The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Karnataka government's order of February 27 restoring cadre and pay scales of thousands of SC/ST employees, demoted in terms of the February 9, 2017 judgement in the B K Pavitra case.
"When the hearing is at final stage on law, it is appropriate status quo is not altered," a bench of Justices U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud said.
The court said a statement was made on July 27, 2018, by Karnataka's Advocate General that the status quo would not be changed. “This is a matter of institutional prestige of this court,” the bench said.
The top court ordered the state government to maintain the status quo and advanced the date of hearing to March 6.
Notably, the apex court is seized up with a batch of petitions filed by general category of employees seeking directions to the state government to comply with February 9, 2017 judgement, which had quashed the law granting reservation in promotion to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe employees.
Besides, separate writ petitions have been filed against the Karnataka government's fresh law, passed last year, to nullify the impact of the judgement. Final arguments have been advanced before the court on several dates. It was heard last time on February 13 and was posted for further consideration on March 13.
On Friday, the court passed the order after hearing counsel from the state government, general and reserved category of employees.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan pointed out to “zig-zag” done by the state government. He said the compliance to the apex court's judgement would have completed by June 2018 but the process was stalled after President's assent to new law, nullifying the effect of the judgement.
“This action is entirely unilateral,” he said, questioning the validity of government's order and maintenance of status quo.
He said with this, the reverted officials will come back and the benefit would be extended to autonomous bodies as well.
Senior advocate Basava Prabhu Patil, appearing for the Karnataka government, said no prejudice was going to be caused to the other employees. “It is again subject to the final outcome of the court hearing, the Cabinet took the decision as heartburn for the SC/ST staff has continued for a long period of time,” he said.
“We understand it was not done surreptitiously. But don't change the status quo. At best, it is a matter of two to three weeks,” the bench said.
Appearing for the SC/ST employees, senior advocate Indira Jaising said, there was no stay on the operation of the new Act.
“A plea was made by the state government to relieve it from the undertaking. It is unfair on part of petitioners to seek the status quo when the hearing is almost over. No demotion is going to take place. Entire seniority list is to be redrawn, it is a very lengthy process. The issue is not so much about the immediate outcome. It is about laying down the process for their rights. We have suffered about one year for having been demoted. Everything is subject to outcome of the judgement,” she said.
Senior advocate V Laxminarayana, also representing SC/ST employees cited the previous apex court judgements, saying the court would be very slow to stay operation of provisions of a law unless it is ex facie unconstitutional.
An application was filed by general category of employees contending, "The state by its order on February 27 has wilfully and deliberately flouted the orders passed in contempt proceedings which is still pending. Thus, the act of the state is not only audacious violation of the undertaking given to this court at the time of hearing of the contempt petition and writ petitions but also contemptuous."