Tripura High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: Arindam Lodh, J. while noting that there were no legitimate grounds to deny the employee of gratuity and other retrial benefits directed the employer to release gratuity, pension and other retrial benefits to the employee.

The petitioner was an employee and had served for as many as 40 years under the respondents. There was no adverse entry in his service record. After his retirement, a letter was sent to him alleging that there were some outstanding dues and that he could not produce vouchers relating to the expenditure under the various schemes of the government for some financial years. It must be noted that before his retirement there was no allegation of financial irregularities or misappropriation levelled against him. The petitioner also offered an explanation by letter that he had duly submitted the vouchers.

The Court remarked that since the respondents could not level any allegation against the petitioner during his service period, he should not be deprived of his legitimate gratuity and leave encashment.

The Court said that if there was any irregularity regarding the submission of vouchers, it could have been brought to the notice of petitioner within a reasonable period of time, which in Court’s opinion would have been one and a half years at maximum. The Court noted that it was a case of merely harassing the petitioner.

Therefore, in view of the above facts, the Court ordered to release the gratuity and other retrial benefits to the petitioner within a period of 3 months. Additionally, the petitioner was granted a statutory interest of 6% till the release of the gratuity. [Prabhati Debbarma v. State of Tripura, 2022 SCC OnLine Tri 379, decided on 02-06-2022]


For the Petitioner(s): Mr P. K. Pal, Advocate Mr H Debbarma,

For the Respondent(s): Mr D. Sarkar, Advocate Mrs Sarama Deb, Advocate

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: Amrita Sinha, J. disposed of a petition which was filed by an Assistant Teacher who retired from service on 31-10-2020 regarding delayed payment of the gratuity and arrear pension amount.

The grievance of the petitioner was that the Pension Payment Order was issued on 28-02-2022 and the gratuity and arrear pension amount was disbursed on 11-03-2022. The petitioner claims interest on delayed payment of the gratuity and arrear pension amount.

The Court stated that it is settled law that the right of a retired employee to get his retiral dues on the date of attaining superannuation is a valuable right which accrues in his favour on the date of his attaining superannuation. Further, gratuity and pension are no more considered to be a bounty to be handed out by the State at its whim. If payment of such gratuity and pension is delayed the retired employee is surely entitled to get some interest for such delayed payment.

The Court opined that in the present case it was the bounden duty of the State to disburse the gratuity and pension amount on the due date. If it has failed to do so and has released such amount after unexplained delay, it is obliged to pay interest to the retired employee.

The Court directed the concerned Treasury Officer to pay interest to the writ petitioner at the rate of 5% per annum on the gratuity and arrear pension calculated on and from the due date till the date of actual payment, provided the delay caused was not attributable to the petitioner.[Pranesh Kumar Kar v. State of West Bengal, 2022 SCC OnLine Cal 1371, decided on 19-05-2022]


Mr Sudipa Biswas : for the Petitioner

Mr Debasish Basu : for the State


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Reversing the concurrent findings of the Single Judge and Division Bench of Kerala High Court, the Bench of S. Abdul Nazeer* and Vikram Nath, JJ., held that the State cannot recover excess amount paid to the ex-employee after the delay of 10 years.

The Court held that if the amount was not paid on account of any misrepresentation or fraud of the employee but it was the employer who applied wrong principle for calculating allowance or misinterpreted a, such excess payment of emoluments or allowances are not recoverable. The Court clarified,

“This relief against the recovery is granted not because of any right of the employees but in equity, exercising judicial discretion to provide relief to the employees from the hardship that will be caused if the recovery is ordered.”

Question of Law

The issue before the Court was whether increments granted to the appellant, while he was in service, can be recovered from him almost 10 years after his retirement on the ground that the said increments were granted on account of an error?

Backdrop of Events

The brief facts of the case were such that the appellant was a High School Assistant/Teacher in an aided school. During his tenure, he availed leave without allowance first from 20-10-1972 to 31-03-1973 and again from 02-07-1973 to 28-03-1974, for pursuing post-graduation i.e., M.Sc. (Chemistry) Course.

Later on, the appellant was promoted as Headmaster of the school and was granted senior grade promotion and his pay scale was revised accordingly. Consequently, a notice was served to the appellant by District Educational Officer with an objection that the period of leave obtained for undergoing higher education should not be included while determining total qualifying service. Therefore, the Educational Officer recommended that pay and subsequent increments granted to the appellant should be recovered from him.

The proposal to initiate recovery proceedings was challenged by the appellant before the Public Redressal Complaint Cell which rejected the said complaint stating that post-graduation degree M. Sc. (Chemistry) was not useful as per the Rule 91A Part I of the Kerala Service Rules in any manner to the public service, therefore, leave without allowance could not be counted for service benefits.

Impugned Findings of the High Court

Meanwhile, the appellant retired from service. Pursuant to the order of Educational Officer the Deputy Director Education sanctioned the release of 90% of the death-cum-retirement gratuity (D.C.R.G.) amount after withholding 10% of the said amount. Aggrieved, the appellant approached the High Court which upheld the reasoning given by the State and dismissed the writ petition holding that the mistake committed by the department while granting the service benefits can be rectified subsequently by way of proposed recovery to be effected from appellant’s D.C.R.G. amount.

The appellant contended that the excess payment made to the appellant was not on account of any misrepresentation or fraud on his part; rather the excess payment was made due to a mistake in interpreting the Kerala Service Rules.

Analysis and Findings

The Court opined that if the excess amount was not paid on account of any misrepresentation or fraud of the employee or if such excess payment was made by the employer by applying a wrong principle for calculating the pay/allowance or on the basis of a particular interpretation of rule/order which is subsequently found to be erroneous, such excess payment of emoluments or allowances are not recoverable.

However, the Court clarified that if in a given case, it is proved that an employee had knowledge that the payment received was in excess of what was due or wrongly paid, or in cases where error is detected or corrected within a short time of wrong payment, the matter being in the realm of judicial discretion, the courts may on the facts and circumstances of any particular case order for recovery of amount paid in excess.

Conclusion

Hence, considering that the access amount was not paid on account of misrepresentation or fraud played by the appellant, the Court held that an attempt to recover the said increments after passage of ten years of retirement was unjustified. Consequently, the impugned judgment and order was set aside and quashed.

[Thomas Daniel v. State of Kerala, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 536, decided on 02-05-2022]


*Judgment by: Justice S. Abdul Nazeer


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: Biren Vaishnav, J., reiterated that, interest on delayed payment of gratuity is mandatory and not discretionary.

The petitioner had prayed for a declaration that the respondent’s action in not paying the entire amount of Rs 10 lakhs towards gratuity to the petitioner was arbitrary. Hence, a direction was sought that respondents be directed to pay the remaining amount of gratuity to the petitioner along with 18% interest from the date of his retirement.

Analysis and Decision


High Court expressed that, in the Supreme Court decision of H. Gangahanume Gowda v. Karnataka Agro Industries Corpn. Ltd., (2003) 3 SCC 40, it was decided that the interest on delayed payment of gratuity is mandatory and not discretionary. When it is not the case of the respondent that the delay in the payment of gratuity was due to the fault of the employee and that it had obtained permission in writing from the controlling authority for the delayed payment on that ground, the respondent had been directed to pay interest @ 10% on the amount of gratuity to which the appellant is entitled from the date it became payable till the date of payment of the gratuity amount. 

Hence, Bench stated that the present case was covered by the Supreme Court’s decision as stated above.

Therefore, Court directed the respondents to pay the petitioner the amount of gratuity of Rs 10 lakhs within a period of 10 weeks, and since the petitioner was superannuated in 2013 and the gratuity amount had been wrongfully withheld, the petitioner shall be entitled to interest at the rate of 9% from the date of his superannuation till the date of actual payment. [Ashvinkumar Ramniklal Jani v. State of Gujarat, 2022 SCC OnLine Guj 575, decided on 19-4-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

MR JAYRAJ CHAUHAN(2966) for the Petitioner(s) No. 1

MR MUKESH N VAIDYA(5197) for the Petitioner(s) No. 1

MR MUKUND M DESAI(286) for the Petitioner(s) No. 1

MS.SURBHI BHATI, AGP for the Respondent(s) No. 1,2,3

NOTICE SERVED BY DS for the Respondent(s) No. 4

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: Sushrut Arvind Dharmadhikari, J. allowed a writ petition which was filed assailing the legality, validity and propriety of the order dated 1-8-2018 whereby the excess amount of Rs.81,239/- has been sought to be recovered from the gratuity payable to him.

Petitioner was aggrieved by the order of recovery after retirement, his grievance was that neither he was afforded any opportunity of hearing nor he was given any show cause notice before deducting the amount from the retiral dues i.e. gratuity of the petitioner. The petitioner was neither found guilty of any misconduct nor held guilty of any offence in the criminal proceedings. The inaction on the part of the respondents was in flagrant violation of principles of natural justice.

Counsel for the petitioner contended that the recovery cannot be made from the retiral dues of the petitioner because there was no misrepresentation or fault on the part of the petitioner. The said recovery had been done without prior approval of the Governor, which was in violation of Rule 9 of the Pension Rules, 1976.

The Court on the perusal of record noticed that it is not the case of the respondents that any undertaking was given by the petitioner for refund of the amount, if any excess payment is made. The Court relied on State of Punjab v. Rafiq Masih (White Washer), (2015) 4 SCC 334 wherein the Supreme Court had laid down the following few situations wherein recoveries by the employee would be impermissible in law:

(i) Recovery from employees belonging to Class III and Class IV service (or Group C and Group D service).

(ii) Recovery from the retired employees, or the employees who are due to retire within one year, of the order of recovery.

(iii) Recovery from the employees, when the excess payment has been made for a period in excess of five years, before the order of recovery is issued.

(iv) Recovery in cases where an employee has wrongfully been required to discharge duties of a higher post, and has been paid accordingly, even though he should have rightfully been required to work against an inferior post.

(v) In any other case, where the Court arrives at the conclusion, that recovery if made from the employee, would be iniquitous or harsh or arbitrary to such an extent, as would far outweigh the equitable balance of the employer’™s right to recover.

The Court held that the case falls under category 3 as the respondents 4 had wrongly issued the impugned order directing recovery of the amount of Rs.81,239/- and thus allowed the petition directing to refund the aforesaid amount, if already recovered, to the petitioner within a period of 3 months.[Rammani Patel v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2022 SCC OnLine MP 879, decided on 22-04-2022]


For the petitioner: Mr C.L.Patel

For the respondents: Mr Dhiraj Tiwari


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a detailed judgment stressing on the importance of the work done by the Anganwadi workers/helpers at the grassroot level, the bench of Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka, JJ has held that Anganwadi workers/helpers are entitled to gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

Writing separate but concurrent opinions, both the judges agreed that the Anganwadi Workers/Helpers have been entrusted with the important tasks of providing food security to children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, pregnant women as well as lactating mothers, apart from rendering pre¬school education. And for all this, they are being paid very meagre remuneration and paltry benefits.

The Court observed that it is high time that the Central Government and State Governments take serious note of the plight of Anganwadi Workers/Helpers who are expected to render such important services to the society.

Justice Oka wrote that the definition of ‘wages’ is very wide. It means all emoluments which are earned by an employee on duty. Thus, the honorarium paid to Anganwadi Workers/Helpers will also be covered by the definition of wages.  As Anganwadi Workers/Helpers are employed by the State Government for wages in the establishments to which the 1972 Act applies, the AWWs and AWHs are employees within the meaning of the 1972 Act.

He also held that it was impossible to accept the contention that the job assigned to Anganwadi Workers/Helpers is a part-time job. It is full-time employment.

He added,

“the Government of India by a notification dated 3rd April 1997 has notified educational institutions as establishments under clause (c) of sub-section (3) of Section 1 of the 1972 Act. In the Anganwadi centres, the activity of running a preschool for the children in the age group of 3 to 6 years is being conducted. It is purely an educational activity. The job of teaching is done by Anganwadi Workers/Helpers. The State Government is running preschools in Anganwadi centres in accordance with Section 11 of the RTE Act. For the reasons recorded above, I have no manner of doubt that the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 will apply to Anganwadi centres and in turn to Anganwadi Workers/Helpers.”

Justice Ajay Rastogi observed,

“If we look towards the problems plaguing the Anganwadi workers/helpers, the first and foremost, they are not holders of civil posts due to which they are deprived of a regular salary and other benefits that are available to employees of the State. Instead of a salary, they get only a so called paltry ‘honorarium’ (much lower 24 than the minimum wages) on the specious ground that they are part-time voluntary workers, working only for about 4 hours a day.”

He, hence, observed that the time has come when the Central Government/State Governments has to collectively consider as to whether looking to the nature of work and exponential increase in the Anganwadi centers and to ensure quality in the delivery of services and community participation and calling upon Anganwadi workers/helpers to perform multiple tasks ranging from delivery of vital services to the effective convergence of various sectoral services, the existing working conditions of Anganwadi workers/helpers coupled with lack of job security which albeit results in lack of motivation to serve in disadvantaged areas with limited sensitivity towards the delivery of services to such underprivileged groups, still being the backbone of the scheme, time has come to find out modalities in providing better service conditions of the voiceless commensurate to the nature of job discharged by them.

[MANIBEN MAGANBHAI BHARIYA v. DISTRICT DEVELOPMENT OFFICER DAHOD, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 507, decided on 25.04.2022]


Judgment by: Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Abhay S. Oka


Counsels

For appellants: Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh and P.V. Surendranath

For State of Gujarat: Advocate Aastha Mehta

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In an interesting case where the Division Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul* and M.M. Sundresh, JJ., was to answer whether pending criminal appeal, and with the sentence being suspended, could the DCRG be directed to be released on the construction of the applicable rules, the Bench resolved the issue against the employees and held there was not statutory mandate that DCRG should be released to the respondents pending consideration of the criminal appeal.

The moot question before the full Bench of the Kerala High Court was whether on conviction in a criminal case for violation of integrity norms in performance of official duties and an appeal pending before the High Court, is the employee still entitled to the release of his Death-cum-Retirement Gratuity (DCRG). The High Court, by the impugned judgment had ruled in favour of the employees and had held that the recovery under Rule 3 of Kerala Services Rules could only be against pension and not DCRG, and Rule 3A insofar as it permitted DCRG to be withheld was struck down.

The Rules in Question

The Rule 3 of Kerala Services Rules reads as:

“withholding or withdrawing a pension or any part of it, whether permanently or for a specified period, and the right of ordering the recovery from a pension of the whole or part of any pecuniary loss caused to government if in a departmental or judicial proceeding, the pensioner is found guilty of grave misconduct or negligence during the period of his service, including service rendered upon re-employment after retirement…”

Whereas, Rule 3A provides that:

“3-A. (a) Where any departmental or judicial proceedings is instituted under Rule 3 or where a departmental proceeding is continued under clause (a) of the proviso thereto, against an employee who has retired on attaining the age of compulsory retirement or otherwise he shall be paid during the period commencing from the date of his retirement to the date on which, upon conclusion of such proceeding final orders are passed, a provisional pension not exceeding the maximum pension which would have been admissible on the basis of his qualifying service up to the date of retirement, or if he was under suspension on the date of retirement up to the date immediately preceding the date on which he was placed under suspension, but no gratuity or death-cum-retirement gratuity shall be paid to him until the conclusion of such proceeding and the issue of final orders thereon.”

Noticeably, Rule 3 in the KSR deems continuation of service in the case of a delinquent servant even after superannuation if any departmental or judicial proceedings are initiated, for the limited purpose of their finalisation. In the event of an order of dismissal being passed, even after retirement, the Government servant would have to forfeit his pension and DCRG.

Impugned Judgment

The High Court read the Rule 3 of the KSR as empowering the Government to punish the delinquent employee by withholding, withdrawing or reducing, for a specified period or permanently, the pension payable or to order recovery for any  pecuniary loss, but again only from the pension. The Court opined that the same could not be done from the DCRG. While, Rule 3A of the KSR was opined to be only tailored towards the effective implementation of Rule 3 and could not have any separate or distinct consequences.

Noting that the Rule 3A has two parts, the Court observed that the first part dealt with certain conditions on the disbursal of pension in the cases of a continuing proceeding while the second part allowed DCRG or gratuity to be withheld until the conclusion of the proceedings. By the impugned judgment, the second part was held to have an unnecessary penalising effect on an employee while proceedings are pending and would have onerous consequences if the proceedings ended in exoneration since the provision did not contemplate any modality for re-compensation if the DCRG is paid after a long period of time.

Further, observing that Note 2 to Rule 3 provided that the word ‘pension’ did not include DCRG and, that that liabilities could be recovered from DCRG only after giving the employee a reasonable opportunity to explain, the Court held that the recovery under Rule 3 could only be against pension and not DCRG, and Rule 3A insofar as it permitted DCRG to be withheld was struck down.

Analysis and Interpretation by the Court

Noticeably, the State in its wisdom had preferred to await the outcome of criminal proceedings in the instant case and had not initiated any separate departmental proceedings. Rule 3 of the KSR provides that Government reserves to themselves the right to withhold or withdraw a pension or any part of it, whether permanently or for a specified period, and all its ramifications. Further, the word pension is clarified by Note 2, as it would not include DCRG. Thus, DCRG and pension have been dealt with as separate aspects.

However, on the further reading of Note 2, which provides that the liabilities fixed against an employee or a pensioner can be recovered from DCRG without the departmental/judicial proceedings but after giving an employee or pensioner concerned a reasonable opportunity to explain, the Bench opined,

“If any part of DCRG was not supposed to be available for recovery of amounts, there would be no reason of inclusion of this aspect of DCRG in Note 2 and a view to the contrary would make the latter part of Note 2 otiose.”

The Bench observed that Note 2 is further clarified by Ruling 3, which stipulates that Note 2 does not mean that the employee’s or pensioner’s consent should be obtained for recovering the liabilities from DCRG. What has been contemplated is only a communication of such liabilities to him so as to enable him to submit his explanation. Thus, this Ruling No.3 also deals with the DCRG. Therefore, the important aspect before the Bench was whether Rule 3A is to be construed in the context of Rule 3 or should be read independently of itself. The High Court had sought to take a view that Rule 3A is in a sense assisting Rule 3 and does not have any independent existence. The Bench stated,

“The High Court, in our view, has introduced a new legislation by undertaking the exercise of reading down. We do believe that there is absolutely no need to do so when the language of the rule is so clear conveying its intended meaning without any ambiguity.”

Holding that it was a very restrictive view to disburse DCRG on account of the proceedings against a pensioner coming to an end, even where a conviction had arisen, specially where the convicted person has availed of the remedy of appeal, the Bench reiterated that an appeal is a continuation of the proceedings in trial and would be, thus, a continuation of judicial proceedings.  Therefore, pendency of the appeal cannot disentitle the State from withholding the DCRG, considering that it is a hiatus period within which certain arrangements have to be made which would be dependent on the outcome of the appeal.

Conclusion

In the light of the above, the Bench concluded that Rule 3A could not be read in isolation nor the latter part of it struck down as done by the High Court. Rule 3, Note 2, Ruling 3, and Rule 3A have to be read in conjunction as they provide for the treatment of the DCRG in case of disciplinary or judicial proceedings pending at the stage of retirement.

Accordingly, the impugned judgment was set aside holding that it could not be opined that the DCRG would have to be released to the respondents pending consideration of the criminal appeal.

[Local Self Government Department v. K. Chandran, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 318, decided on 15-03-2022]

*Judgment by: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Saket Court
Case BriefsDistrict Court

Saket Courts, New Delhi: Naresh Kumar Laka, Additional District Judge – 03 decided a matter wherein an employee claimed full back wages from the date he was terminated till the date of his superannuation.

On being aggrieved by the decision of Tis Hazari Court, both parties preferred separate appeals under Section 96 CPC.

Factual Background

Plaintiff was appointed by the defendant as Law Officer (Taxation). The services of the plaintiff were confirmed with the defendant, and it was alleged that the defendant company did not allow the plaintiff to enter into premises of the defendant company and the plaintiff was informed that the defendant company terminated his services with immediate effect.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Court stated that none of the trial court judgments granted any relief of full back wages to the plaintiff.

Main contention was that the plaintiff was not granted full back wages from the date of his termination till the date of his superannuation, and he also claimed other service benefits.

In the instant case, the termination letter provided that the services of the plaintiff were terminated due to business exigencies and administrative reasons and, therefore, it cannot be said that the termination of the plaintiff was the infliction of punishment.

Retrenchment 

Bench stated that the termination by way of retrenchment can be for any reason whatsoever.

Apart from the issue of definition, what is critical is that an employer must carry out retrenchment (other than dismissal on grounds of misconduct), as per the requirements of Section 25F of the ID Act. Section 25F provides for the employer to fulfill certain conditions before retrenching any employee.

Trial Court had noted that notice of termination was not served upon the plaintiff, therefore, plaintiff was not retrenched properly as per the procedure provided in the ID Act. Court added that although the ID Act does not apply to the plaintiff, yet an analogy can be drawn about the course of action to be followed in that eventuality.

Bench expressed that if the case of the plaintiff is presumed to be covered within the ambit of ID Act, in that case the plaintiff will not be entitled to automatic reinstatement or full back wages.

How will the compensation of plaintiff be assessed?

In view of absence of applicability of any special statute, the compensation can be assessed as per the contract of a master and servant read with Sections 73 and 74 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872.

It was noted that, the appointment letter of the plaintiff provided a clause of severing of the contract by either side upon serving one month’s notice or on payment of one month’s salary in lieu of notice period.

Plaintiff’s counsel had contended that the defendant had admitted liability of Rs 5,46,737 and the said admission was upheld by ADJ as well as the Delhi High Court. Defendant’s counsel stated that the said amount was shown as a contingent liability.

The word “Contingent” shows that there was no admission of the liability of the defendant and the said amount of Rs 5,46,737 was shown as an estimated or guessed or contingent liability which may or may not arise. Further, the said amount of Rs 5,46,737 could not be said to be estimated towards making payment of the plaintiff only and rather it would include the expenses for litigation, court fees, advocate’s fees etc. for contesting the claim of the plaintiff in different courts of law.

Court held that mere mentioning of the said amount before a third party/agency cannot be treated as an admission against the defendant. Hence, Trial Court treating the said amount as an admission is illegal and not as per the established principles of law of evidence.

Bench decided that the plaintiff was entitled only to one month’s salary as per the original employment contract for one month’s notice period besides the other service dues which had been decided by the trial court.

With regard to plaintiff claim of DA, HRS, Bonus, LTA and Gratuity, Court stated that when it was already held that plaintiff was not entitled or full back wages, he cannot be said to be entitled to the said reliefs. Further, HRA, LTA are permissible only when a person is into service which is not the case in the present matter. The Bonus and Gratuity can be claimed from the competent authority as prescribed in the Bonus Act and Gratuity Act as per law. The amount already received by the plaintiff is deductible and excess, if any, to be refunded to the defendant within 30 days.

In view of the above discussion, appeal were disposed of. [Ashok Gupta v. Modi Rubber Limited, RCA No. 25 of 2020, decided on 17-11-2021]

Uttarakhand High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: The Division Bench of Raghvendra Singh Chauhan, CJ. and Sanjaya Kumar Mishra, J., allowed a petition which was filed by the widowed wife of Mr. Babu Ram, who had died-in harness on 26-08-2020 for the release of gratuity, leave encashment, arrears of ACPs’, and the arrears of the 7th Pay Commission of her late husband in her favour.

Petitioner’s husband was a confirmed employee, and was serving on the post of Assistant Engineer in the Uttarakhand Payjal Sansadhan Vikas Evem Nirman Nigam (for the “the Nigam”), Haldwani, District Nainital. the Finance Director of the Nigam had passed an order, which was addressed to the Executive Engineer, Project Implementation Unit (Amrit), the respondent6, wherein the Finance Director had quantified the family pension from 27.08.2020 to 25.08.2030 @Rs.73,500 + D.A. per month, wherein the family pension was fixed @Rs.44,100/- + D.A. per month, and the gratuity was calculated amounting to Rs.20,00,000/-.

However, despite the letters written by the respondents clearly quantifying the amounts due to the petitioner, the petitioner had not been paid a single penny. According to the petitioner, her husband was suffering from cancer. In order to deal with his medical treatment, the family had to invest a large amount of money in his treatment. Thus, presently, the family is facing grave financial crises.

Mr D.K. Bankoti counsel for the petitioner submitted that there was no justifiable reason for the respondents for withholding the quantified amount mentioned hereinabove from the petitioner and due to the laxity on the part of respondent No.2, the petitioner, and her family continues to suffer financial crises. Therefore, it will be in the interest of justice to direct the respondents to release the said amount as expeditiously as possible.

The Court was of the opinion that petitioner was entitled to receive the abovementioned arrears without any doubts and directed to release the aforementioned quantified amount, namely Rs 41,95,069/- alongwith the interest @10% in favour of the petitioner while allowing the petition.[Alka Rani v. State of Uttarakhand, 2021 SCC OnLine Utt 1269, decided on 18-10-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Division Bench of Hemant Gupta and A.S. Bopanna, JJ., addressed whether the 2010 amendment of Payment of Gratuity Act 1972 is retrospective.

In the instant matter, Jharkhand High Court’s decision has been challenged whereby the claim of the appellants to declare the applicability of Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Act, 2010 from 1-1-2007 was declined.

Appellants were employees of Coal India Limited. Government of India had approved the enhancement of gratuity to the executives and Non-Unionized Supervisors of Central Sector Enterprises such as the Coal India Limited where the appellants were employed and the said gratuity was raised to Rs 10 lakhs.

Later, the Payment of Gratuity Act was amended.

Grievance of the Appellants

Appellants were aggrieved that the tax was deducted at the source when the gratuity was paid to the appellants before the commencement of the Amending Act. Thus, the appellants challenged the date of commencement as 24-05-2010 but asserted that it should be made effective from 1-1-2007 and consequently the appellants would not be liable for deduction of tax on the gratuity amount.

The Judgment of D.S. Nakara v. Union of India, (1983) 1 SCC 305, came up for consideration before this Court in a Judgment of State Government Pensioners’ Assn. v. State of A.P., (1986) 3 SCC 501, wherein the payment of gratuity from a specified date of retirement was held to be not unconstitutional.

A similar view was taken in the Supreme Court decision of Union of India v. All India Service Pensioners’ Assn., (1988) 2 SCC 580, wherein it was held that the pension was payable periodically as long as the pensioner was alive whereas the gratuity was ordinarily paid only once on retirement.

Section 4(5) of the Gratuity Act protects the rights of an employee to receive better terms of gratuity under any award or contract with the employer. The gratuity paid to the appellants on strength of office memorandum would fall in the said sub-section.

 “…what is exempt from the Income Tax Act is the amount of gratuity received under the Gratuity Act to the extent it does not exceed an amount calculated in accordance with the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 4 of the Gratuity Act.”

The Gratuity Act contemplated Rs 10 lakhs as the amount of gratuity only from 24-5-2010. Such gratuity is the amount payable only once. Thus, the cut-off date cannot be said to be illegal, it being one-time payment.

Therefore, such amendment in the Gratuity Act cannot be treated to be retrospective. Hence, the said provisions of the statute cannot be said to be retrospective.

In a recent judgment Himachal Road Transport Corporation v. Himachal Road Transport Corporation Retired Employees Union, (2021) 4 SCC 502, in the case of payment of increased quantum of death-cum-retirement gratuity, it was held that the cut-off date cannot be said to be arbitrary which was fixed keeping in view financial constraints.

Lastly, in view of the above, Bench found that the date of commencement fixed by the Executive in exercise of power delegated by the Amending Act cannot be treated to be retrospective as the benefit of higher gratuity was one-time available to the employees only after the commencement of the Amending Act.

Concluding the matter, it was held that benefit paid to the appellants under the office memorandum is not entitled to exemption in view of specific language of Section 10(10)(ii) of the Income Tax Act.

No error was found in the Jharkhand High Court’s decision. [Krishna Gopal Tiwary v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 581, decided on 13-08-2021]

Tripura High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: Akil Kureshi, CJ., dismissed a writ petition which was filed aggrieved about non-payment of gratuity and pension after retirement.

The petitioner had joined the service of the Government of Tripura in the year 1992 as a Lower Division Clerk on a reserved post for Scheduled Tribe wherein she had claimed that she belonged to Laskar(Tripuri) community which was recognized as a Scheduled Tribe in Tripura.

The question of Laskar community being recognized as a Scheduled Tribe became a focal point of long legal controversy. Eventually, the Supreme Court had upheld the judgment of the Tripura High Court holding that the Laskar community is not a recognized Scheduled Tribe in the State of Tripura. It was however decided that those belonging to Laskar community and who had been granted any benefit of reservation up to 31-03-1990, the same shall not be withdrawn looking at the longstanding disputes.

The cancellation of the petitioner’s caste certificate and consequentially, her appointment in Government service also went through several legal stages. At one stage, the Judge allowed the petition and set aside the order passed by the State Level Scrutiny Committee(SLSC) cancelling her caste certificate, in the writ appeal the Division Bench confirmed the above order. SLSC once again passed a fresh order, cancelling the caste certificate of the petitioner and the government acting upon the order cancelled petitioner’s appointment which was based on the false claim of Scheduled Tribe status.

The petitioner aggrieved by this had approached the High Court and the Judge had stayed the implementation of the order and accordingly, the petitioner had rejoined the duties.

While this petition was pending the petitioner retired and the petition was eventually dismissed, the decision was challenged, which was again dismissed. In the present petition direction for release of her gratuity and pension was prayed for.

The Court after perusal of facts and documents opined that based on the cancellation of the caste certificate, her appointment also stood cancelled and these orders had achieved finality since Single Judge, as well as the Division Bench, had dismissed the petition challenging this order. The Court further held that in this view of the matter, the petitioner cannot claim post-retiral benefits of pension and gratuity.

The Court while dismissing the petition however held that on the principles of quantum meruit, the salary already paid to the petitioner for the work done cannot be a subject matter of recovery but the benefits of Government employment, promotion or admission in educational institutions on the strength of false claim of reserved category candidate, would be withdrawn once it is proved that the caste status was falsely claimed.[Sipra Debbarma v. State of Tripura, 2021 SCC OnLine Tri 380, decided on 29-07-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


For Petitioner(s): Ms A Debbarma and Mr Samarjit Bhattacharjee

For Respondent(s): Mr Biswanath Majumder, CGC and Mr S Dey

Akaant MittalExperts Corner

Introduction

A liquidation proceeding stands initiated once the corporate insolvency resolution process fails. Section 33 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IB Code) sets out the conditions laying down three scenarios wherein liquidation proceedings can be initiated against the corporate debtor.

 

First, when the adjudicating authority does not receive the resolution plan upon expiry of the insolvency process or it rejects the resolution plan.[1]

 

Second, when the resolution professional intimates the adjudicating authority that the committee of creditors has decided to liquidate the corporate debtor.[2]

 

Third, when any person, whose interests are prejudicially affected when the approved resolution plan is contravened by the corporate debtor, makes an application to the adjudicating authority to initiate liquidation proceedings.[3]

 

Once the liquidation process is initiated, the same concludes with the distribution of the assets of the corporate debtor in accordance with the waterfall (distribution) mechanism provided under Section 53 of the IB Code.

 

This column seeks to discuss about one peculiar aspect of liquidation wherein it is sought to be ensured that workers of a corporate debtor suffer the least on account of the expiration of the corporate debtor.

 

“Gratuity” and its Interplay with IB Code

While the Payment of Gratuity Act has not explicitly defined the term “gratuity”, it can be understood to be a sum payable by the employer to his workers upon completing service for the prescribed period of time.[4] Now once the company is brought to an end by the liquidation, then clearly such payment is to be paid to the workers.

 

Simultaneously, the IB Code provides for the formation of a “liquidation estate”[5] containing all the assets of the debtor. It is these proceeds that will be distributed to the respective stakeholders (creditors) in terms of waterfall mechanism under Section 53 of the IB Code.

 

Issue arises because if the gratuity falls under the “liquidation estate” and is to be distributed in terms of Section 53, then the workers may not get their dues in total. For instance, assuming that the only asset of the company is the gratuity sum to the tune of Rs 1 crore. Now if this sum forms part of the liquidation estate, then this sum of Rs 1 crore will be distributed firstly towards the insolvency resolution process costs and liquidation costs. If these costs run over Rs 1 crore, then the entire gratuity amount will be consumed under these expenses only. Otherwise, if these costs are, let us say, Rs 50 lakhs, then the remaining Rs 50 lakhs will be distributed towards the workers’ dues for the period of 24 months preceding the liquidation commencement date and dues towards secured creditors. The list goes so on and so forth.

 

However, Section 36 of the IB Code stipulates certain payments that are not to form part of the “liquidation estate”. Section 36(4)(a)(iii) of the IB Code stipulates that:

(4) The following shall not be included in the liquidation estate assets and shall not be used for recovery in the liquidation:

(a) assets owned by a third party which are in possession of the corporate debtor, including–

(i)-(ii)                             ***

(iii) all sums due to any workman or employee from the provident fund, the pension fund and the gratuity fund;

 

In other words, any amount due to the workers from the pension fund, provident fund, and the gratuity fund will not form a part of the liquidation estate of the corporate debtor and will not be used for recovery in liquidation.

 

Since in many instances, liquidation results in the complete closure of the business of the ailing debtor, which results in the termination of the employment of the workers. In legal parlance, this discharge of workers amounts to their retrenchment i.e. the termination of service of workers by the employer for any reason other than punishment inflicted by way of disciplinary action.[6] Naturally to protect the workers, funds such as pension fund, provident fund, and the gratuity fund are kept out of the liquidation distribution and to be used solely for the benefit of the workers.

 

This question was even dealt with by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) in Somesh Bagchi v. Nicco Corpn. Ltd.[7] (Somesh Bagchi) as well SBI v. Moser Baer Karamchari Union[8] (Moser Baer – NCLAT) wherein the Appellate Tribunal had held that gratuity does not form a part of the liquidation estate.

 

Unsettled Legal Issues Arising with Gratuity

Now further issue arises on whether a liquidator can be directed to make provision for the payment of gratuity to the workers in case the erstwhile management of the corporate debtor did not create such fund for the workers.

 

The recent ruling by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) Allahabad in Standard Chartered Bank v. JVL Agro Industries Ltd.[9] (Agro Industries) brings out the trouble in how to counter balance the workers benefit wherein the employer had faulted in not providing for gratuity; all the while respecting the statutory limitations of the authority of a liquidator.

 

In Agro Industries[10], a resolution proceeding was initiated and consequently a moratorium was declared and a resolution professional was appointed. Since, no resolution plan was approved by the committee of creditors, the liquidation proceeding was initiated. The corporate debtor had nearly 500 employees some of whom had filed an application for payment of their dues after the public announcement of liquidation was made. The corporate debtor had taken gratuity policy for 92 of its employees from Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), and the other 403 were not covered by it. It was further represented before the NCLT that the corporate debtor has requisite funds to cover the gratuity payments of the rest of its employees as well as pay the renewals for the already existing policyholders.

 

The NCLT referring to the ruling in Alchemist Asset Reconstruction Co. Ltd. v. Moser Baer India Ltd.[11] (Moser Baer – NCLT) which had been upheld by the NCLAT allowed the same and directed the liquidator to pay for the existing holders whose premiums are due as well as procure a new gratuity policy for the other 403 employees.

 

The precedent of Moser Baer – NCLT[12] referred to by the NCLT in Agro Industries[13] was primarily on the issue of whether gratuity funds could be used to make up the “liquidation estate” and consequently available for distribution amongst other creditors in terms of Section 53 of the IB Code. Allowing the prayer of the workers, the NCLT held that amount due towards the workers cannot be used for the purposes of distribution in terms of Section 53 of the IB Code.

 

In Moser Baer – NCLT[14], the Court further directed the liquidator that in cases there is any deficiency to the provident, pension or the gratuity funds; the liquidator shall ensure that the fund is available in these accounts, “even if their employer has not diverted the requisite amount”.

 

This order was impugned by the State Bank of India – a secured creditor of Moser Baer in SBI v. Moser Baer Karamchari Union,[15] where the limited question that came before the NCLAT was whether the gratuity dues formed a part of the liquidation estate. Holding the answer in negative, the NCLAT decided not to interfere with the order of the NCLT.

 

However, complications arise from the facts that confronted the NCLAT in its ruling in Savan Godiwala v. Apalla Siva Kumar[16] (Siva Kumar) wherein the NCLAT had held that if there has been no fund set aside for the payment of gratuity, provident and pension dues then the liquidator cannot be directed to do so.

 

The ex employees of the corporate debtor herein had contended that since corporate debtor had failed to maintain a gratuity fund or obtain insurance for the fulfilment of its liability towards payment of the gratuity to its employees, the gratuity dues payable to the employees shall be treated as an asset of the employee lying in possession of corporate debtor and as such, cannot be treated as a claim at par with other creditors.

 

In the counter the liquidator submitted that if there is no separate fund for gratuity payments, the same cannot be done from the running accounts of the corporate debtor, presumably because under the statutory scheme[17] of the IB Code the gratuity funds are excluded from the ambit of “liquidation estate”.

 

The NCLAT, firstly, discussed judicial precedent in Moser Baer – NCLAT[18] and Section 36(4)(a)(iii) as to how funds such as gratuity and provident funds do not form part of liquidation estate, therefore, are outside the purview of any discussion on “liquidation estate”. Secondly, it referred to Section 36(2)[19] of the IB Code to reason that the liquidator holds the funds in the “liquidation estate” in a fiduciary capacity for the purposes of distribution amongst creditors in terms of Section 53 of the IB Code, therefore such funds cannot be used for any other purpose except the distribution mechanism under Section 53 of the IB Code. Thirdly and finally, the NCLAT referred to the facts and circumstances, where there was no separate fund provided by the erstwhile management for the purposes of gratuity funds.

 

Resultantly, the NCLAT concluded:

  1. [i]n a case, where no fund is created by a company, in violation of the statutory provision of Section 4 of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, then in that situation also, the liquidator cannot be directed to make the payment of gratuity to the employees because the liquidator has no domain to deal with the properties of the corporate debtor, which are not part of the liquidation estate.[20]

 

The Agro Industries[21] case refers to a situation where funds for payment of gratuity have been set aside by the corporate debtor but are not enough to cover the dues. Siva Kumar[22] talks about a situation where the corporate debtor has failed to comply with its statutory obligation of creation of gratuity funds under the Payment of Gratuity Act – in such a situation no funds can be set aside by the liquidator since she/he lacks the domain to do so. Therefore, the ratio of Siva Kumar[23] seems to hold that unless there are funds specifically set aside for the payments of premium for gratuity; funds from the “liquidation estate” cannot be used for the payments of such payments. On the other hand, the Moser Baer – NCLT[24] as a matter of principle rules that provident, pension and gratuity funds should be kept duly furnished by the liqudiator even if the employer did not divert the requisite amount.

 

Conclusion

It is now a settled position of law that gratuity funds due towards the workers fall outside the scope of the liquidation estate, and cannot be used for payments of dues of other creditors.

 

That still leaves a difficult position (at least in equity) if the statutory duty to cover the workers with gratuity and provident is avoided purely on account of the illegality of the erstwhile management who originally did not create any funds for the payments of premiums towards these funds. The only consequence is that the workers stand to lose the rightful coverage.

 


† Akaant Kumar Mittal is an advocate at the Constitutional Courts, and National Company Law Tribunal, Delhi and Chandigarh. He is also a visiting faculty at the NUJS, Kolkata and the author of the commentary Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code – Law and Practice. 

†† 4th year law student at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. She can be contacted at lavanya218024@nujs.edu

[1] S. 33(1), Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

[2] S. 33(2), Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

[3] S. 33(3), Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

[4]Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

[5]IB Code, S. 36.

[6]S. 2(oo), Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

[7]2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 833 .

[8]2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 447.

[9] CA No 294/2019 in CP No (IB) 223/ALD/2018, order dated 10-12-2020 (NCLT).

[10] Ibid.

[11]2019 SCC OnLine NCLT 118.

[12]Ibid.

[13] CA No 294/2019 in CP No (IB) 223/ALD/2018, order dated 10-12-2020 (NCLT).

[14] 2019 SCC OnLine NCLT 118.

[15]2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 447.

[16]2020 SCC OnLine NCLAT 191.

[17]See IB Code, S. 36(4)(a)(iii).

[18] 2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 447.

[19]IB Code, S. 36(2) stipulates:

“(2) The liquidator shall hold the liquidation estate as a fiduciary for the benefit of all the creditors.”

[20]2020 SCC OnLine NCLAT 191.

[21] CA No 294/2019 in CP No (IB) 223/ALD/2018, order dated 10-12-2020 (NCLT).

[22] 2020 SCC OnLine NCLAT 191.

[23] Ibid.

[24] 2019 SCC OnLine NCLT 118.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has observed that if an employee occupies a quarter beyond the specified period, the penal rent would be the natural consequence and such penal rent can be adjusted against the dues payable including gratuity.

The Court was hearing an appeal arising from a Jharkhand High Court judgment with respect to the right of a retired employee to retain quarters since the retiral dues were not paid. The respondent superannuated from service of SAIL on 30.11.1997. During his service period, he was occupying a Quarter in Bokaro Steel City, which was retained by him after retirement, as the gratuity and other retiral dues were not settled to him by SAIL. It was SAIL’s case that it was entitled to withhold the gratuity of the employee for non-vacation of the company’s accommodation and no interest was payable on the same.

Placing reliance on the Supreme Court’s decision in Secretary, ONGC Ltd. v. V.U. Warrier, (2005) 5 SCC 245, it was submitted before the High Court that in view of the statutory Rules the withholding of the gratuity is permissible.

In Secretary, ONGC Ltd. v. V.U. Warrier, (2005) 5 SCC 245 it was held,

“It is no doubt true that pensionary benefits, such as gratuity, cannot be said to be “bounty”. Ordinarily, therefore, payment of benefit of gratuity cannot be withheld by an employer. In the instant case, however, it is the specific case of the Commission that the Commission is having a statutory status. In exercise of statutory powers under Section 32(1) of the Act, regulations known as the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (Death, Retirement and Terminal Gratuity) Regulations, 1969 have been framed by the Commission. In Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagatram Sardar Singh Raghuvanshi the Constitution Bench of this Court held that regulations framed by the Commission under Section 32 of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission Act, 1959 are statutory in nature and they are enforceable in a court of law.”

The High Court had observed,

“No penal rent could be levied from the appellants for the simple reason that the original writ petitioner was occupying the quarter in question after his retirement, for the fact that his retiral dues were not cleared by the Company.”

It, hence, held that the penal rent on the quarter in question could not be charged by the SAIL, rather only the normal rent was to be charged, and the amount of gratuity would carry the interest @ 6% per annum, as given to a similarly situated employee of SAIL itself, by the Supreme Court in Ram Naresh Singh v. Bokaro Steel Plant[1].

In Ram Naresh Singh Case, when the gratuity and the retiral dues of an employee were unpaid from the SAIL, the Supreme Court had ordered that the said amount be released alongwith the interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of retention of the amount till the date of actual payment, and in such circumstance, for retention of the quarter by the retired employee, only the normal rent (and not the penal rent) of the quarter was found to be leviable from the retired employee.

Relying on the said “order”, the High Court said,

“The original writ petitioner had a reasonable ground for retaining the quarter after his retirement as his retiral dues were not cleared by the Company, and subsequently, the quarter was also allotted in his favour for long term lease. As such, the original writ petitioner could not have been denied due interest on his retiral dues, which remained unpaid for a long time, and he even died without getting them. At the same time, he was also not liable to pay the penal rent on the Company’s accommodation retained by him.”

When the matter reached the Supreme Court, set aside the observations made by the High Court in paras 19 and 21 qua the principles of penal rent being charged and placed reliance on the judgment in Secretary, ONGC Ltd. v. V.U. Warrier, (2005) 5 SCC 245.

It further noted that the reliance placed in the impugned judgment on the case of Ram Naresh Singh case “is misplaced as is not even a judgment but an order in the given facts of the case.”

[Steel Authority of India Ltd. v. Raghabendra Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1063, order dated 15.12.2020]


[1] Civil Appeal No. 4740 of 2007, dated 31.03.2017

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Know Thy Judge| Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

National Company Law Tribunal
Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT): The Coram of Dr Deepti Mukesh (Judicial Member) and Sumita Purkayastha (Technical Member), reiterated that any shortfall in gratuity payable to employees has to be made over by the Resolution Professional and payment of dues has to be paid outside the waterfall mechanism provided under Section 53 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

The instant application was filed by Sandeep Tyagi on behalf of 52 Ex-Employees of MOSER BAER ELECTRONICS LTD. who sought directions to release the lawful dues of the ex-employees who submitted their resignation prior to the initiation of the CIRP process.

FACTS

Facts pertaining to the present case are that the Corporate Debtor is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MOSER BAER INDIA LIMITED. It is stated that all the employees were forced to resign by the ex-management by March 2019. Further, it was stated that, they were not paid their dues.

The dues were not settled by the ex-management of the Corporate Debtor citing financial instability.

As an application for CIRP was preferred by Autonix Lighting Private Limited (Operational Creditor) under Section 9 of the IBC on account of default. Mr Hemant Sharma was appointed at the Interim Resolution Professional of the Corporate Debtor.

Applicant stated that the Corporate debtor did not deposit Provident Fund till their dates of resignation respectively. The salary slips of the ex-employees show that Provident Fund was deducted every month but admittedly it was not deposited with the EPFO.

Applicant relied on the decision of Principal Bench in CA (PB) No. 19 (PB) of 2019 dated 19-03-2019 filed by the Moser Baer Karamchari Union of the MOSERBAER INDIA LIMITED (Holding Company) against the Resolution Professional in CP No. (IB) 378(PB)/2017 Alchemist Asset Reconstruction Co. Ltd. v. Moser Baer India Limited for release of their dues.

It was observed that the above-stated Order dated 19-03-2019 of the Adjudicating Authority had been challenged before the Appellate Authority. In the Order dated 19-08-2019, the Appellate Authority upheld the same and stated the following:

“Para 24- Once the liquidation estate/asset of the Corporate Debtor under Section 36(1) read with Section 36(3), do not include all sum due to any workman and employees from the provident fund, the pension fund and the gratuity fund, for the purpose of distribution of assets under Section 53, the provident fund, the pension fund and the gratuity fund cannot be included.

Para 25- The Adjudicating Authority having come to such finding that the aforesaid funds i.e., the provident fund, the pension fund and the gratuity fund do not come within the meaning of liquidation estate’ for the purpose of distribution of assets under Section 53. we find no ground to interfere with the impugned order dated 19th March, 2019.”

Bench while parting with the decision held that it would like to fall in line with the ratio laid down by the Principal Bench:

“…any shortfall in gratuity has to be made over by the Resolution Professional and payments of the dues has to be paid outside the waterfall mechanism.”

Bench directed the Resolution Professional to release the dues of the ex-employees and deposit the Provident Fund with EPFO and release Gratuity dues forthwith.[Autonix Lighting Industries (P) Ltd. v. Moser Baer Electronics Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine NCLT 1111, decided on 19-11-2020]


Advocates for parties:

For Resolution Professional: Milan Singh

For Applicant: Advocate Swarnendu Chatterjee


Ed. Note: See, however, the judgment of NCLAT in Savan Godiwala v. Apalla Siva Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine NCLAT 191.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: While deciding the petition in favour of the petitioner, Manish Kumar, J., prohibited the U.P. Government from adjusting the excess payment against gratuity.

The facts of the case are that the present petition had been filed by the petitioner for quashing the impugned order of District Development Officer, Sultanpur dated 21-01-2016 directing Senior Treasurer, Sultanpur to recover/adjust the excess payment made to the petitioner amounting to Rs 2,48,673 from his gratuity.

The petitioner retired from a Class III post on 31-01-2015. Vide order dated 31-1-2012 his grade pay was upgraded w.e.f. 01-12-2008 in pursuance of the Government orders at that point in time and the petitioner drew the increased grade pay till the date of his retirement.

Counsel for the petitioner, Vyas Narayan Shukla has contended that post one year of the petitioner’s retirement, the impugned order was passed in breach of the principles of natural justice as the petitioner was not served with any show cause, nor did he get any opportunity of hearing prior to the passing of the impugned order.

The State counsel argued that the impugned order has been passed in pursuance of the order dated 04-09-2013 passed by the Commissioner, Rural Development, Lucknow, U.P., wherein, the sanction of upgraded grade pay to the petitioner was held to be in contravention of relevant Government provisions, ordering the recovery of excess amount from the petitioner. The counsel for the respondent also exhibited a Request dated 06-07-2015 by the petitioner for fixation of his grade pay and sanction of pension after the necessary deduction of excess amount.

Upon careful examination of the facts, circumstances and arguments, the Court observed that the Commissioner was reticent about the manner in which relevant Government orders were transgressed.

The Court also remarked that even though the petitioner retired on 31-01-2015, his terminal benefits were withheld for a period of seven months, landing him in a predicament. It is clear that unpleasant treatment was meted out to the petitioner, exploiting his vulnerability thus compelling him into making the aforementioned request. Additionally, no person in his right frame of mind would go out of the way to give his assent for such an act of recovery.

Petitioner’s counsel cited the case of State of Punjab v. Rafiq Masih, (2015) 4 SCC 334 and the Court relied on the same while delivering the judgment in the present matter. The case lays down the circumstances under which recovery from retired employees is not permitted. The relevant para is quoted below for reference:

“18. It is not possible to postulate all situations of hardship, which would govern employees on the issue of recovery, where payments have mistakenly been made by the employer, in excess of their entitlement. Be that as it may, based on the decisions referred to herein above, we may, as a ready reference, summarise the following few situations, wherein recoveries by the employers, would be impermissible in law:

  • Recovery from employees belonging to Class-III and Class-IV service (or Group ‘C’ and Group ‘D’ service).
  • Recovery from retired employees, or employees who are due to retire within one year, of the order of recovery.
  • Recovery from employees, when the excess payment has been made for a period in excess of five years, before the order of recovery is issued.
  • Recovery in cases where an employee has wrongfully been required to discharge duties of a higher post, and has been paid accordingly, even though he should have rightfully been required to work against an inferior post.
  • In any other case, where the Court arrives at the conclusion, that recovery if made from the employee, would be iniquitous or harsh or arbitrary to such an extent, as would far outweigh the equitable balance of the employer’s right to recover.”

Later, the Court while rendering the judgment held that the recovery via deduction from gratuity has been approved and executed in ignorance of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 declaring the order dated 21-01-2016 as untenable. The respondents were directed to release the amount of Rs 2,48,673 along with an interest of 7% to the petitioner, calculated w.e.f. 31-01-2015 till the date of actual payment. Also, payment was to be effectuated within three months of service of a copy of the order.

In view of the above, the petition was allowed without costs.[Kapil Dev Chaturvedi v. State Of U.P, 2020 SCC OnLine All 933, decided on 24-07-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a 2:1 verdict, the 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, MR Shah and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has held that the disciplinary authority has powers to impose the penalty of dismissal/major penalty upon the employee even after his attaining the age of superannuation if the disciplinary proceedings were initiated while the employee was in service in view of the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules.

Issues before the Court

The Court was deciding the below mentioned issues and while all 3-judge agreed on the answer to the first Issue, Justice Rastogi, disagreed with the majority ruling in the second issue.

  • Issue 1: Whether is it permissible in law for the employer to withhold the payment of gratuity of the employee, even after his superannuation from service, because of the pendency of the disciplinary proceedings against him?
  • Issue 2: Where the departmental enquiry had been instituted against an employee while he was in service and continued after he attained the age of superannuation, whether the punishment of dismissal can be imposed on being found guilty of misconduct in view of Rule 34.2 of the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules, 1978 (CDA Rules) made by Mahanadi Coalfield Limited?

Issue 1:

All 3 judges unanimously held it is permissible for the employer to withhold gratuity even after retirement/superannuation during pendency of the disciplinary proceedings as per Rule 34.3 of the CDA Rules.

Rule 34.3 of the CDA Rules permits withholding of the gratuity amount during the pendency of the disciplinary proceedings, for ordering recovering from gratuity of the whole or part of any pecuniary loss caused to the company if have been guilty of offences/misconduct as mentioned in subsection 6 of Section 4 of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 or to have caused pecuniary loss to the company by misconduct or negligence, during his service. It further makes clear that Rule 34.3 for withholding of such a gratuity would be subject to the provisions of Section 7(3) and 7(3A) of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 in the event of delayed payment in the case of an employee who is fully exonerated. There is no inconsistency between sub-section 6 of Section 4 of the Payment of Gratuity Act and Rule 34.3 of the CDA Rules.

Also, once it is held that a major penalty which includes the dismissal from service can be imposed, even after the employee has attained the age of superannuation and/or was permitted to retire on attaining the age of superannuation, provided the disciplinary proceedings were initiated while the employee was in service, sub-­section 6 of Section 4 of the Payment of Gratuity Act shall be attracted and the amount of gratuity can be withheld till the disciplinary proceedings are concluded.

Issue 2:

Justice Shah, for himself and Justice Mishra

The punishment which is prescribed under Rule 27 of the CDA Rules, minor as well as major, both can be imposed. Apart from that, recovery can also be made of the pecuniary loss caused as provided in Rule 34.3 of the CDA Rules, which takes care of the provision under  sub­section (6) of Section 4  of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972. The recovery is in addition to a punishment that can be imposed after attaining the age of superannuation. The legal fiction provided in Rules 34.2 of the CDA Rules of deemed continuation in service has to be given full effect.

Considering the provisions of Rules 34.2 and 34.3 of the CDA Rules, the inquiry can be continued given the deeming fiction in the same manner as if the employee had continued in service and appropriate punishment, including that of dismissal can be imposed apart from the forfeiture of the gratuity wholly or partially including the recovery of the pecuniary loss as the case may be.

“Several service benefits would depend upon the outcome of the inquiry, such as concerning the period during which inquiry remained pending. It would be against the public policy to permit an employee to go scot­free after collecting various service benefits to which he would not be entitled, and the event of superannuation cannot come to his rescue and would amount to condonation of guilt. Because of the legal fiction provided under the rules, it can be completed in the same manner as if the employee had remained in service after superannuation, and appropriate punishment can be imposed.”

Further, various provisions of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 do not come in the way of departmental inquiry and as provided in Section 4(6) of Gratuity Act and Rule 34.3 of CDA Rules in case of dismissal gratuity can be forfeited wholly or partially, and the loss can also be recovered. An inquiry can be continued as provided under the relevant service rules as it is not provided in the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 that inquiry shall come to an end as soon as the employee attains the age of superannuation.

The Gratuity Act does not deal with the matter of disciplinary inquiry, it contemplates recovery from or forfeiture of gratuity wholly or partially as per misconduct committed and does not deal with punishments to be imposed and does not supersede the Rules 34.2 and 34.3 of the CDA Rules. The mandate of Section 4(6) of recovery of loss provided under Section 4(6)(a) and forfeiture of gratuity wholly or partially under Section 4(6)(b) is furthered by the Rules 34.2 and 34.3. If there cannot be any dismissal after superannuation, intendment of the provisions of Section 4(6) would be defeated.

Justice Rohatgi, dissenting

After conclusion of the disciplinary inquiry, if held guilty, indeed a penalty can be inflicted upon an employee/delinquent who stood retired from service and what should be the nature of penalty always depends on the relevant scheme of Rules and on the facts and circumstances of each case, but either of the substantive penalties specified under Rule 27 of the CDA Rules, 1978 including dismissal from service are not open to be inflicted on conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings and the punishment of forfeiture of gratuity commensurate with the nature of guilt may be inflicted upon a delinquent employee provided under Rule 34.3 of CDA Rules, 1978 read with sub­section (6) of Section 4 of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

[Chairman-­cum­-Managing Director, Mahanadi Coalfields Limited v. Rabindranath Choubey, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 470 , decided on 27.05.2020]

Jharkhand High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Dr S.N. Pathak, J., allowed the present petition, directing the respondents to make payment of the entire retiral benefits to the petitioner within 10 days.

The instant writ petition has been preferred by the petitioner for payment of his retiral dues i.e. pension, gratuity, arrears of pension and leave encashment and other benefits.

The facts of the case were that the petitioner was appointed to the post of Assistant Engineer under Rural Works Department on 28-03-1979 in the erstwhile State of Bihar. It is the case of the petitioner that he was denied the salary for several months and on several occasions without any rhyme and reason. The petitioner after his cadre allocation to the State of Jharkhand, superannuated from the services on 31-07-2011 from Rural Works Department, Work Division, Garhwa. The petitioner after superannuation in 2011, filed several representations for payment of retiral benefits but the respondents have not paid any heed to the same, therefore, the present petition.

Saibal Mitra, the counsel appearing for the petitioner urged that though the petitioner superannuated in the year 2011, he has not received a single farthing under the head of retiral benefits.

The High Court directed the Treasury Officer to immediately make payment of the entire retiral benefits to the petitioner within a period of 10 days since entire amount under the heads of retiral benefits have been sanctioned only a month’s back after eight years of the retirement. The Court also held that the Petitioner is entitled to retiral benefits along with 12% statutory interest. Reliance in this regard was placed on the judgment passed in case of Uma Agrawal v. State of U.P., (1999) 3 SCC 438 wherein it is settled principle of law that retiral benefits are not bounty to be given to the employees after retirement. Rather, it is the right of the employees to get retiral benefits.[Sukhram Prasad Mani v. State of Jharkhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 1137, decided on 20-08-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where the employees of Municipal Corporation governed by the Uttar Pradesh Municipal Corporation Act, 1959 claimed gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, the bench of MM Shantanagoudar and Hemant Gupta, JJ held that liberal payment of gratuity is in the interest of the employees, thus, the gratuity would be payable under the Payment of Gratuity Act.

Court noticed that the Payment of Gratuity Act is applicable to

(1) every factory, mine, oilfield, plantation, port and railway company;

(2) every shop or establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in relation to shops and establishments in a State, in which ten or more persons are employed, the said provision has two conditions, viz.

(i) a shop or establishments within the meaning of a State law and

(ii) in which ten or more persons are employed; and

(3) the establishments or class of establishments which Central Government may notify.

The Court, hence, said that in terms of the above said Section 1(3)(c) of the Act, the Central Government has published a notification on 08.01.1982 and specified Local Bodies in which ten or more persons are employed, or were employed, on any day of the preceding twelve months as a class of establishment to which this Act shall apply. It, therefore, held,

“Such notification makes it abundantly clear that the Act is applicable to the local bodies i.e., the Municipalities. Section 14 of the Act has given an overriding effect over any other inconsistent provision in any other enactment. … In view of Section 14 of the Act, the provision in the State Act contemplating payment of Gratuity will be inapplicable in respect of the employees of the local bodies.”

[Nagar Ayukt Nagar Nigam, Kanpur v. Sri Mujib Ullah Khan, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 462, decided on 02.04.2019]

Legislation UpdatesNotifications

Ministry of Finance has enhanced the income tax exemption for gratuity under Section 10 (10) (iii) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 to Rs 20 lakhs.  Shri Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State for Labour and Employment has expressed hope that this would benefit those employees of PSUs and other employees not covered by Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 and has thanked the Finance Minister for enhancing the exemption limit.

The ceiling of Gratuity amount under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 has been raised from time to time keeping in view over-all economic condition and employers capacity to pay and the salaries of the employees, which have been increased in private sector and in PSUs.  The latest such enhancement of ceiling of gratuity was made vide Government of India Notification dated 29-03-2018 under which the gratuity amount ceiling has been increased from Rs 10 lakhs to 20 lakhs w.e.f. 29-03-2018.

Ministry of Labour & Employment

Patna High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: The Division Bench comprising of A. P. Sahi, CJ and Anjana Mishra, J. allowed a civil writ petition seeking direction for release of gratuity to an employee who was accused of an economic offence.

Petitioner was accused of acquiring of assets disproportionate to his income. In a departmental proceeding initiated against him, a final order was passed whereby it was ordered that ten per cent of his pension amount shall be permanently deducted and he would be paid only subsistence allowance during the period of suspension. Even after three and a half years from lodging of the criminal case, neither any sanction was accorded by the department against him nor was any chargesheet submitted by the prosecution – Economic Offence Unit. Thus, the petitioner filed an instant petition seeking the release of full amount of gratuity payable to him and a direction for release of the full amount due to him by way of unutilized leave.

The Court noted that despite the fact that charges of disproportionate income were not established against the petitioner in the departmental enquiry, ten percent of his pension was withheld as per Bihar Pension Rules, 1950. It was opined that no order of punishment had been imposed in relation to gratuity, and therefore withholding of gratuity had no rationale. Relying on Rule 43(b) of the Pension Rules and Full Bench judgment of the Patna High Court in Arvind Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar, 2018 SCC OnLine Pat 749, the present Court directed the amount of gratuity payable to the petitioner to be released forthwith along with interest on the same from the date that amount became payable till the date of payment. [Lakshmi Kant Patel v. State of Bihar, 2018 SCC OnLine Pat 2250, decided on 17-12-2018]