In a major decision, the Karnataka Cabinet has cleared implementation of a law that seeks to protect reservation in promotions to SC/ST employees, even as the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. The Congress-JD(S) coalition was under pressure to circumvent the Supreme Court’s February 2017 order striking down consequential promotions given to SC/ST employees, which is estimated to affect thousands of employees who will face demotions.
To circumvent the SC order, the previous Congress regime passed the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the post in the civil services of the state) Act, 2017 to protect consequential seniority accorded to SC/ST employees since April 1978. Karnataka notified the law in June 2018 after it received President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent.
The government, however, had not implemented the Act as the Supreme Court is still hearing the matter. “Since there’s a clear (legal) opinion that implementing the law will not amount to contempt of court, the law will come into immediate effect,” Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister Krishna Byre Gowda told reporters after the Cabinet meeting. “But this will be subject to the final outcome of the cases before the Supreme Court.”
The Cabinet decision is based largely on former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi’s opinion, in which he told the government: “There is no stay by the Court upon the operation of the Act. There is no question of contempt whatsoever.”
According to Gowda, the Supreme Court took notice of Rohatgi’s opinion and there was no contrary view expressed. “The court hasn’t asked us not to go ahead with the Act,” Gowda pointed out. “In July last, the Supreme Court asked orally to maintain status quo. But we’ve waited for over six months now. The legal opinion is clear. We will, however, abide by the final decision of the court,” he said. Government departments will now be asked to prepare seniority lists to keep intact reservation in promotion.