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

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench of K.M. Joseph and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ. while addressing the matter, observed that,

Public service – like any other, pre-supposes that the state employer has an element of latitude or choice on who should enter its service. Norms, based on principles, govern essential aspects such as qualification, experience, age, number of attempts permitted to a candidate, etc. These, broadly constitute eligibility conditions required of each candidate or applicant aspiring to enter public service.

Appellant (Commissioner of Police, Delhi) on being aggrieved by the Delhi High Court decision by which the respondents were directed to be considered for appointed to the post of Constable of Delhi Police, filed the present appeal.

Factual Background

In the year 2009, an advertisement was issued wherein applications were invited for the cadre of constable in the Delhi Police.

Applicant Deepa Tomar in her application did not disclose the fact that she was facing criminal trial and the criminal cases were ended in compromise. Standing Committee while assessing the suitability of the candidates deferred Deepa Tomar’s consideration as she was facing trial in criminal proceedings and was charged with committing the offence of kidnapping under Section 364 of Penal Code, 1860.

Division Bench of High Court allowed the petitions of the candidate and quashed their rejection.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Bench noted on perusal of the Standing Order along with Annexure-A that in relation to certain offences, acquittal or exoneration of an accused candidate, per se would not entitle her or him to consideration.

Upon an overall analysis of the Standing Order, this Court is of the opinion that an acquittal or discharge in a criminal proceeding would not per se enable the candidate to argue that the authorities can be compelled to select and appoint her or him.

Decisions for Individual case:

Civil Appeal arising from SLP(C) 13285/2014 (Raj Kumar)

The Screening Committee went through the case records and noted that a compromise was recorded with the approval of the Court with respect to two offences whereas, in the graver offences, the candidate stood trial but was acquitted on account as there was not sufficient evidence and that “material witnesses” did not support the prosecution story.

In Court’s opinion, the compromise recorded in respect of the offences, that were compounded (and the acquittal for lack of evidence) is apparently so on account of material witnesses not appearing or turning hostile, was a relevant factor that the Screening Committee could and did consider.

Shiv Singh

Shiv Singh, respondent, in another case was accused of committing offences punishable under Sections 323, 341, 325, 34 IPC.

The Screening committee considered the charge sheet and the order of the trial court, and having regard to the nature of offences involved, was of the view that the candidate was not suitable, because of his propensity to indulge in such behavior without fear of law. The High Court faulted the Screening Committee’s order, as a mechanical exercise of power, and reasoned that no charge of assaulting the modesty of a woman was made against the candidate and that the charge of theft was unsubstantiated.

Prem Singh Choudhary, SLP (C) No. 4304 of 2013

It was alleged that, he committed offences punishable under Sections 143/323/341 IPC.

It was held that in the light of the materials before the police, the informant had given an exaggerated account, of the incident, which the Screening Committee rejected, mechanically.

In Court’s opinion, scrutiny of the materials, by the High Court, was as if it was sitting in appeal over the decision of the Screening Committee. That body had the benefit of the overall record of the candidate, in the context of considering his or her suitability. Its conclusions should not have been brushed aside, on the ground that it showed the mechanical application of mind, or that the materials did not show involvement in a grave or serious offence.

Deepa Tomar

Screening committee was of the view that the acquittal was by granting benefit of doubt, and that the candidate was unfit for appointment as a Constable (Female) in the Delhi Police because she was accused of having committed a heinous crime i.e. of abduction and that the victim, her husband (Jitender) was still untraceable.

Court expressed its view that,

Courts exercising judicial review cannot second guess the suitability of a candidate for any public office or post. Absent evidence of malice or mindlessness (to the materials), or illegality by the public employer, an intense scrutiny on why a candidate is excluded as unsuitable renders the courts’ decision suspect to the charge of trespass into executive power of determining suitability of an individual for appointment.

 Lastly, expressing its view with norms and its interrelation with judicial review, Bench held that,

Judicial review, under the Constitution, is permissible to ensure that those norms are fair and reasonable, and applied fairly, in a non-discriminatory manner. However, suitability is entirely different; the autonomy or choice of the public employer, is greatest, as long as the process of decision making is neither illegal, unfair, or lacking in bona fides.

Holding that, certain types of offences, like molestation of women, or trespass and beating up, assault, causing hurt or grievous hurt, (with or without use of weapons), of victims, in rural settings, can also be indicative of caste or hierarchy-based behaviour. Each case is to be scrutinized by the concerned public employer, through its designated officials- more so, in the case of recruitment for the police force, who are under a duty to maintain order, and tackle lawlessness, since their ability to inspire public confidence is a bulwark to society’s security, appeals were allowed. [Commissioner of Police v. Raj Kumar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 637, decided on 25-8-021]