C.P. Kalra vs Air India

Published On: 7th December, 2023

Authored By: Divya Elsa Raju
Amity University, Dubai

CASE SUMMARY: C.P. Kalra V Air India (1994)

Facts:

The appellant, joining Air India as a Junior Traffic Assistant in 1964 and later promoted to Assistant Station Superintendent in 1979, alleges that his growth has been stagnant due to being kept out of the promotion hierarchy due to Promotion Policy changes in 1988, despite his good records.

The promotion criteria from Assistant Station Superintendent to Station Superintendent. changed in 1988 with the introduction of the policy which focused on merit and seniority. As per Rule 2.3, eligibility required employees to be confirmed in a position just below the one they were seeking to be promoted to. Rule 2.5 stated that ‘Merit’ was assessed on the employee’s performance and potential for handling higher responsibilities whilst ‘Seniority’ was considered after identifying the meritorious candidates. Rule 2.6 states that all promotions from the level of Assistant Station Superintendent/equivalent categories and above will be based on the overwhelming consideration of merit which should be objectively assessed by measuring the abilities, qualities, and attributes of the employee necessary for the promotion post. The promotion policy outlined that merit assessment would be based on Annual Performance Appraisal Reports, personal records, and personal interviews. Out of a total of 100 marks, 60 were reserved for appraisal reports, and 40 for the interviews. According to Rule 2.6.2, the interview was to evaluate and mark factors like professional knowledge, managerial ability, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and relevant professional qualifications. Candidates securing 70 marks or more were deemed suitable for promotion based on merit under Rule 2.6.4. After identifying suitable candidates, they were arranged in order of their seniority in a panel that would be valid for one year. This policy was introduced to strengthen the managerial cadres.

The appellant participated in an interview in 1989 and received a total score of 65.67, falling short of the required 70% for promotion. In response, he filed a writ petition in the High Court to challenge the promotion decision. The main argument was that the 40% weightage given to the interview was excessive, contrary to earlier court decisions. The High Court, however, ruled that there was no fixed rule for the weightage assigned to the interview, and in the absence of any allegations of wrongdoing, it couldn’t be considered arbitrarily exercised. Therefore, the High Court dismissed the writ petition, leading to the current appeal.

Issues:

  1. WHETHER the promotion policy adheres to the principles of merit and seniority set by the policy.
  2. WHETHER the promotion policy, with 40% weightage on the interview is constitutional.
  3. WHETHER the interview process was conducted appropriately.

Rules Used:

Air India Promotion Policy, 1988

  • Rule 2.3 – Eligibility for promotion based on confirmation in the lower post’s scale of pay.
  • Rule 2.4 – Setting the zone of consideration for promotion.
  • Rule 2.5 – Determining promotion based on merit-cum-seniority.
  • Rule 2.6 – Assessing merit using Annual Performance Appraisal Reports and personal interviews.

Cases

  • Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib[1]
  • Ashok Kumar Yadav v. State of Haryana[2]
  • Mohinder Sain Garg v. State of Punjab[3]
  • Munindra Kumar v. Rajiv Govil[4]
  • Indian Airlines Corpn. v. Capt. C.C Shukla[5]
  • Lila Dhar v. State of Rajasthan & Ors[6]

Analysis:

The appellant took an interview in 1989 for a promotion but scored 65.67 marks, falling short of the required 70%. Subsequently, he filed a writ petition (Civil Writ Petition No. 1048 of 1990) in the High Court, challenging the promotion decision. The primary argument was that assigning 40 % of the marks to the interview was excessive, contradicting precedents set by the court in various cases.

The High Court considered this argument in light of earlier court rulings, such as Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib and Ashok Kumar Yadav v. State of Haryana. They concluded that there were no rigid guidelines on the specific weightage for interviews as opposed to appraisal reports. In the absence of allegations of wrongdoing, they found no basis to claim that the interview weightage was being unfairly manipulated. Thereby, the High Court dismissed the writ petition, and the current appeal was filed.

The appellant counsel’s first argument was that the interview, accounting for 40% of the marks for assessing merit, was primarily used to eliminate candidates and did not align with previous court decisions like Mohinder Sain Garg v. State of Punjab, Munindra Kumar v. Rajiv Govil, and Indian Airlines Corpn. v. Capt. C.C Shukla, among others. It was argued that such exclusive reliance on interviews was unfair, arbitrary, and unrelated to the whole object of the promotion policy. The court disagreed with this argument, explaining that the promotion policy prioritized merit as the main consideration for promotions to higher positions. Merit was assessed based on performance appraisal reports and interview performance. Candidates who scored at least 70% were considered meritorious and suitable for promotion. The claim that interviews were solely meant to eliminate candidates was rejected emphasizing that any selection method for candidates with merit would naturally exclude those without merit. Setting a 70% cut-off line for determining merit was therefore deemed neither arbitrary nor unfair.

Another argument presented was that the promotion policy was unconstitutional because the marks assigned to the interview test exceeded permissible limits. The 40% allocation for interviews was based on Rule 2.6 of the promotion policy and was divided into various factors. The appellant’s counsel relied on the observation in the Ashok Kumar Yadav case, where the court stated that 33.3% of marks reserved for an oral test were excessive and could be considered arbitrary. However, the court noted that there was no universal rule for determining the permissible percentage for interviews, as it depended on the specific job requirements and the level of the post. The court referred to various decisions, including the Ajay Hasia case, the Lila Dhar case, and the Ashok Kumar Yadav case, but highlighted the difference between interviews conducted for competitive examinations or admission in educational institutions and interviews for promotions. The court pointed out that different standards applied to these scenarios. In the case of Indian Airlines Corpn. v. Capt. K.C Shukla, the court upheld a method of evaluation that included a 50% weightage for interviews, even though it was considered high. Therefore, the court rejected the argument that a 40% weightage for the interview in the present case was inherently excessive and arbitrary, as it did not violate any established standards or rules.

The appellant’s counsel referred to the case of Atul Khullar v. State of J & K to argue that the respondent had a duty to maintain and produce the interview test records to demonstrate that no arbitrariness had occurred. In that case, the court had emphasized the importance of preserving the complete record, including original worksheets with individual marks, for at least a year after the examination to avoid allegations of mala fides against the Selection Committee. However, there were no allegations of mala fides in the present case but that the Selection Committee had spent only a few minutes interviewing each candidate, implying that no effective evaluation had taken place, rendering the interview process just a formality. In response, it was provided before the court that, between 20 to 30 minutes were devoted to each candidate during the interview, indicating a meaningful assessment of their merit. The court held that vague allegations were insufficient grounds to interfere with the selection process.

Conclusion:

The Court dismissed the appeal stating the lack of basis it provided. It was held that the promotion policy of Air India, specifically the 40% weightage given to the interview in assessing merit, is constitutional. The court analyzed the relevant rules and considered past decisions to conclude that the weightage was not arbitrary, and did assess their merit thereby not just making it a façade of elimination.

The court subsequently also upheld the promotion policy and ruled that the 40% weightage for interviews is not inherently unfair and against previous precedents. It is noted that there there was no rigid rules for setting standards however it must match the given context and, in this case, the policy aims to select candidates of merit, and the interview is just one part of the evaluation process. The minimum eligibility requirement of 70% marks was seen as a reasonable threshold.

Further, the court also rejected the appellant’s contention that the interview process was conducted inadequately, thus adding proof to the façade comment. It held that the appellant’s vague allegations of a hasty and ineffective interview process were trampled by the fact that each candidate was interviewed for an average of 20-30 minutes.

Reference(s):

[1] 1981 AIR 487, 1981 SCR (2) 79

[2] 1987 AIR 454, 1985 SCR Supl. (1) 657

[3] 1990 SCR, Supl. (3) 108 1991 SCC (1) 662

[4] 1991 AIR 1607, 1991 SCR (2) 812

[5] 1992 (65) FLR 934, (1993) 1 SCC 17, 1992 Supp 1 SCR 811, 1993 (2) SLJ 2 SC

[6] 1981 AIR 1777, 1982 SCR (1) 320

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