Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme court: In a long ongoing battle between Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) and its temporary/badli/part-time employees over claim for absorption, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath, JJ has appointed a two member committee to carry out fresh verification of the claims of workers who were working between 20 May 1985 and 4 March 1991 and who claim to have been employed for at least 70 days in Class IV posts over a period of three years or 85 days in Class III posts over a period of two years shall be carried out.

The Committee will consist of:

  • Justice P K S Baghel, former Judge of the Allahabad High Court; and
  • Rajiv Sharma, former District Judge and member of the UPHJS

In a 90-pages-long verdict that led to the aforementioned conclusion, the Court observed,

“The dispute is now of an antiquity tracing back to nearly four decades. Finality has to be wrung down on the dispute to avoid uncertainty and more litigation. Nearly thirty-one years have elapsed since 1991. We have come to the conclusion that the claims of those workers who are duly found upon verification to meet the threshold conditions of eligibility should be resolved by the award of monetary compensation in lieu of absorption, and in full and final settlement of all claims and demands.”

Background

The genesis of the present dispute relates to a demand raised by the Unions on 4 March 1991, pertaining to the claim for regularisation of those workers who were employed India with LIC as temporary/badli/part-time workers from 20 May 1985 till the date of reference on 4 March 1991.

The Central Government Industrial Tribunal (CGIT) which was presided over by K S Srivastav, directed that the temporary, badli and part-time workers who were employed after 20 May 1985 should be granted absorption on the same terms and conditions as was stipulated in the Tulpule and Jamdar Awards (in respect of workers who were employed from 1 January 1982 to 20 May 1985). LIC was directed to publish a notice in the newspapers for inviting applications from individual workers for absorption. If no regular vacancy was available, the award directed supernumerary posts to be created.

The Delhi High Court, however, set aside the said award.

On 12 December 2018, while dealing with the batch of contempt petitions, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court directed the CGIT to “look into the matter with regard to the claims made by the Union(s) individual workmen”. As many as 15,500 claims were submitted on behalf of the Unions, Associations and individual workers claiming absorption and the benefit of the Srivastav Award dated 18 June 2001. The CGIT submitted its report i.e. the Dogra Report on 31 May 2019.

The Dogra Report was primarily challenged by LIC on the ground that, as a consequence of the same, LIC would be required to regularise about 11,780 workers who claim to have worked for a limited number of days. No verification of these claims has been done either by the LIC or by the CGIT in the Dogra Report. This would amount to an illegal backdoor entry, which would be contrary to the statutory regulations framed by the LIC. Further, LIC would also face the issue of a lack of sanctioned posts for these workers.

Supreme Court’s Ruling

Dogra Report is Flawed

Holding the Dogra Report to be flawed, the Supreme Court observed,

“LIC as a statutory corporation is bound by the mandate of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. As a public employer, the recruitment process of the corporation must meet the constitutional standard of a fair and open process. Allowing for back-door entries into service is an anathema to public service”

The Court found the Dogra Report to be flawed as,

(a) It failed to carry out an accurate verification of only those Class III workers who had put in at least 85 days of work in a period of two years and Class IV workers who had put in 70 days of work in a period of three years;

(b) The lists which are appended to the report contain patent inconsistencies and errors as a consequence of a failure to carry out an adequate verification; and

(c) The report accepted the claims for absorption of those workers who were specifically governed by the decision of this Court in E Prabavathy v. LIC[1], in spite of an express stipulation to the contrary in the order of the Supreme Court as well as in paragraph 75 of the Srivastav Award;

It was, hence, held that,

“A public employer such as LIC cannot be directed to carry out a mass absorption of over 11,000 workers on such flawed premises without following a recruitment process which is consistent with the principles of equality of opportunity governed by Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. Such an absorption would provide the very back-door entry, which negates the principle of equal opportunity and fairness in public employment.”

Directions

  • A fresh verification of the claims of workers who claim to have been employed for at least 70 days in Class IV posts over a period of three years or 85 days in Class III posts over a period of two years shall be carried out;
  • The verification shall be confined to persons who were working between 20 May 1985 and 4 March 1991;
  • All persons who are found to be eligible on the above norm shall be entitled to compensation computed at the rate of Rs 50,000 for every year of service or part thereof. The payment of compensation at the above rate shall be in lieu of reinstatement, and in full and final settlement of all claims and demands of the workers in lieu of regularisation or absorption;
  • In carrying out the process of verification, the Committee appointed by this Court shall not be confined to the certified list before the CGIT and shall consider the claims of all workers who were engaged between 20 May 1985 and 4 March 1991;
  • For the purpose of verification, LIC shall make available all the records at the Divisional level to the Committee appointed by this Court;
  • It will be open to the workers concerned or, as the case may be, the Unions and Associations representing them, to make available such documentary material in their possession for the purpose of verification;
  • The process of verification shall be carried out independently without regard to the Dogra Report, which is held to be flawed;
  • The payment of compensation in lieu of reinstatement shall be effected by LIC within a period of three months from the date of receipt of the report of verification by the Committee

[Ranbir Singh v. SK Roy, Chairman, Life Insurance Corporation of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 521, decided on 27.04.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud


Counsels

For LIC: Senior Advocate ANS Nadkarni

For Unions, Associations and workers: Senior Advocates Dr Manish Singhvi, Pallav Sishodia, R Singaravelan, V Prakash and Salman Khurshid and Advocates Nandakumar, Rakesh Shukla and Shailesh Madiyal


[1] SLP (Civil) No 10393 of 1992