A Supreme Court Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Bela M Trivedi has held that Pay Commissions may be justified in recommending different pay scales for similar posts. Further, the Court also held if the State accepts such differentiation based on a reasonable classification, then the Court will not interfere.

Senior Advocate R Bala Subramanyam appeared for the Appellant, while Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid appeared for the Respondents.

In this case, the Indian Navy Civilian Design Officers Association approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and sought parity in payment given to Junior Design Officers (JDOs) and Civilian Technical Officers (CTOs), consequent to the Fifth Central Pay Commission. Upto the Fifth Central Pay Commission, the pay scales of all the grades and disciplines were the same. However, after its implementation, the pay scale of CTOs was Rs. 7500-12000, whereas that of the JDOs was Rs. 7450-11500.

The CAT asked the Ministry of Finance to reconsider the request. However, the Ministry rejected the same. The Association approached the CAT again, which allowed the application. Aggrieved, the Union Government filed a petition before the Delhi High Court, which was dismissed. Consequently, they approached the Supreme Court.

The main question for consideration before the Supreme Court was whether the decision taken by the Tribunal and the High Court in awarding parity in payment was justified.

The Court noted that "the power of judicial review of the High Courts in the matter of classification of posts and determination of pay scale is no more res integra. It has been consistently held by this Court in plethora of decisions that equation of posts and equation of salaries is a complex matter which is best left to an expert body unless there is cogent material on record to come to a firm conclusion that a grave error had crept in while fixing the pay scale for a given post and the interference of the Court was absolutely necessary to undo the injustice."

Further, on the perusal of a catena of Judgments, the Court observed that "it clearly emerges that though the doctrine “equal pay for equal work” is not an abstract doctrine and is capable of being enforced in a Court of Law, the equal pay must be for equal work of equal value."

In furtherance of the same, the Court was of the considered view that "The equation of posts and determination of pay scales is the primary function of the Executive and not of the Judiciary. The Courts therefore should not enter upon the task of job evaluation which is generally left to the expert bodies like the Pay Commissions which undertake rigorous exercise for job evaluation after taking into consideration several factors".

Referring to the facts of the case, the Court noted that "The probation period in case of CTOs is longer than that of JDOs. The duties and responsibilities of both the posts are different and the promotional avenues also have different duration and different criteria."

Holding that the Tribunal and the High Court had committed a gross error in interfering with the pay scales recommended by the Fifth Central Pay Commission, the Court observed "The powers of judicial review in the matters involving financial implications are also very limited. The wisdom and advisability of the Courts in the matters concerning the finance, are ordinarily not amenable to judicial review unless a gross case of arbitrariness or unfairness is established by the aggrieved party."

Consequently, the orders passed by the High Court and the Tribunal were quashed and set aside.

Cause Title: Union of India v. Indian Navy Civilian Design Officers Association and Anr.

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