All HC | Whether Public Interest Litigation in service matters is maintainable? HC explains in light of SC decisions

Allahabad High Court: The Division Bench of Shashi Kant Gupta and Shamim Ahmed, JJ., addressed whether public Interest litigation in service matters are maintainable.

Instant Public Interest Litigation was filed by the petitioner, who is an elected village Pradhan of Village Panchayat and further claimed that he is also doing social work for public welfare and public money.

Purpose of filing the petition was to secure the public money and to cancel the appointment of respondent 6 as Assistant Teacher in Junior High School which was obtained by illegal mode.

Analysis and Decision

Upon perusal of the averments made in the public interest litigation and documents appended thereto, petitioner sought direction cancelling the appointment of respondent 6 as Assistant Teacher and directing the State to initiate recovery proceedings against the respondent 6.

Court noted that when maintainability of the present public interest litigation, in-service matters, was raised by us no suitable reply was given by the counsel for the petitioner. The preliminary objection regarding maintainability of the instant PIL was raised by the Standing Counsel and submitted that in-service matter PIL is no longer res-integra, lacks bonafide and rather it is a proxy petition.

In view of the above-stated submission of the respondents, the Court considered it appropriate to take the question of maintainability of the Public Interest Litigation as a preliminary issue.

In the Supreme Court decision of Duryodhan Sahu v. Jitendra Kumar Mishra, (1998) 7 SCC 273, Court dealt with an issue as to whether a Public Interest Writ Petition, at the instance of a stranger, could be entertained by the Administrative tribunal and held that in service matter PIL should not be entertained, the inflow of so-called PILs involving service matter continues unabated in the Courts and strangely are entertained.

Orissa Administrative Tribunal’s decision in Amitarani Khnutia v. State of Orissa, 1996 (1) OLR (CSR)-2, the tribunal after considering the provisions of the Act held that a private citizen or a stranger having no existing right to any post and not intrinsically concerned with any service matter is not entitled to approach the Tribunal.

The following passage from the above judgement is relevant:

“…A reading of the aforesaid provisions would mean that an application for redressal of grievances could be filed only by a ‘person aggrieved’ within the meaning of the Act.
Tribunals are constituted under Article 323 A of the Constitution of India. The above Article empowers the Parliament to enact law providing for adjudication or trial by Administrative Tribunals of disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of any State or any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government and such law shall specify the jurisdiction, powers and authority which may be exercised by each of the said Tribunals. Thus, it follows that Administrative Tribunals are constituted for adjudication or trial of the disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts. Its jurisdiction and powers have been well-defined in the Act. It does not enjoy any plenary power.”

High Court agreeing with the above reasoning answered the first question in negative and held that the Administrative Tribunal constituted under the Act cannot entertain public interest litigation at the instance of a total stranger.

In the Supreme Court’s decision of Dr D.B. Singh v. Union of India, (2004) 3 SCC 363, Bench decided that the case on the same lines and held that PIL is not maintainable in service matters.

Further, the Court also relied on the decision of Neetu v. State of Punjab, (2007) 10 SCC 614, the Supreme Court held as follows:-

“The scope of entertaining a petition styled as public interest litigation, locus standi of the petitioner particularly in matters involving service of an employee has been examined by this court in various cases. Referring to the decisions in Dr Duryodhan Sahu  v. Jitendra Kumar Mishra, reported in (1998) 7 SCC 273 and Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of W.B. in (2004) 3 SCC 349, cited supra, the Supreme Court held that PIL in service matters has been held as not maintainable.”

Relying on the above-referred Supreme decisions, Court deemed it necessary to extract Article 141 of the Constitution of India, which reads as follows:

141. Law declared by Supreme Court to be binding on all courts — The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.”

Hence, the Court held that when the PIL is not maintainable in service matters and time and again the same has been reiterated by the Supreme Court in series of decisions, the public Interest Litigation is not maintainable in law and the same is dismissed accordingly. [Jagdish Prasad v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1411,  decided on 24-08-2020]

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