The Madras High Court on Friday declared that the practice of fixing seniority and granting promotions on employees based on reservations in state government services was “unconstitutional and ultra vires”, PTI reported.

Justices MM Sundresh and RMT Teekaa Raman held that seniority should be fixed based on merit alone and not on the basis of 200-point roster system followed in the state. “This is nothing but an indirect way of providing reservation even beyond 69%,” the court said.

The order was passed on a batch of petitions by state government servants challenging the roster point system.

The court said the system would lead to a less meritorious reserved category candidate getting ahead of a meritorious backward class candidate who gets selected under the general category. “Any reservation is not automatic but can only be on need basis...reservation in selection is different from seniority and promotion,” the court added. “In fixing seniority and conferring promotion, different yardsticks and parameters are to be applied.”

The judges declared Sections 1(2), 40 and 70 of the Tamil Nadu Government Servants (Conditions of Service) Act of 2016 unconstitutional. The court said the adequacy and need for reservation has not been supported by requisite materials.

“We find the presence of manifest arbitrariness in the provisions under challenge,” the court said. “Neither there appears to be any power available [to enact the legal provisions] nor procedure followed. This appears to be a knee jerk reaction to circumvent and nullify the judgement of a division bench of this court in Santhosh Kumar case which had attained finality.”

The court said the provisions were nothing but a product of “legislative arbitrariness”, and that the state did not choose to follow the mandate of the Supreme Court in avoiding the “creamy layer”.

The court also pointed that another division bench led by Justice V Ramasubramanian, now a Supreme Court judge, had in 2015 dealt with the same matter in detail and ruled against following the roster system for fixing seniority. The judges said the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2016. To circumvent that decision, the government had inserted the provisions under challenge in the 2016 Act, the court held.

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