K'taka must honour SC promotion order

The Karnataka government should not have invited criticism from the Supreme Court by violating the letter and spirit of a ruling by the court in February this year which struck down the policy of reservation in promotions for SC/ST employees. The court described the government's virtual refusal to implement its earlier order as unethical and was unhappy that routine promotions in government departments were held up on weak and indefensible grounds. The court had disfavoured the practice of consequential seniority in promotions for SC/ST employees, holding it as violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. It said the verdict was applicable only to those who were in service and fixed a three-month period for demoting those who were promoted under this policy. But the government has held up all promotions on the ground that it has filed a petition for review of the February judgement.

Filing a review petition is not a reason for non-implementation of a judgement. Only rarely do review petitions find success with courts, and till the time a decision is taken on the petition the original judgement is valid and should be implemented. The court had said that the absence of proportionate representation in promotional posts for SCs and STs was in itself no reason to grant consequential seniority to promotees. The Supreme Court had in cases from other states in the past made it clear that reservation in promotions was unconstitutional. It could be considered only in certain situations under some conditions that should meet criteria like inadequacy of representation, backwardness and overall efficiency. These conditions did not exist in the Karnataka policy. So, there was no reason to believe that the review petition would be successful. The government's attempt to bypass the court judgement through an ordinance did not succeed because the governor returned the ordinance. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has said that the government proposed to bring forward a legislation to circumvent the court ruling. The central government also has a similar proposal before it.

Governments and political parties may favour and support the idea of reservation in promotions for political and electoral reasons. But it is unlikely to pass legal and constitutional muster. The policy is not sound in terms of the norms of good administration either as it would devalue merit, demoralise officials and affect their performance and efficiency. Reservations at the entry level is necessary and effective as a tool of social justice. But that cannot be said about reservation in promotions. The state government should implement the court's order instead of trying to negate it for all the wrong reasons.

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