This article is written by Bhavpreet Singh Dhatt, Advocate, High Court of Punjab and Haryana.
To appear in any of the entrance examinations conducted by Punjab Public Service Commission for appointments to various govt posts, including prestigious services like the Punjab Civil Service (Executive Branch) as well as the Punjab Civil Service (Judicial Branch), one of the requirements is to pass the Punjabi examination, equivalent to the level of 10th Standard. For eg., the recruitment of officers to PCS (Executive Branch) through the recently held Punjab State Civil Services Combined Competitive Examination – 2015 required that “the Candidates must have passed Punjabi of matric or its equivalent standard as on the last date of receipt of Online application Form i.e. 5th October, 2015” and the Commission even uploaded on the website a list of students who did not fulfil the said condition. Similarly, the “Punjab Civil Service (Judicial Branch) Examination 2014–2015“ for filling up 118 vacancies of Civil Judge (Junior Division) Cum Judicial Magistrate required “Punjabi upto Matric or its equivalent Standard” as one of the essential qualifications. Same condition was stipulated in the recent examination conducted for recruitment of Assistant and Deputy District Attoney which again required “Punjabi of Matric or its equivalent Standard is essential for both the posts.” The same requirement is mandated across all examinations and therefore, applies whether one wants to be appointed as a Scientfic Officer or a Medical Officer (Dental). This requirement has often been the ground to challenge and set aside appointments and selections, and the law has been settled and crystallised by several important decisions rendered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court over the last two decades.
Whether the requirement to have a matriculation in Punjabi language is mandatory or can it be waived off?
The question whether the qualification is mandatory if the same has been provided in the advertisement came up before the Supreme Court in Umrao Singh v Punjabi University, Patiala and Ors., (2005) 13 SCC 365. Punjabi University, Patiala had advertised for lecturers in Department of Defence and Strategic Studies and the eligibility conditions, inter alia, required matriculation in Punjabi or Punjabi Prabodh or Punjabi Praveshika Exam. The petitioner therein alleged that one of the selectees did not fulfil the required conditions. The selectee contended that he had subsequently cleared the exam and the same was in accordance with the decision of the University Syndicate which had subsequently provided relaxation (the decision of the University syndicate allowing relaxation was after the last date of receipt of applications). The Supreme Court held that the selectee was required to already have passed the Punjabi examination in terms of the advertisement before appearing for the interview, which admittedly had not been done by the selectee and subsequent decision of the University couldn’t confer any benefit on him. The Court went on to observe that the eligibility of passing Punjabi examination was a condition which went to the root of the eligibility.
The said requirement also now forms a part of the stature book and has been provided for by Punjab Civil Services (General and Common Conditions of Service) Rules, 1994 (hereinafter referred to as “1994 Rules”). The said rules apply to Group ‘A’, Group ‘B’ and Group ‘C’ services. (Group ‘D’ services are governed by Punjab State (Group ‘D’) Service Rules, 1963 which require passing examination of middle standard with Punjabi as one of the subjects).
Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules is as follows:
“17. Knowledge of Punjabi Language – No person shall be appointed to any post in any service by direct appointment unless he has passed Matriculation examination with Punjabi as one of the compulsory or elective subjects or any other equivalent examination in Punjabi language, which may be specified by the Government from time to time.
The interpretation of Rules 17, 19 and 20 have often come before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. One of the most important judgements on this issue was delivered in Dr. Parul Dham v. State of Punjab and Ors1, CWP No.16462, 17675, 17160, 17366 to 17368 of 2010.
In Parul Dham, the advertisement had been issued to fill up 34 posts of Medical Officer (Dental). The requirements set out in the advertisement required a B.D.S. Degree with the added requirement that the candidates should be registered in part ‘A’ of the register of the State Dental Council as prescribed by the Dentist Act, 1948. Clause 3 (ii) of the advertisement stipulated that knowledge of Punjabi up to Matriculation Standard was essential and candidates who do not possess the said qualification will have to acquire the same within six months of their joining. It was argued that under Rule 5(2) of Punjab Civil Medical Group ‘A (Dental) Service Rules, 2009, read with Appendix-B provide the qualifications and experience for joining the service. It was further argued that the operation of the 1994 Rules would be excluded as the 1994 Rules apply only in a situation where any matter is not specifically provided in the 2009 Rules and since the 2009 Rules read with Appendix B dealing with “educational qualifications” did not provide for matriculation in Punjabi, the 1994 Rules would not be applicable.
The above argument did not find favour with the Court. Ranjan Gogoi, C.J. observed as follows (vide Para 7):
“Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules prescribing Matriculation with Punjabi as one of the subjects is a general requirement that would apply to any and every post in Group ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Services in the State of Punjab. Rule 17, by prescribing Matriculation with Punjabi as one of the subjects, does not really lay down an educational qualification. According to us, it lays down a general condition applicable to all services in the State of Punjab. Therefore, it is our considered view that Rule 5 of the 2009 Rules, prescribing the educational qualifications and experience, cannot stand in the way of the operation of Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules prescribing Matriculation with Punjabi as an additional requirement. The 1994 Rules being statutory in character, the terms of the advertisement, which runs contrary to the provisions of the statutory Rules, cannot be allowed to prevail over and above what has been prescribed by the statute. We, therefore, take the view that Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules must be allowed to have a free-play to determine the eligibility of the candidates and only those who have passed the Matriculation with Punjabi as one of the subjects would be eligible. We have also noticed that Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules carves out several exceptions to the main part of the Rule under which different categories of candidates are permitted to acquire the “qualification” (Matriculation with Punjabi) after joining service.”
In Dr. (Capt.) Navjot Singh Khurana v. State of Punjab2, CWP 18714 of 1998, the Division Bench of the High Court was seized of a matter wherein the petition was filed to quash the appointment as Medical Officer (Dental). The writ petitioner was aggrieved by the decision of Punjab Public Service Commission not to consider him on the ground of not having passed Punjabi matriculation although the petitioner claimed to be fully eligible. It was argued that passing of Punjabi up to matriculation level was not among the eligibility conditions for Medical Officer (Dental) and that in any case, the petitioner was shortly about to appear in the Punjabi matriculation exam.
The Division Bench held that Rule 17 of Punjab Civil Services (General and Common Conditions of Service) Rules, 1994 was mandatory and would have overriding effect in terms of Rule 20 of the said rules. Justice G.S. Singhvi, speaking for the Division Bench observed as follows:
“5. After considering the submissions of Shri Jindal, we deem it appropriate to dispose of the writ petition by directing him to make a representation to the Commission for consideration of his candidature keeping in view the provisions of Rule 17 of Punjab Civil Services (General and Common Conditions of Service) Rules, 1994 (for short, the 1994 Rules’) which have overriding effect by virtue of Rule 20 thereof.
- A bare reading of the above extract provisions shows that the condition of eligibility which can be insisted is that the candidate must possess knowledge of Punjabi language of Matriculation Standard or equivalent.”
Whether the said requirement must be fulfilled on the date of application or can be acquired subsequently?
Concessions are often provided in relation to passing Punjabi matriculation examination by providing a certain time period within which the candidate may appear and qualify the same, as a measure of relaxation, especially for those who have just finished their graduation or have graduated from colleges located outside the State of Punjab. For eg., several advertisements prescribe that this criterion may be fulfilled within 6 months of the last date for receipt of applications. In such cases, the relaxation provided in accordance with the terms of the advertisement will prevail and the benefit conferred may be availed.
However, where the advertisement does not provide for any relaxation in fulfilment of this condition, then the candidate is required to fulfil the condition on the last date of receipt of applications. The issue was settled by the Supreme Court in Umrao Singh wherein it was held that the eligibility criteria must be fulfilled on the last date of receipt of applications. The Supreme Court in a line of judgements has gone on to hold that the terms of advertisement are sacred and all participants in the exam are required to conform to those.
In Karambir Singh v. State of Punjab and Ors., CWP 10880 of 2009, the issue raised before the Single Judge of the High Court was that the duly qualified writ petitioner was selected as Junior Basic Teacher only to be rejected on account of not having passed Punjabi as a subject in matriculation. The Court held that the petitioner was required to submit a proof of having passed Punjabi at the matriculation level in terms of the advertisement, and his candidature had been rightly rejected on account of failure to do so.
Similar view was taken by the Court in Anuradha Soni v. Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare3, CWP 21502 of 2012, wherein the petitioner seeking appointment as a staff nurse acquired qualifications even after the counselling was conducted. The argument advanced on behalf of the petitioner was Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules would be applicable only at the time of appointment and not prior to that. The argument did not find favour with the court and it was reiterated that the said requirement must be fulfilled on the date of appointment and not subsequently, and that the petitioner had rightly been declared as ineligible. The Court also relied upon the Supreme Court judgement of Bhupinder Pal Singh and Ors. V State of Punjab, (2000) 2 SCT 826 wherein it had been held that if the cut off date (for acquiring all required eligibility conditions) was contained in the statutory rules, the same was to prevail and in its absence, the cut off date stipulated in the advertisement would prevail.
The issue again arose before the High Court in Ashu Garg and Anr v State of Punjab and Ors.4, CWP 16672 of 2010.The advertisement issued was in relation to 37 posts of Drug Inspectors under Deptt of Health and Family Welfare, State of Punjab. The writ petition was filed at the stage of short listing of candidates and the grouse of the petitioners was that authorities are proceeding with the process of recruitment in terms of calling such candidates for the interview by not adhering to the qualifications and other eligibility conditions prescribed in the advertisement as also the statutory provisions. One of the grounds of challenge was that the subsequently issued corrigendum requiring qualification of passing of Punjabi upto Matriculation issued before the last date for submission of application which declared them to be ineligible and be set aside and the petitioners be considered in the light of eligibility conditions stipulated in the original advertisement.
The above plea was rejected by the Court by placing reliance on Rule 8 of 2001 rules read with Rule 17 and 19 of 1994 Rules. Rule 19 of the 1994 Rules has an overriding effect and there is no power to relax the same.
Under the Punjab Health and Family Welfare (Group `B’) Service Rules, 2001 Rules, Rule 8 provides as under:
“8. Application of the Punjab Civil Services (General and Common Conditions of Service) Rules, 1994 – (1) In respect of the matters which are not specifically provided in these rules, the members of the service shall be governed by the Punjab Civil Services (General and Common Conditions of Service) Rules, 1994, as amended from time to time.”
After extracting the provisions of Rule 8, the Court went on harmonise it with Rules 17 and 19 of 1994 Rules.
“16. Rules 17 and 19 of the Punjab Civil Services (General and Common Conditions of Service) Rules, 1994 read as follows:
- Knowledge of Punjabi language – No person shall be appointed to any post in any service by direct appointment unless he has passed Matriculation Examination with Punjabi as one of the Compulsory or Elective subject or any other equivalent examination in Punjabi language, which may be specified by the Government from time to time.
- Where the Government is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient so to do, it may by order, for reasons to be recorded in writing, relax any of the provisions of these Rules with respect to any clause or category of persons.
Provided that the provisions relating to educational qualifications and experience, if any, shall not be relaxed.”
- A bare reading of the statutory provisions re-produced hereinabove would clearly reveal that in terms of Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules which would govern appointment to any post in any service by direct appointment, qualification of Matriculation Examination with Punjabi language is a must. That apart, under Rule 19, there is no power as regards relaxation of educational qualifications. Accordingly, the 2001 Rules would have to be read along with Rule 17 of the 1994 Rules and wherefrom it would clearly emerge that passing Matriculation Examination with Punjabi would be essential qualification for purposes of appointment to the post of Drug Inspector.”
In Sidharth v State of Punjab and Ors., CWP 25521 of 2013, a Single Judge of the High Court held that differential treatment meted out to certain categories like Ex-servicemen, riot victims, terrorist victims or their dependants by permitting them to pass Punjabi matriculation exam within 6 months of joining as compared to the general category candidates, was valid and rational. The same was within the domain of the recruiting agency and no interference from the court was called for.
Whether the candidate is required to qualify specifically in Punjabi matriculation exam or is it permissible to have an alternative qualification in Punjabi higher than matriculation?
In Narinder Kaur v. State of Punjab5, CWP 9062 of 1997, the petitioner applied for the post of Hindi mistress in the Govt of Punjab in the reserved category of Scheduled Caste. The post of Hindi mistress is governed by Punjab State Education Class III (School Cadre) Service Rules, 1978. She was selected and appointed but subsequently refused joining on the ground of not having passed Punjabi matric. The authorities were oblivious of the purport of Rule 17 of 1994 Rules which required knowledge of Punjabi language of matriculation standard or its equivalent and not passing of Punjabi language. The authorities despite knowing the fact that the petitioner had not passed Punjabi matriculation exam, had still considered her candidature and selected her. Subsequently, the petitioner cleared the Punjabi matriculation exam. The Division Bench of the High Court allowed her writ petition and she was subsequently allowed to join.
In Ripudaman Sachdeva v. State of Punjab6, CWP 15467 of 1993, regularised nursery teachers working in a school were aggrieved by the order for lowering their pay scale. An objection was also raised about their not possessing Punjabi up to matriculation. The petitioner averred that she had already qualified Punjabi as an additional subject in B.A. prior to her appointment. This writ petition was allowed, inter alia, on this ground.
In Krishma Kumari Chawla v. State of Punjab7, CWP 16470 of 1995, the writ petitioner had served as a J.B.T. teacher and super annuated after putting in 25 years of service. She was aggrieved by the fact that she was unable to provide a certificate of having passed Punjabi matriculation exam and, as a result, deductions were made from her pension. The Division Bench of the High Court held that J.B.T. included the subject of Punjabi, and therefore, by passing J.B.T. the petitioner had ipso facto passed Punjabi. It was further held that J.B.T. was a higher qualification than matriculation and therefore, the petitioner certainly had “knowledge of Hindi and Punjabi language of matriculation or equivalent standard”, as required by Rule 6(2) of Punjab Privately Managed Recognised Schools Employees (Security of Service) Rules, 1981. The petitioner’s plea for computation of pension on the basis of last pay drawn by her was allowed.
The position that a person having a higher qualification in Punjabi than matriculation would be eligible stands further strengthened by the judgement of the Full Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Manjit Singh v State of Punjab and Ors.8, (2010) 3 SCT 706 wherein it was held that candidates possessing higher qualification in the same line cannot be excluded from consideration as such exclusion will be violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
In Roopa Sharma v State of Punjab and Ors.9, CWP 15494 of 1996, the Division Bench of the High Court was confronted with the issue as to whether a candidate who had passed Punjabi Parbodh exam would be considered as having the knowledge of Punjabi of matriculation standard. The aggrieved petitioner, holding a B.A.M.S. degree, had applied to be selected to the post of Ayurvedic Medical Officer. Though she had passed Punjabi Parbodh exam conducted by Language Department, Punjabi University, Patiala, the same had not been done on the last date of receipt of applications. The applicant was not allowed to participate in the interview on the ground that she didn’t fulfil the requisite eligibility condition of Punjabi matriculation, but was subsequently allowed to participate on the strength of an interim order from the High Court. The petitioner made it to the merit list above the rank of the selectees.
The Division Bench rejected the first argument advanced on behalf of the petitioner that special qualifications had already been separately provided for the post of Ayurvedic Medical Offer and therefore, the general conditions of eligibility stipulated therein would not apply. The Court observed that the non-obstante clause contained in Rule 20 of the 1994 Rules will make the 1994 Rules prevail irrespective of what the other rules would provide. The terms of the advertisement were to be harmoniously construed and the general as well as special conditions of the advertisement would have to be read together for determination of eligibility.
The Court also went on to make a distinction between possessing knowledge of Punjabi language of matriculation standard and passing an exam in Punjabi of matriculation standard. The Court held that the rule making authority had only stipulated a condition of having knowledge and therefore, the Court could not rewrite the provision by incorporating the requirement of passing Punjabi matriculation exam.
The Division Bench finally held that the condition for testing the knowledge of Punjabi language of matriculation standard would only arise at the stage of interview and not prior to it, and therefore the Board was bound to interview the petitioner to test her knowledge of Punjabi.
It seems that the logic adopted by the Division Bench as to the stage of testing the knowledge of Punjabi fails the test of precedent. The judgement does not refer to any fact showing that the relaxation was permitted as per the advertisement. Unless the advertisement or the rules permit, the Court would not be justified in jettisoning the terms of the advertisement and imposing own requirements. A catena of Supreme Court judgements have laid down the law that the terms of the advertisement are sacred and should not be interfered with.
In Mrs Rekha Chaturvedi v University of Rajasthan, AIR 1993 SC 1488, it was observed as follows:
“5. The contention that the required qualifications of the candidates should be examined with reference to the date of selection and not with reference to the last date for making applications has only to be stated to be rejected. The date of selection is invariably uncertain. In the absence of knowledge of such date the candidates who apply for the posts would be unable to state whether they are qualified for the posts in question or not, if they are yet to acquire the qualifications. Unless the advertisement mentions a fixed date with reference to which the qualifications are to be judged, whether the said date is of selection or otherwise, it would not be possible for the candidates who do not possess the requisite qualifications in praesenti even to make applications for the posts. The uncertainty of the date may also lead to a contrary consequence, viz., even those candidates who do not have the qualifications in praesenti and are likely to acquire them at an uncertain future date, may apply for the posts thus swelling the number of applications. But a still worse consequence may follow, in that it may leave open a scope for malpractices. The date of selection may be so fixed or manipulated as to entertain some applicants and reject others, arbitrarily. Hence, in the absence of a fixed date indicated in the advertisement/notification inviting applications with reference to which the requisite qualifications should be judged, the only certain date for the scrutiny of the qualifications will be the last date for making the applications. We have, therefore, no hesitation in holding that when the Selection Committee in the present case, as argued by Shri Manoj Swarup, took into consideration the requisite qualifications as on the date of selection rather than on the last date of preferring applications, it acted with patent illegality, and on this ground itself the selections in question are liable to be quashed. Reference in this connection may also be made to two recent decisions of this Court in A.P. Public Service Commission, Hyderabad and another v. B. Sarat Chandra & others, (1990)4 SLR 235 and The District Collector and Chairman, Vizianagaram (Social Welfare Residential School Society), Vizianagaram and another v. M. Tripura Sundari Devi, (1990) 4 SLR 237.
The judgement in Rekha Chaturvedi was rendered much prior to the Division Bench judgement of Roopa Sharma and therefore Roopa Sharma does not seem to have laid down the correct law on this specific issue.
Note: To read the judgements (the older ones are unlikely to be available on the High Court website), please search on the Internet or Indian Kanoon, or refer to the Doc ID provided along with the citations in the Footnote. The Doc ID must be entered at the URL: http://www.lawfinderlive.com/Docid.
1 – 2011 (2) PLR 149. (Doc ID: 251986).
2 – 1998 (8) SLR 693 (DB), 1998 SCC OnLine P&H 1706.
3 – 2013 (3) SCT 72. (Doc ID: 427853)
4 – 2013 (4) SCT 386. (Doc ID: 472496)
5 – 1998 (1) RSJ 28. (Doc ID: 581625)
6 – 1997 (2) SLR 215. (Doc ID: 20488)
7 – 1997(1) CLJ (Service) 293. (Doc ID: 247369)
8 – Doc ID – 214218.
9 – 1997 (2) SCT 706. (Doc ID: 20708)