State to Decide Equivalence of Degree and Diploma in Same Discipline: SC
7th April 2021, the Supreme Court in Puneet Sharma & Ors Vs. Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd & Ors — CA Nos. 1318-1322 of 2021 — held eligibility of degree holders for appointment to the post of Junior Engineer (Electrical) at Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) Ltd.
The Court, however, on the issue of equivalency of degree and diploma in same discipline, held:
“The State as the employer is entitled to prescribe the qualifications as a condition of eligibility. It is no part of the role or function of judicial review to expand upon the ambit of the prescribed qualifications. Similarly, equivalence of a qualification is not a matter which can be determined in exercise of the power of judicial review. Whether a particular qualification should or should not be regarded as equivalent is a matter for the State, as the recruiting authority, to determine.”
27th June 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Staff Selection Commission (HPSSC), through an advertisement, invited applications for 222 posts of Junior Engineer to be employed with the HPSEB Ltd.
In response, degree holders in the said disciplines, after qualifying the written examination, applied to the posts. The applicable rules, however, stated that the minimum qualifications for recruitment to the post of Junior Engineer was “minimum matriculation with Diploma in Electrical/ Electronics and Communication/ Computer Science from the recognized Institution/ Board/ University duly recognized by the Central or State Government.”
Accordingly, diploma holder applicants, after qualifying in the examination, were selected and the degree holders were not considered for the advertised posts.
Aggrieved, the degree holders filed writ petitions before the Himachal Pradesh High Court, whereby the Court dismissed the petitions and held that a “Diploma in Engineering and Degree in Engineering are two distinct qualifications and a degree in the field in question cannot be viewed as a higher qualification when compared to Diploma in that field. Consequently, the degree holder petitioners cannot be permitted to urge that they possess higher qualification which would meet the requirement of specific qualifications specified in the rules or advertisement.”
3rd June 2020, during the pendency of the petition before the Himachal Pradesh High Court, the HPSEB passed an amendment to the Rules which stated as follows:
“Diploma or degree in Computer Science Engineering or Electronic Engineering & Communication Engineering or Information Technology from recognised Institute/ University established by Law by the State/ Central Govt. OR AMIE from Institution of Engineers (India) (only those candidates who are enrolled for AMIE with the Institute of Engineers (India) Kolkata will be permanent recognition up to 3105.2013) would be eligible.”
Thereafter, the degree holders filed an appeal before the Supreme Court against the Himachal Pradesh High Court order.
Concerning the issue of whether degree holders could be appointed as Junior Engineers, the Court commented:
“In the present case, what is evident from the rules is that direct recruitment to the post of JEs in HPSEB is to the extent of 72%. Undoubtedly, eligibility is amongst those who passed in matriculation or 10+2 or its equivalent qualification. However, this Court is of the opinion that the diploma holders’ contention that the minimum qualification is matriculation and that the technical qualification is diploma is incorrect. The minimum qualification for the post cannot be deemed to be only matriculation but rather that only such of those matriculates, or 10+2 pass students, who are diploma holders would be eligible. The term “with” in this category has to be read as conjunctive.”
Further, the Court referring to the amendment dated 3rd July 2020 established that individuals holding higher qualifications are eligible to compete for the post of Junior Engineers while stating:
“…though the amending rules were brought into force prospectively, nevertheless, being clarificatory, they apply to the recruitment that is the subject matter of the present controversy. Such a position (i.e. clarificatory amendments operative retroactively, despite their enforcement prospectively) has been held in several previous judgments of this Court.”
In this regard, the Court relied on the Apex Court judgment in Zile Singh vs State of Punjab and the following extract was reproduced from the said judgment:
“The presumption against retrospective operation is not applicable to declaratory statutes… In determining, therefore, the nature of the Act, regard must be had to the substance rather than to the form… An amending Act may be purely declaratory to clear a meaning of a provision of the principal Act which was already implicit. A clarificatory amendment of this nature will have retrospective effect.”
In conclusion, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and the respondent was directed to “process the candidature of all applicants, including the degree holders who participated, and depending on the relative merits, proceed to issue the final selection list of all successful candidates, after holding interviews, etc.”
Ankitha Subramanya| Research Intern | EduLegaL
Swapna Iyer | Legal Editor | EduLegaL