Bombay High Court: In total 4 writ petitions were filed against Air India Ltd./AIL (‘respondent’) by the AIL employees (‘petitioners’), being employed from late 1980s and retired between 2016 and 2018 alleging stagnation in pay and non-promotion of the petitioners along with anomalies in the fixation of pay due to the implementation of the report of the Justice Dharmadhikari Committee, which was constituted by the UoI (through its Ministry of Civil Aviation) to harmonize the differential service conditions of AIL and Indian Airlines Ltd., which came to be merged, a Division Bench of Dipankar Datta CJ., and M S Karnik J., held that the writ petitions although maintainable on the dates they were instituted, have ceased to be maintainable by reason of privatization of AIL which takes it beyond the jurisdiction to issue a writ or order or direction to it.
The Court remarked that when the Air Corporations Act, 1953 was operative, Air India was a statutory body. Thereafter, with the repeal of the said Act by the Air Corporations (Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1994, Air India ceased to exist but upon its incorporation, AIL became a wholly owned Government company and, thus, an ‘other authority’ within the meaning of Article 12. That position subsisted when these writ petitions were instituted and continued thereafter till privatization of AIL. There is, thus, no doubt that this Court was competent to receive the writ petitions when the same were presented but not maintainable at present.
The question for consideration was regarding maintainability of the writ petitions owing to the intervening event of privatization of AIL, the principal respondent, between institution of the writ petitions and its final hearing before the Court.
The Court noted that the change in the status of the ‘authority’ against whom the writ was initially claimed to play a significant role in determining the issue of maintainability.
In Beg Raj Singh v. State of UP, (2003) 1 SCC 726, the Court laid down in para 7 that
A petitioner, though entitled to relief in law, may yet be denied relief in equity because of subsequent or intervening events i.e., the events between the commencement of litigation and the date of decision. The relief to which the petitioner is held entitled may have been rendered redundant by lapse of time or may have been rendered incapable of being granted by change in law.
In Rajesh D. Darbar v. Narasingrao Krishnaji Kulkarni, (2003) 7 SCC 219, the Court laid down that the courts are entitled to mould, vary or reshape the relief to make it justly relevant in the updated circumstances, provided
(i) circumstances in which modified remedy is claimed are exceptional;
(ii) such modification, if the statute on which the legal question is based, inhibits by its scheme or otherwise, such change; and
(iii) the party claiming the relief must have the same right from which either the first or the modified remedy may flow. We do not see any reason to hold that conditions (ii) and (iii) are satisfied in view of the very scheme of a writ remedy.
The Court held that Article 226 would not arm the Courts to issue a writ to any authority or person not comprehended within its meaning and thus, they are precluded from issuing any writ to AIL in the changed circumstances.
[R S Madireddy v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 2657, decided on 20-09-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case:
Mr. Sanjay Singhvi, Senior Advocate a/w Ms. Rohini Thyagarajan, Pankaj Sutar and Ms. Shanvi Punamiya i/b. M/s. Jayakar and Partners, Advocates, for the Petitioners/applicants;
Mr. Dashrath A. Dube, Advocates, for the Union of India;
Mr. Darius Khambhata, Senior Advocate, Mr. Kevic Setalvad, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Aditya Mehta, Sneha Prabhu, Mr. S.D. Shetty, Mr. Rakesh Singh, Mr. Ravi Kini, Shristi Shetty and Jehan Lalkaka i/by. M. V. Kini & Co., Advocates, for the respondent 3 and 4;
Mr. Muralidhar Khadilkar a/w. Mr. Aakash Joshi for proposed respondent 5 in IA(L)/25662/2022.
*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.