Supreme Court: In a civil appeal filed by Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) (’appellant’) against the Judgment and order of Orissa High Court, whereby, Central Administrative Tribunal’s (‘CAT’) order was set aside and the respondent was held entitled to the benefit of enhancement of retirement age from 60 to 65 years as applicable to the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) doctors working under the Ministry of AYUSH, the division Bench comprising of the Chief Justice of India, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and J.B. Pardiwala*, J. allowed the appeal and set aside the impugned order of High Court.
On 27-09-2017, the Union Cabinet took a decision to enhance the age of superannuation up to 65 years for the AYUSH doctors working under the Ministry of AYUSH and in the Central Government Health Scheme Hospitals (‘CGHS’). It was clarified that the decision to enhance the age of superannuation up to 65 years would not be applicable to the autonomous bodies functioning under the Ministry of AYUSH.
In the matter at hand, the respondent was appointed by the CCRAS as a Research Assistant w.e.f. 07-10-1985. The respondent preferred a representation dated 22-03-2018 addressed to the Director General, Ministry of AYUSH, with an appeal to enhance his age of superannuation up to 65 years i.e., up to 30-04-2023 instead of 30-04-2018. However, the representation preferred by the respondent was rejected and a notification dated 04-04-2018 was issued by the CCRAS stating that the respondent would retire w.e.f. 30-04-2018 upon attaining the superannuation age of 60 years. The CAT, Cuttack Bench, declined to grant any interim relief to the respondent. The High Court granted protection to the respondent till the disposal of the original application by the CAT and hence, the respondent continued in service beyond 30-04-2018. The CAT ultimately adjudicated the original application filed by the respondent and rejected the same, holding that the respondent was not entitled to seek parity with AYUSH doctors in regard to the age of superannuation.
The High Court while hearing a challenge against the CAT’s order, found that the decision of the CAT was erroneous and found that though the respondent is functioning as Researcher under the Research Council/ National Institute, but as a requirement for upgrading the research skill, he treats patients in the Out-Patient Departments (‘OPD’) and In-Patient Departments (‘IPD’) and that the respondent herein, was also treating the patients like AYUSH doctors in the OPDs and IPDs on regular basis. Therefore, Clause-34 and 35 of the bye-laws was held to be applicable to the respondent herein, and to be treated as AYUSH doctor, even though he has been appointed as a Researcher. Thus, the CAT’s decision was set aside.
Hence, the present appeal.
The substantial question for analysis before the Court was whether the High Court committed any error in passing the impugned judgment?
The Court said that the appellant- CCRAS is an autonomous body registered under the Society Registration Act, 1860 and is administratively controlled by the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India, which was constituted for the purpose of undertaking, cooperating, formulating, developing and promoting the research on scientific guidelines in Ayurvedic Sciences. The recruitment rules, procedure and the service conditions of these employees are governed by the Bye-Laws and Memorandum of Association of the CCRAS.
The Court perused Clauses 25(b), 34, 35 and 47 of the Bye-Laws in the Memorandum of Association of the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, which provides for Appointments, Superannuation and Other Conditions of Service, respectively. The Court said that there is a specific provision regarding superannuation in Clause 34, the rules governing the Government services in respect of superannuation are not applicable to the employees of the CCRAS unless it is in accordance with Clause 34 of the Bye-Laws. The Court added that the governing body of the CCRAS is not obliged to take a decision in tune with the decision of the Ministry of AYUSH regarding superannuation more particularly having made it clear that enhancement of retirement age is not applicable to an autonomous body like CCRAS. The Court referred to State of Maharashtra v. Bhagwan, (2022) 4 SCC 193, wherein it was observed that “the employees of the autonomous bodies cannot claim, as a matter of right, the same service benefits on a par with the government employees”. The Court also cited various authorities where a similar question regarding the age of superannuation of the Government employees was discussed. The Court also reiterated that the statutory rules governing appointment of a particular post regulate the age of superannuation. Further, the Court said that even if it is averred that the nature of work involved in the two posts is similar, the same cannot be a ground to increase or alter the service conditions of an employee as each post is governed by its own set of rules.
The Court expressed its disappointment and said that the entire approach of the High Court towards the present matter was incorrect and that the High Court dealt with the matter in a very casual manner.
The Court said that by virtue of High Court’s order granting interim relief to the respondent, which the High Court ordinarily should not have granted, extending the period of service beyond 60 years till the disposal of the Original Petition by the CAT, the respondent although was to retire in 2018 yet continued in service till 2021. Further, the Court said that it was only when the Court stayed the operation of the impugned order passed by the High Court while issuing notice that the service of the respondent came to an end. The Court suggested that while granting interim relief for continuation in service the Court or Tribunal should, therefore, be slow and circumspect, unless prima facie evidence of unimpeachable character was produced because if the public servant succeeds, he can always be compensated. But if he fails, he would have enjoyed undeserved benefit of extended service and merely caused injustice to his immediate junior. Additionally, the Court went onto saying that the High Court was very much conscious of the fact that the respondent was appointed as a Research Assistant and was functioning as a Researcher under the Research Council and his service conditions were also different compared to the AYUSH doctors serving with the Ministry of AYUSH, then also the High Court misdirected itself saying that the benefit of enhanced age of superannuation can also be granted if the duties performed are the same like AYUSH doctors. The Court failed to understand how the High Court can fix the age of superannuation of an employee on the basis of devotion towards job. The age of superannuation is always governed by statutory rules and other service conditions.
Thus, the Court concluded that the impugned order of the High Court was not sustainable in law and hence, was set aside.
[Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences v. Bikartan Das, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 996, Decided on: 16-08-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Justice J.B. Pardiwala