Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1999 SC 3471

Name of the author- Mahalakshmi P student  Government Law College , Dharmapuri

Edited By – Anurupa Pal


In this case, deals with the important issue of reservation in employment. Here, there are three interlocutory applications presented for interpretation by the state of Punjab concerning this case, which dealt with seniority and promotion of received and general category candidates. This case, interpretation of Article 16 (1), (2), (4) and (4-A) as well as Article 14 of the Indian constitution. The main issue of the case was whether the right to be considered for promotion is interpreted as only a Statutory right or a fundamental right. This Case is important as it dealt with the question relating to the interpretation of rules relating to reservation and promotion contained in Article 16 of the Indian constitution. This case made a clear view that the right to be considered for promotion is not only a Statutory right but a fundamental right under Article 16 of the Indian constitution.


  1. Indian constitution
  2. Article 16(1), (4), (4-A)
  3. Article 14
  4. Right to promotion
  5. Reservation in employment.
Judgement Cause Title / Case Name Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab
Case Number 3792 of 1989
Judgement Date 16.09.1999
Court The Supreme Court of India.
Quorum / Constitution of Bench   5/Full bench
Author / Name of Judges 1. Chief Justice of India: Justice A.S. Anand 

2. Justice. Venatuswami

3. Justice. G.B. Pattanaik

4. Justice. K.P. Kurduker

5. Justice. M. Jagennadha Rao

Citation AIR 1999 SC 3471
Legal Provisions Involved Article 16(1)

In this case, the earlier decisions of these cases, Ajit Singh Januja vs State of Punjab (1996), Union of India vs Virpal Singh Chauhan (1995) and Jadish Lal vs State of Haryana were discussed.

The present case was filed by the Punjab government to seek clarification about the judgement in Ajit Singh Januja vs State of Punjab (1996). We have to understand this case to understand the background, and issues in the case of Ajit Singh vs the State of Punjab.


So, the appellant filed a writ petition before the HC, filed on their behalf that when the reservation quota was completed the scheduled caste candidates should not further be appointed or promoted. It was said on the behalf that scheduled caste and backward classes candidates who compete on merit, should also be adjusted against the received quota for them. The full-page view on the non-consideration of the scheduled caste against general category posts for appointment or promotion will be hit by Articles 14,15, and 16 of the Indian constitution. HC said that roster points were seniority points. As a result of full bench overruled the view taken by the High Court. The rule held that the senior general candidates who were promoted after SC/ ST candidates would regain their seniority over general candidates promoted earlier.

  • Whether the right to promotion just a statutory right or a fundamental right?
  • Whether the Virpal Singh Chauhan case, Ajit Singh Januja case and Jagdish Lal case were correctly adjudged or not?
  • Whether the ‘catch-up principle’ argued by the general category candidates acceptable or not?
  1. The counsels for Petitioner / Appellant submitted that 

The counsel for the petitioner, submitted before the Hon’ble HC, that is in Ashok Kumar Gupta vs the state of UP (1997) It was stated that the right to promotion is just a “statutory right” whereas right under Art 16(4) & 16(4-A) are fundamental rights. Also, similar cases were taken in Jagdish Lal vs state of Haryana (1997) and some other judgements. The petitioner side took support of paragraph 43 of Ashok Kumar Gupta’s judgement. It said that it defines, the right to promotion as a “statutory right”. It is not a ‘fundamental right’. We contended that this was the correct constitutional position.

  1. The counsels for Respondent submitted that

The counsel for appearing on behalf of the state of Punjab as a respondent said that the Jagdish Lal case judgement was, in contrast to, the Virpal Singh Chauhan case and Ajit Singh Januja case, the state was In a ‘quandary’ as to what would be the suitable course of action.

In this case, contended that the “roster point promotes” that is reserved candidates cannot demand seniority based on their services. But in the case of Virpal Singh Chauhan’s judgement and released a circular that roster point promotion in railways didn’t vest seniority. So, in the case of Virpal Singh Chauhan’s case and Ajit Singh Januja’s case decisions were incorrect. About cases or accepted the ‘catch up’ principle in favour of general categories. so, the reserved candidates now contended that not only the reserved candidates’ promoter in roasted points cannot be reverted but the seniority against excess promotion was also protected.

    1. “Article 16 equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.

Article 16 (1), (4), (4-A) this article of Indian constitution relating to promotion, seniority and roasted system for reserved category candidates”.

  1. “Article 14: Equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

Article 14 provides everyone is entitled to equality and equality protection of the law. so in this case, right to promotion be treated as a fundamental right.”

  1. Articles 14 and 16 (1) are both individual rights that are closely connected. Article 14 provides equality before the law and equality protection of the law and Article 16 provides equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. It was observed that, ensuring each employee who is suitable for promotion has a fundamental right to be ‘considered ‘ for promotion. The promotion is based on equal opportunity and seniority or dismission of fundamental rights under Article 16 (1).
  2. “Article 16(1): guarantees the equality of opportunity for all citizen in matters of employment or appointment to any office under the state.”
  3. “Article 16(2): Prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent etc.,”
  4. “Article 16(3): Exception to clause 2 of the article.”
  5. “Article 16(4): Empowers that state to make special provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward classes of citizens which in the opinion of the state or not sufficiently represented in the services of the state.”
  6. “Article 16(4-A): the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State.”

Supreme Court disposed of the application presented by the state of Punjab. It was held that Ajit Singh Januja v. State of Punjab and Virpal Singh Chauhan v. the Union of India set out the right law and the law laid down in Jagdish Lal v. State of Haryana was not valid in this respect as it was limited to its specific facts. The Court passed distinct orders in the Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan cases based on the principles outlined in this case which was named Ajit Singh II.

  1. The right to promotion is considered a fundamental right under Article 16(1) as well as Article 14. So, the right to be considered for promotion is not just a statutory right but a fundamental right within the meaning of Article 16.
  2. And also, the supreme court held that the position taken in the Ajit Singh Januja case was correct. However, the court’s view on other cases discussed above was not acceptable.
  3. Seniority and promotions; the court views this as that balancing of fundamental rights and articles 14 and 16 (1), (4), and (4-A) on the other.
  4. Catch-up rule principle: The “catch-up” rule is a concept that allows reserved category candidates who are promoted later to regain their seniority over general category candidates who were promoted earlier.

The state of Punjab, interpretation of the judgement in Ajit Singh Januja vs State of Punjab (1996), this case also involved the question of seniority. The Supreme Court observed that articles 16(4) &(4-A) must take into account the situation prevalent when this clause was incorporated while contemplating the backwardness and social oppression of certain classes. The court also said article 14 and 16(1) are interrelated. Seniority in service is connected to promotion.

In the above discussion, the SC held that the decisions in the Ajit Singh Januja and Virpal Singh Chauhan case were accurate and the view taken in the Jagdish Lal case was improper.

    • Important Cases Referred
      • Union of India v. Virpal Singh Chauhan (1995)
      • Ajit Singh Januja v. State of Punjab (1996)
      • R.K Sabharwal & Ors v. Union of India (1995)
      • Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1993)
      • Jaswant Singh v. The Secretary to Government of Punjab, Education (1989)
      • Jagdish Lal and Ors. v. State of Haryana (1997)
      • Union of India v. Manpreet Singh Poonam (2022)
      • viii.State of Tamil Nadu v. T. Dhanraju (2016)
      • T. Siddharth Reddy v. Rajive Kumar Gupta (2020)
    • Important Statutes Referred
      • The constitution of India, 1950.



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