calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a case challenging prejudiced actions of the Damodar Valley Corporation (the Corporation) in terms of re-designation and re-fixation of retiral benefits, a single-judge bench comprising of Partha Sarathi Chatterjee,* J., held that the petitioner had been prejudiced by the non-communication of her final grading in APARs, which resulted in the deferment of her re-designations and the reduction of her salary. The Court that held the corporation’s actions were arbitrary and violated Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the petitioner applied for the position of Management Trainee in the Corporation in response to an advertisement and went through the selection process. After successfully passing the written test and interview, the petitioner was appointed as a Management Trainee and eventually promoted to the position of Personnel Officer (M-1 level) and later as Assistant Director (Personnel) (M-2 Level).

In 1996, the petitioner was served with a charge sheet alleging that she had not disclosed her completion of only a one-year Management Diploma Course. The petitioner challenged this charge-sheet through a writ petition.

During the pendency of the writ petition, the petitioner was due for promotion to the position of Deputy Director of Personnel (HR) (M-3 Level) in 1998. The respondents decided to adopt a sealed cover procedure for this promotion. In 1999, the writ petition was disposed of, the charge-sheet was quashed, and a direction was given to complete the sealed cover procedure and effect the promotion. The respondents appealed against the order, but it was dismissed in 2009.

The petitioner’s re-designations to M-3 Level and M-4 Level were due in 1998 and 2005, respectively. However, in 2018, the petitioner learned that her re-designations had been deferred for two years without her knowledge. The deferral was based on the petitioner’s final grading in Annual Performance Appraisal Reports (APAR) for the years 1995-96 and 1996-97, which were graded as “Satisfactory” instead of “Good”. The petitioner requested rectification of this error, but her requests went unanswered, and she received a memo stating she had drawn excess pay.

The petitioner invoked the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to challenge the validity of above-mentioned actions taken by the respondents. The petitioner, after nearly 32 years of service, was about to retire and claimed that she had been a victim of bias and arbitrary re-designation.

Moot Point

  • Whether the deferred re-designations of the petitioner were valid based on her final grading in the APAR for the years 1995-96 and 1996-97?

  • Whether the petitioner was entitled to have her re-designations corrected and her pay and allowances adjusted accordingly?

  • Whether the delay in filing the writ petition could be justified?

  • Whether the respondents’ actions violated the principles of natural justice and Article 14 of the Constitution of India?

Court’s Assessment

The Court justified the delay in filing the writ petition, citing the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the communication of the final grading to the petitioner only in 2019.

While deciding whether the Court shall restrain itself from passing appropriate orders considering that it may unsettle some settled things, the Court observed that “the writ court shall stretch its long arm to reach the injustice wherever it is found. Article 226 of the Constitution confers extraordinary jurisdiction on the High Court to issue prerogative writs for enforcement or fundamental rights or for any other purposes. The jurisdiction, though is to be based on discretion and equitable considerations, is wide and expansive with no fetters having been placed on the exercise of this extraordinary jurisdiction.”

The Court noted that the Corporation had given retrospective effect to the OM dated 31.08.2006 to justify its actions, which was not permissible. The Court held that the deferment of the petitioner’s re-designations the non-communication of her APAR grades was arbitrary and violated Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Court’s Directions

  • The petitioner should be treated as having been re-designated to M-3 Level and M-4 Level on their respective due dates for the purpose of re-fixation of pension and other retirement benefits.

  • The respondents were directed to calculate the petitioner’s retiral benefits in accordance with this order within three months.

  • The memo prepared in 2018, based on the erroneous re-designations, was set aside.

  • The respondents were instructed to determine whether any amounts were to be recovered from or disbursed to the petitioner after the re-fixation of her retiral benefits, and to take appropriate action within the specified time frames.

Court’s Decision

The Court allowed the writ petition, directing the rectification of the petitioner’s re-designations, re-fixation of her retiral benefits, and addressing any potential financial adjustments.

[Ballari Sarkar v. Damodar Valley Corpn., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 3433, order dated 06-10-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Partha Sarathi Chatterjee

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Sirsanya Bandopadhyay, Mr. Arka Kumar Nag, Mr. Rahul Kumar Singh, Counsel for the Petitioners

Mr. Ranjay De and Mr. Basabjit Banerjee, Counsel for the Respondents

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