The Supreme Court held that writ petition against Air India Limited is not maintainable as it ceased to be the 'State' or its instrumentality after its take over by private company.

The Court observed that once the erstwhile government/public company has been taken over by a private entity and is not performing any public duty, therefore, such company cannot be subjected to writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

A group of appeals were filed assailing the common impugned judgment and order passed by the Division Bench of Bombay High Court thereby dismissing four writ petitions instituted by the Appellants being the former employees of one of the Respondents i.e. Air India Limited (‘AIL’) as members of its cabin crew force. Appellants came to be employed in AIL in the late 1980s and all of them retired between 2016 and 2018.

The Bench of Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta, while answering to the main contention whether AIL can be subjected to writ jurisdiction after being taken over by a private entity, observed, “Once the respondent No.3(AIL) ceased to be covered by the definition of State within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, it could not have been subjected to writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India… The Respondent No.3 (AIL), the erstwhile Government run airline having been taken over by the private company Talace India Pvt. Ltd., unquestionably, is not performing any public duty inasmuch as it has taken over the Government company Air India Limited for the purpose of commercial operations, plain and simple, and thus no writ petition is maintainable against respondent No.3(AIL).”

Senior Advocate Sanjay Singhavi appeared for the Appellants whereas ASG Aishwarya Bhati, Senior Advocates Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, S. Niranjan Reddy and R Balasubramanian appeared for the Respondents.

Out of four writ petitions, two of them were filed for the alleged stagnation in pay and non-promotion of the employees in which one additionally raised issues of anomalies in the fixation of pay arising out of and for implementation of the report of the Justice Dharmadhikari Committee.

The other two writ petitions pertained to the delay in payment of wage revision arrears and the withdrawal of eight out of the seventeen allowances already paid to the employees retrospectively. In each of the writ petitions, violation of Articles 14, 16, and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950, was pleaded.

The questions of law before the Court for adjudication were, “(i) Whether respondent No.3(AIL) after having been taken over by a private corporate entity could have been subjected to writ jurisdiction of the High Court?(ii) Whether the appellants herein could have been non-suited on account of the fact that during pendency of their writ petitions, the nature of the employer changed from a Government entity to a private entity? (iii) Whether the delay in disposal of the writ petition could be treated a valid ground to sustain the claim of the appellants even against the private entity?”

The Court further said, “There is no dispute that the Government of India having transferred its 100% share to the company Talace India Pvt Ltd., ceased to have any administrative control or deep pervasive control over the private entity and hence, the company after its disinvestment could not have been treated to be a State anymore after having taken over by the private company. Thus, unquestionably, the respondent No.3(AIL) after its disinvestment within any ceased to be a State or its instrumentality within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India.”

The Court, concerning the second issue, observed, “The respondent No.3(AIL)- employer was a government entity on the date of filing of the writ petitions, which came to be decided after a significant delay by which time, the company had been disinvested and taken over by a private player. Since, respondent No.3 employer had been disinvested and had assumed the character of a private entity not performing any public function, the High Court could not have exercised the extra ordinary writ jurisdiction to issue a writ to such private entity. The learned Division Bench has taken care to protect the rights of the appellants to seek remedy and thus, it cannot be said that the appellants have been non-suited in the case. It is only that the appellants would have to approach another forum for seeking their remedy. Thus, the question No.2 is decided against the appellants.”

As regards, the third issue the Court said that the delay in disposal of the writ petitions could have been a ground to continue with and maintain the writ petitions because the forum that is the High Court where the writ petitions were instituted could not have issued a writ to the private respondent which had changed hands in the intervening period and, hence, the question No. 3 was also decided against the Appellants.

Accordingly, the Court upheld the view of the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court in denying equitable relief to the Appellants, hence, appeals were dismissed.

Cause Title: Mr. R.S. Madireddy and Anr. Etc. v. Union of India & Ors. Etc. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 425)


Appellants: Senior Advocate Sanjay Singhavi, Advocates Sandeep Sudhakar Deshmukh, Rohini Thyagarajan, Shanvi Punamiya, Nishant Sharma, Akshay Arora, Swapnil Anil Walde, Nupur Kumar, Karan Nagrath, Ambuj Tiwari, R. Gopalakrishnan, R Sudhinder, Dattatray Vyas and Shashank Dixit.

Respondents: ASG Aishwarya Bhati, Senior Advocates Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, S. Niranjan Reddy, R Balasubramanian, Advocates B.L.N. Shivani, Manisha Chava, Shashwat Parihar, Amrish Kumar, Avishkar Singhvi, Aishwarya Singhvi, Rukmini Bobde, Amit Kumar Mishra, Azeem Samuel, Mitakshara Goyal, Kunal Chatterji, L Nidhiram Sharma, Kaustubh Seth, Akhil Kumar Kulshrestha, Akhila, Shivam Singhania, Yashika Nagpal, Vivek Kumar, Naved Ahmed, Amlan Kumar, Santosh Kumar Pandey, Santosh Kumar Vishwakarma, Debashish Mishra and Mohit Singh.

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