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Established Status Quo Brought About By Judgments Interpreting Local/State Laws Should Not Be Lightly Departed From


Court :
Supreme Court of India

Brief :
In an interesting, fresh and significant development, the Supreme Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Navin Chandra Dhoundiyal vs. State of Uttarakhand in Civil Appeal No. 3493/2020 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 10943/2020) along with four other appeals has cogently, categorically and convincingly observed that long standing or established status quo brought about by judgments interpreting local or state laws, should not be lightly departed from. Very rightly so! This commendable judgment was delivered on October 16, 2020 by a two Judge Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat.

Citation :
Civil Appeal No. 3493/2020

In an interesting, fresh and significant development, the Supreme Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Navin Chandra Dhoundiyal vs. State of Uttarakhand in Civil Appeal No. 3493/2020 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 10943/2020) along with four other appeals has cogently, categorically and convincingly observed that long standing or established status quo brought about by judgments interpreting local or state laws, should not be lightly departed from. Very rightly so! This commendable judgment was delivered on October 16, 2020 by a two Judge Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat.

To start with, Justice S Ravindra Bhat who authored this notable judgment for himself and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit sets the ball rolling in para 1 by first and foremost observing that, "Leave granted. The parties were heard finally in these appeals. The common question which arises for decision is as to the correct interpretation of a condition in the respondent-University’s statutes regarding the date of superannuation of its teachers."

To put things in perspective, the Bench then points out in para 2 that, "All the appellants are working as Professors in various disciplines, in the respondent Kumaun University (hereafter "the University"). They are aggrieved by an office order dated 21.12.2019 which set out their respective dates of retirement (which were the last dates in the months they attained the age of superannuation, i.e. 65 years). The appellants relied on Statute No. 16.24 of the University, applicable to them, contending that they were entitled to continue beyond the last date of the month in which each of them attained the age of superannuation, till the "30th of June following" in terms of that provision. That statute reads as follows:

"16.24 (1) The age of superannuation of a teacher of the University, whether governed by the new scale of pay or not shall be sixty-five years.

(2) No extension in service beyond the age of superannuation shall be granted to any teacher after the date of commencement of these statutes.

Provided that a teacher whose date of superannuation does not fall on June 30, shall continue on service till the end of the academic session, that is June 30, following and will be treated as on re-employment from the date immediately following his superannuation till June 30, following.

(Provided further that such physically and mentally fit teachers shall be reappointed for a further period of two years, after June 30, following the date of their superannuation as were imprisoned for taking part in freedom struggle of 1992 and are getting freedom fighters pension)

Provided also that the teachers who were re-appointed in accordance with the second proviso as it existed prior to the commencement to the Kumaun University (Twenty-third amendment) First Statute, 1988 and a period of one year has not elapsed after the expiry of the period of their reemployment, may be considered for re-appointment for a further period of one year.""

As it turned out, it is then stated in para 3 that, "The appellants were aggrieved by the office order dated 21.12.2019 and approached the Uttarakhand High Court in writ proceedings. They argued that they were entitled to continue in service, on extension up to the end of June, 2021. They had relied on a previous judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court – Dr. Indu Singh v. State of Uttarakhand 2017 SCC Online 1527. In that judgment, the Division Bench had, on an interpretation of the relevant provisions (which were worked identically to Statute No. 16.24 as in this case) held that those who retire after 30th June are "entitled to continue till the end of the academic year". The Division Bench placed emphasis and importance on the legislative intent "to cater to the supreme need to not adversely affect the academic activities of the institution and to safeguard the interest of the students.""

To state the obvious, para 4 then brings out that, "The impugned judgment rejected the appellants’ writ petition, holding that Indu Singh (supra) could not be considered as a binding authority. It was also held that Statute No. 16.24 applies to the teachers of the university. The Division Bench said that Statute No. 16.24 (2) specifically places an embargo on extension in service beyond the age of superannuation. Statute No. 16.24 (2.1) – according to the Division Bench, merely provided that if the superannuation were not to fall on June, 30th, the teacher shall continue in the service till end of the academic session i.e. June, 30th and the same will be treated as re-employment. The Division Bench was of the opinion that whenever the superannuation of an employee falls within the month of June, in that event, his or her retirement would stand extended till the end of June of that particular month. The words used "of the end of the academic session", was held to be "misleading". Further, according to the Division Bench, the end of an academic session was not "fixated as on June, even though, most of the universities and their academic session in June 30th. It is not a matter of rule that the same happens everywhere. Therefore, the said concession has been granted only for the month of June." In other words, the impugned judgment considered Indu Singh (supra) to be limited to holding that the service of an employee or teacher retiring in a given month; would be "extendable only till the end of the month and not more." The impugned judgment stated that if the appellants were right, every officer would get an extension for a year or so, which could never be the intention of the university or of the government."

Significantly, the Bench then states in para 9 that, "This Court is of the opinion that on a plain interpretation of Statute No. 16.24, including the proviso in question, it is clearly apparent that firstly each teacher attains the age of superannuation on completing 65 years {Statute No. 1624 (1)}. Secondly, no teacher who attains the age of superannuation has a right or entitlement to re-employment; in fact, the opening expression "No teacher" appears to rule out re-employment of superannuated teachers {Statute No. 16.24 (2)}. Thirdly, and importantly the proviso {to Statute 16.24 (2)} carves out an exception to the main provision, inasmuch as it provides that a teacher whose "date of superannuation does not fall on June 30, shall continue in service till the end of the academic session, that is June 30, following and will be treated as on re-employment from the date immediately following his superannuation till June, 30, following.""

Most significantly, the Bench then minces no words to state upfront in para 13 that, "The above analysis would show that the view of the Uttarakhand High Court, as also the Allahabad High Court (now settled by the full bench decision) consistently have been that teachers superannuating are to be treated as re-employed or allowed to continue, in the larger interest of the pupils, has prevailed. If the view that found acceptance with the impugned judgment were to prevail, there would be avoidable disruption in teaching; the likely delay in filing vacancies caused mid-session cannot but be to the detriment of the students. That apart, this court is also of the opinion that if the state or the university wished to depart from the prevailing understanding, appropriate measures could have been taken, putting all the concerned parties to notice, through amendments. In the absence of any such move, the departure from the prevailing understanding through a discordant judgment, as the impugned judgment is, injects uncertainty. Long ago, this court had underlined this aspect while ruling that long standing or established status quo brought about by judgments interpreting local or status quo brought about by judgments interpreting local or state laws, should not be lightly departed from, even by this Court, in Raj Narain Pandey v Sant Prasad Tewari & Ors 1973 (2) SCR 835 in the following words:

"In the matter of the interpretation of a local statute, the view taken by the High Court over a number of years should normally be adhered to and not disturbed. A different view would not only introduce an element of uncertainty and confusion, it would also have the effect of unsettling transactions which might have been entered into on the faith of those decisions. The doctrine of stare decisis can be aptly invoked in such a situation. As observed by Lord Evershed in M.R. in the case of Brownsea Haven Properties v. Poole Corpn. (1958) [Ch] 574), there is well-established authority for the view that a decision of long standing on the basis of which many persons will in the course of time have arranged their affairs should not lightly be disturbed by a superior court not strictly bound itself by the decision.""

Of course, it is a no-brainer that the Bench then very rightly holds in para 14 that, "This Court is consequently of the opinion that the impugned judgment is in error. The very object and intent of the proviso to Statute No. 16.24 is to avoid the disruption caused by discontinuity of service of a teaching staff employee or official mid-session. Therefore, the view in Indu Singh (supra), dealing with an identical statute, was correctly interpreted; the other decisions which dealt with Statute No. 16.24 [Professor Sri Krishna Khandelwal and Binod Kumar Singh (supra)] too were correctly decided."

Finally, it is then held in the last para 15 that, "For the foregoing reasons, the impugned judgment and orders of the High Court are set aside. The appellants are entitled, consequently, to continue till the end of the following June on re-employment. If any of them has been superannuated, he or she shall be issued with orders of reinstatement, with full salary for the period they were out of employment, and allowed to continue till the following June, on re-employment basis. The appeals are allowed without any order as to costs."

Needless to say, the bottom-line of this notable ruling is that the long standing or established status quo brought about by judgments interpreting local or state laws should not be lightly departed from. There must be cogent, concrete and convincing reasons for doing so. All the courts must always bear this in mind! There can be no denying or disputing it!

To conclude, all the courts from the top to the bottom must always make it a point to adhere to this basic principle of law as laid down and expounded very rightly earlier also and reiterated in this case yet once again very rightly by a two Judge Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat for this is exactly the primary reason that why this latest judgment has acquired so much prominence and became landmark and laudable!

 

Sanjeev Sirohi
on 22 October 2020
Published in Others
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