The Supreme Court has dismissed a civil appeal filed by a group of teachers of Homeopathic Medical Colleges, Kerala who sought for the increase in their retirement age from 55 years to 65 years on the ground that it was purely a policy matter.

Members of the teaching faculty in Homeopathic Medical Colleges were aggrieved by the judgement passed by the Kerala High Court whereby it rejected the prayer for enhancing the age of retirement by extending the benefit of a Government Order which increased the retirement age of Doctors in the Medical category under the Medical Education Service from 55 years to 60 years with retrospective effect from May 1, 2009.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Rajesh Bindal held, “It is well-settled that the age of retirement is purely a policy matter that lies within the domain of the State Government. It is not for the courts to prescribe a different age of retirement from the one applicable to Government employees under the relevant service Rules and Regulations. Nor can the Court insist that once the State had taken a decision to issue a similar Government Order that would extend the age of retirement of the staff teaching in the Homeopathic Colleges as was issued in respect of different categories of teaching staff belonging to the Dental stream and the Ayurvedic stream, the said G.O. ought to have been made retrospective, as was done when G.O. dated 14th January, 2010 was issued by the State and given retrospective effect from 1st May, 2009. These are all matters of policy that engage the State Government.”

The Bench said that such a decision lies exclusively within the domain of the Executive and it is for the State to take a call as to whether the circumstances demand that a decision be taken to extend the age of superannuation in respect of a set of employees or not.

Advocates A. Raghunath and Sanand Ramakrishnan appeared for the appellants while Advocate C. K. Sasi appeared for the respondents.

Brief Facts -

In 2010, the State issued a Government Order (G.O.) recording that there was a shortage of qualified and experienced medical faculties in several subjects in Government Medical Colleges in the State and that on account of the age of retirement of the faculty including medical doctors at 55 years, several departments were facing dearth of medical doctors which, was adversely affecting post graduate medical courses. Aggrieved by the exclusion of doctors/professors of Government Homeopathic Colleges from the purview of the captioned G.O., the appellants filed a writ petition in the High Court praying for extension of the benefit of the said G.O. to Homeopathic Doctors working in Government Homeopathic Colleges.

The writ petition was disposed of by the High Court with a direction issued to the State to consider the pending representations of the appellants and pass an order within three months. Since the State did not take any decision on their representations, the appellants approached the High Court once again and filed another writ petition, which was dismissed. The appellants then filed an appeal which was also dismissed by the Division Bench. Therefore, the matter was before the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the above facts observed, “It must be assumed that the State would have weighed all the pros and cons before arriving at any decision to grant extension of age. As for the aspect of retrospectivity of such a decision, let us not forget, whatever may be the cut-off date fixed by the State Government, some employees would always be left out in the cold. But that alone would not make the decision bad; nor would it be a ground for the Court to tread into matters of policy that are best left for the State Government to decide.”

The Court said that the appellants cannot claim a vested right to apply the extended age of retirement to them retrospectively and assume that by virtue of the enhancement in age ordered by the State at a later date, they would be entitled to all the benefits including the monetary benefits flowing from G.O. on the ground of legitimate expectation.

“No doubt, the appellants were the first to raise the battle cry when they filed not one, but two writ petitions in the High Court for extending them the benefit of G.O. dated 14th January, 2010. But it is a matter of record that there was no positive order granted in their favour throughout. Even in the present proceedings, no interim order was passed in favour of the appellants who have superannuated in the meantime. The clock cannot be put back for them by reading retrospectivity in the G.O. dated 09th April, 2012, when the State elected not to insert any such clause and evidently intended to apply it with prospective effect”, noted the Court.

The Court added that the idea behind extension of retirement age of doctors was to take care of the emergency situation caused by shortage of doctors, which was resulting in affecting the studies or patient care and it was not merely to grant benefits to a particular class. It further said that the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation does not have any role to play in matters that are strictly governed by the service regulations as it is an exercise undertaken by the State in discharge of its public duties and hence, should not brook undue interference by the court.

Accordingly, the Apex Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the judgment of the High Court.

Cause Title- Prakasan M.P. and Others v. State of Kerala and Another (Neutral Citation: 2023 INSC 772)

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