Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Anirudhha Bose and JB Pardiwala*, JJ has held that while private unaided minority institution might be touching the spheres of public function or performing a public duty, its employees would not have the right to invoke the powers of the High Court conferred by Article 226 in respect of matter relating to service where they are not governed or controlled by the statutory provisions.

The Court wad dealing with the case relating to a private unaided minority educational institution and its disciplinary committee, wherein the Madhya Pradesh High Court had held that a writ petition filed by an employee of a private unaided minority educational institution seeking to challenge his termination from service was maintainable in law.

Issues

 (a) Whether a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is maintainable against a private unaided minority institution?

(b) Whether a service dispute in the private realm involving a private educational institution and its employee can be adjudicated in a writ petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution? In other words, even if a body performing public duty is amenable to writ jurisdiction, are all its decisions subject to judicial review or only those decisions which have public element therein can be judicially reviewed under the writ jurisdiction?

Analysis

At the outset, the Supreme Court noticed that CBSE is only a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and the school affiliated to it is not a creature of the statute and hence not a statutory body.

As the CBSE itself is not a statutory body nor the regulations framed by it has any statutory force, the mere fact that the Board grants recognition to the institutions on certain terms and conditions itself does not confer any enforceable right on any person as against the Committee of Management.

Thus, where a teacher or non-teaching staff challenges action of Committee of Management that it has violated the terms of contract or the rules of the Affiliation Byelaws, the appropriate remedy of such teacher or employee is to approach the CBSE or to take such other legal remedy available under law. It is open to the CBSE to take appropriate action against the Committee of Management of the institution for withdrawal of recognition in case it finds that the Committee of Management has not performed its duties in accordance with the Affiliation Byelaws.

The Court took note of the ruling in Ramesh Ahluwalia v. State  of Punjab, (2012) 12 SCC 331 wherein it was held that a writ petition would be maintainable if a private educational institution discharges public functions, more particularly imparting education. However, even by holding so, the declined to extend any benefits to the teacher as the case involved disputed questions of fact.

The Court observed that merely because a writ petition can be maintained against the private individuals discharging the public duties and/or public functions, the same should not be entertained if the enforcement is sought to be secured under the realm of a private law.

“It would not be safe to say that the moment the private institution is amenable to writ jurisdiction then every dispute concerning the said private institution is amenable to writ jurisdiction. It largely depends upon the nature of the dispute and the enforcement of the right by an individual against such institution. The right which purely originates from a private law cannot be enforced taking aid of the   writ jurisdiction irrespective of the fact that such institution is discharging the public duties and/or public functions. The scope of the mandamus is basically limited to an enforcement of the public duty and, therefore, it is an ardent duty of the court to find out whether the nature of the duty comes within the peripheral of the public duty. There must be a public law element in any action.”

Conclusion

  1. An application under Article 226 of the Constitution is maintainable against a person or a body discharging public duties or public functions. The public duty cast may be either statutory or otherwise and where it is otherwise, the body or the person must be shown to owe that duty or obligation to the public involving the public law element. Similarly, for ascertaining the discharge of public function, it must be established that the body or the person was seeking to achieve the same for the collective benefit of the 64 public or a section of it and the authority to do so must be accepted by the public.
  2. Even if it be assumed that an educational institution is imparting public duty, the act complained of must have a direct nexus with the discharge of public duty. It is indisputably a public law action which confers a right upon the aggrieved to invoke the extraordinary writ jurisdiction under Article 226 for a prerogative writ. Wherever Courts have intervened in their exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226, either   the  service conditions were regulated by the statutory provisions or the employer had the status of “State” within the expansive definition under Article 12 or it was found that the action complained of has public law element.
  3. While a body may be discharging a public function or performing a public duty and thus its actions becoming amenable to  judicial review by a Constitutional Court, its employees would not have the right to invoke the powers of the High Court conferred by Article 226 in respect of matter relating to service where they are not governed or controlled by the statutory provisions. An educational institution may fall within the domain of a “public function” or “public duty” be undisputedly open to challenge and scrutiny under Article 226 of the Constitution, however, the actions or decisions taken solely within the confines of an ordinary contract of service, having no statutory force or backing, cannot be recognised as being amenable to challenge under Article 226 of the Constitution. In the absence of the service conditions being controlled or governed by statutory provisions, the matter would remain in the realm of an ordinary contract of service.
  4. Even if it be perceived that imparting education by private unaided the school is a public duty within the expanded expression of the term, an employee of a non-teaching staff engaged by the school for the purpose of its administration or internal management is only an agency created by it. It is only where the removal of an employee of non-teaching staff is regulated by some statutory provisions, its violation by the employer in contravention of law may be interfered by the court. But such interference will be on the ground of breach of law and not on the basis of interference in discharge of public duty.

[St. Mary’s Education Society v. Rajendra Prasad Bhargava, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1091, decided on 24.08.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice JB Pardiwala


For appellant: Advocate Pai Amit