Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, JJ has held that

“A person who has been enrolled as a member of the Air Force does not have an unqualified right to depart from service at his or her will during the term of engagement.”

The Court was hearing the case where an Airman in the Indian Air Force had applied for the post of General Banking Officer without completing the mandatory period of service of seven years and without obtaining the prior permission of his unit authorities. According to the Air Force authorities, his was in breach of the provisions of Air Force Order 14/2008 which was then in force. Since the appellant had not received a clean discharge certificate, his services were terminated by Bank of India on 30 April 2014.

It was argued before the Court that the appellant has a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) to choose his place of employment. The provisions of Article 19(1)(g) in their application to the members of the Air Force are not any different from their application to any other branch of government.

The Court, however, rejected the said contention and held that such a construction will seriously impinge upon manning levels and operational preparedness of the armed forces.

“The interests of the service are of paramount importance. A balance has been sought to be drawn between the interests of the service with situations involving requests by persons enrolled to take civilian employment. This balance is reflected in the provisions contained in the Air Force orders, in this case AFO 14/2008. A person enrolled cannot assert a general right to act in breach or defiance of those orders.

SCHEME OF AIR FORCE ACT

Before enrolment, the enrolling officer has to make the person who desires to be enrolled cognizant of the conditions of service.

  • Section 14 mandates that before signing on the enrolment, the individual has to consent to the conditions of his service. A person who has for a period of three months been in receipt of pay as a person enrolled under the Act and has been borne on the rolls of any unit is deemed to have been duly enrolled.
  • On being attested under Section 16, the individual subscribes to an oath or affirmation to bear allegiance to the Constitution, to serve in the Air Force and to obey all commands of an officer set over him, even to the peril of his life.
  • Tenure in the Air Force is subject to the pleasure of the President. A person subject to the Air Force Act 1950 may be retired, released or discharged from service “by such authority and in such manner as may be prescribed”.

SCHEME OF AFO 14/2008

  • A requirement of completing seven years of service from the date of enrolment has been mandated for permission to be granted to apply for a civil post under the Central or state governments or public sector undertakings, including paramilitary forces.
  • A Category I individual with a length of service of seven years may apply for civilian employment in a Group A or equivalent post carrying the stipulated pay scale as revised from time to time. Applications have to be forwarded to the prospective employer by the units, after verification of eligibility including the criticality of manpower.
  • Where the Airman belongs to a critical trade, the application shall be rejected at the unit level. Where online applications have been invited the station or, as the case may be, unit commanders are required to ensure fulfilment of the conditions of eligibility.
  • Permission is required from the station/unit commanders to submit an on-line application for a civil post.
  • NOCs (other than those in Category III) are to be issued by Air HQs on a case to case basis having regard to the exigencies of service.

RULING

Considering the abovementioned schemes, the Court held that the appellant was in breach of the provisions contained in AFO 14/2008 as he had applied for the post of a Probationary Officer with the Bank of India, participated in the written test and appeared at the interview without intimation or approval. There was, therefore, a failure of the appellant to comply with his obligations both in terms of his engagement as an enrolled member of the force and in relation to the requirements which were to be fulfilled under the terms of AFO 14/2008.

[Amit Kumar Roy v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 823, decided on 03.07.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Dismissing the present appeal wherein the appellant (enrolled as an airman with the Indian Air Force) had challenged the decision of the Air Officer Commanding for refusing his application seeking permission to keep a beard on religious grounds, since he is a Muslim, the three judge bench of T.S. Thakur, C.J., Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageshwar Rao, JJ., observed that regulations and policies with regard to the personal appearance of the Armed Forces in general and Air Force in particular were not laid down with the intention of creating discrimination between the officers on the basis of religion, rather the regulations have been implemented to ensure uniformity, discipline and order among the Air Force personnel, which also is an integral part of any armed force of the Union of India. The Court held that the appellant could not prove that his case lies within the exception enshrined in Regulation 425(b) of the Regulations of Indian Air Force, therefore the decision of the Commanding Officer in refusing to allow the appellant to keep his beard, was taken in the interest of maintaining uniformity in the Air Force and that the Commanding Officer was acting within his jurisdiction.

Regulation 425(b) of the Regulations of Indian Air Force, states that an air force officer can sport a beard or retain a beard only where there is a religious command which prohibits either the hair being cut or a beard being shaved. A per the policy clarifications issued from time to time, the status as regards to Regulation 425(b) is that any person joining service after 1st January, 2002 will not be allowed to maintain a beard unless his religion demands sporting a beard, and would be allowed to do so provided they were granted permission prior to the date of the letter or had grown a beard at the time of joining Air Force. On inquiring that whether keeping a beard is an integral part of Islam, the counsel for the appellant Shri Salman Khurshid stated that there are various interpretations and one of which states that it is ‘desirable’ to keep a beard.

Perusing the facts and the Regulation of Indian Air Force, the Court observed that as long as the provisions of Regulation 425(b) are not breached, a policy can be modulated and revisited for the interest of the Air Force and to ensure discipline in the Force which is paramount and is interconnected with the need to protect the nation against any threat. It was vehemently stressed by the Court that the Air Force being a combat force, it becomes necessary that all it’s officers and personnel are bound by the sense of Espirit-de-Corps without any distinction of caste, creed, colour and religion. [Mohammed Zubair v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1472, decided on 15.12.2016]