The Supreme Court in an appeal filed by the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH), Government of India, and its Director General has held that the court or tribunal must be circumspect in granting the interim relief for continuation in service unless prima facie evidence of unimpeachable character is produced.

The two appellants challenged the judgment passed by the Orissa High Court whereby it was held that the respondent was entitled to the benefit of enhancement of retirement age from 60 to 65 years as applicable to the AYUSH doctors working under the Ministry of AYUSH.

The two-Judge Bench of CJI D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice J.B. Pardiwala noted, “The Court or the Tribunal should, therefore, be slow and circumspect in granting interim relief for continuation in service, unless prima facie evidence of unimpeachable character is produced because if the public servant succeeds, he can always be compensated. But if he fails, he would have enjoyed undeserved benefit of extended service and merely caused injustice to his immediate junior. At the cost of repetition, we may state that the High Court was conscious of the fact as very much recorded in the impugned order that the respondent No. 1 was appointed as a Research Assistant and was functioning as a Researcher under the Research Council and his service conditions were also different compared to the AYUSH doctors serving with the Ministry of AYUSH.”

The Bench said that it fails to understand as to how can the Court fix the age of superannuation of an employee saying that he is very much devoted towards his job.

“The age of superannuation is always governed by statutory rules & other service conditions”, added the Bench.

Senior Advocate Aman Lekhi appeared for the appellants while Senior Advocate Col. R. Balasubramanian appeared for the respondent.

In this case, the respondent was appointed by the Council as a Research Assistant and the Government of India in its Ministry of Health and Family Welfare vide letter addressed to the Council, approved the decision of the Council to enhance the benefit of extension in age of retirement from 58 years to 60 years in respect of employees of the Council in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). The Union Cabinet took a decision to enhance the age of superannuation up to 65 years for the AYUSH doctors working under the said Ministry and Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) Hospitals. The Ministry clarified that the effect of the Cabinet decision would be applicable only to the AYUSH doctors directly working under it.

The superannuation age, was, thereafter enhanced to 65 years for the AYUSH doctors. The respondent preferred a representation addressed to the appellant with an appeal to enhance his age of superannuation up to 65 years, i.e., up to 2023 instead of 2018. Such a representation was rejected and a notification was issued by the Council stating that the respondent would retire in 2018 upon attaining the age of 60 years. The matter, therefore, went to CAT (Central Administrative Tribunal) which declined to grant relief to the respondent and then the High Court protected the respondent being aggrieved by which the appellants approached the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the above facts observed, “We may only say that the entire approach of the High Court towards the present litigation was incorrect. We are a bit disappointed to observe that the High Court dealt with the present litigation in a very casual manner. First, the High Court went to the extent of granting interim relief extending the period of service beyond 60 years till the disposal of the Original Petition by the CAT. By virtue of such interim order which the High Court ordinarily should not grant, the respondent No. 1 although was to retire in 2018 yet continued in service till 2021. It is only when this Court stayed the operation of the impugned order passed by the High Court while issuing notice that the service of the respondent No. 1 came to an end.”

The Court said that the High Court misdirected itself saying that the benefit of enhanced age of superannuation can also be granted if the duties performed are the same like AYUSH doctors.

The Court before closing the matter further observed, “… we have no hesitation in reaching to the conclusion that a writ of certiorari is a high prerogative writ and should not be issued on mere asking. For the issue of a writ of certiorari, the party concerned has to make out a definite case for the same and is not a matter of course. To put it pithily, certiorari shall issue to correct errors of jurisdiction, that is to say, absence, excess or failure to exercise and also when in the exercise of undoubted jurisdiction, there has been illegality.”

The Court added that it should be well remembered at the cost of repetition that certiorari is not appellate but only supervisory and that only a patent error can be corrected but not a wrong decision.

“It is, therefore, clear that in all findings on matters of fact and interpretation of law except in cases of defective jurisdiction, the decision of the tribunal must be deemed to be final. … It being open to the tribunals to come to one or the other conclusion on the materials before them, it cannot by any means be said that the decisions are incorrect so as to attract the extraordinary jurisdiction for interference by a writ of certiorari”, held the Court.

The Court concluded that the purpose of certiorari is only to confine the inferior tribunals within their jurisdiction, so as to avoid the irregular exercise, or the non-exercise or the illegal assumption of it and not to correct errors of finding of fact or interpretation of law committed by them in the exercise of powers vested in them under the statute.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the High Court.

Cause Title- Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences & Anr. v. Bikartan Das & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2023 INSC 733)

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