ruling in the M Nagaraj case laid down three conditions: collect quantifiable data showing the backwardness of the group, its inadequacy of representation in a particular level of public employment and ensuring administrative efficiency. After the judgment, some high courts struck down reservation in promotion policies by state governments.
In 2018, another Constitution bench of the Supreme Court endorsed the stipulation of quantifiable data in the Jarnail Singh case. The court said that governments need not collect data on the backwardness of these groups but upheld the two other criteria, while mandating the exclusion of the “creamy layer” before providing reservation.
But the Centre and some state governments said that these conditions created administrative difficulties and stalled the promotions of thousands of employees, and requested the apex court to review its judgment. The Union government pressed for reservation in promotion proportionate to the population of SCs and STs as per a 1995 judgment by the top court in the RK Sabharwal case.
Attorney general KK Venugopal argued that it should be left to the Centre and states to decide on promotional avenues for SCs and STs. He added there was a roster system in place in every cadre of the government departments to ascertain the posts required to be filled up by SCs/STs, and therefore the prerequisite of quantifiable data should be done away with. The Centre also told the court that any modification in the reservation in promotion policy would throw the country into disarray.
Simultaneously, the court was also hearing a clutch of petitions arising out of judgments from 11 different high courts, which had delivered rulings on various pertinent reservation policies in the last 10 years. Some of the states included Maharashtra, Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab.
On January 28, the top court turned down the Union government’s plea to dilute the requirement of quantifiable data, emphasising that adequacy of representation cannot be gauged either on the basis of data on representation of SCs/STs with reference to entire service or in proportion of their population. “Before providing for reservation in promotions to a cadre, the state is obligated to collect quantifiable data regarding inadequacy of representation of SCs and STs. Collection of information regarding inadequacy of representation of SCs and STs cannot be with reference to the entire service or class/group but it should be relatable to the grade/category of posts to which promotion is sought,” held the bench.
On February 25, while hearing some petitions against certain high court orders, the top court made it clear that it was looking for contemporaneous data, and not old data collected by the government. At this hearing, the government said it will collect the required data and produce it at the next hearing. To be sure, in no hearing in the apex court has the government been able to show quantifiable cadre-level data on representation of SC/STs.
The Centre filed an affidavit on March 28 pursuant to the court order but failed to put on record contemporaneous data as regards cadres in its various departments in terms of the direction of the court. This affidavit adduced reservation rosters already available as part of petitions pending before the court but did not submit the latest statistics.
On March 30, the top court said it would examine whether the data being cited by the Centre can be considered “contemporaneous cadre-wise data” that it wanted, or not. During the hearing on that day, the court also rejected a plea by a group of reserved category employees who sought consideration of their objections to the January 28 judgment by which court required Centre and states to collect quantifiable data for implementation reservation in promotion for SC/ST. The matter will be heard next on May 11.
Former UGC chairperson and author of Untouchability in Rural India SK Thorat, what the Supreme Court should have sought is the data regarding caste discrimination in the service. “People belonging to the scheduled castes are constantly discriminated against, that’s what the Supreme Court should have focused on,” he said.
A former DoPT employee said that the process of reservation in promotion had come to standstill as the government was mired in litigations. On its part, the government had issued an interim order in 2018 but the ongoing cases prevented it from being implemented. “Whatever the government tried to do, it seemed to be in contempt of one court order or another, therefore, the process couldn’t be completed,” the official said.