Service Jurisprudence – LIC Bound By Mandate Of Articles 14 and 16 – SC Directs Verification Of Workers' Claims
A three-judge Bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Suryakant, and Justice Vikram Nath while refusing to direct LIC to carry out mass absorption of over 11,000 workers has held that LIC as a statutory body is bound by the mandate of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
The Court also observed that as a public employer, the recruitment process of the corporation must meet the constitutional standard of a fair and open process.
Further, in this context, the Bench noted –
"Allowing for back-door entries into service is an anathema to public service."
Senior Counsel Mr. ANS Nadkarni appeared for LIC, Senior Counsels Dr. Manish Singhvi, Mr. Pallav Sishodia, Mr. R Singaravelan, Mr. V Prakash and Mr. Salman Khurshid appeared for the Unions, Workers, and Associations during the proceedings before the Apex Court.
In this case, the issue was regarding the regularization of part-time workers who were employed from 20th May 1985 to 4th March 1991. Previously in the 1980s, various rounds of Court proceedings took place concerning the absorption of temporary workers. This led to a compromise in 1988 when a case was instituted before the Apex Court. Then, LIC had agreed to absorb the part-time workers who had worked from 1st Jan 1982 to 20th May 1985. The Apex Court had then ratified the compromise terms in the case of LIC v. Their Workmen in the year 1989.
The Apex Court in the case of E Prabavathy v. LIC in 1992 had approved the scheme for regularizing workers who were given ad hoc appointments for 85 days in any two continuous years between 20th May 1985 to 23rd October 1992.
The issue which was dealt with by the Court was –
- Whether the compromise terms were applicable to the part-time workers in the current round of litigation.
The Apex Court took note of the contention of the Senior Counsel Mr. ANS Nadkarni who assailed the Dogra Report that verified the claims of the workers on the ground that the remit before the Central Government Industrial Tribunal cum Labour Courts (CGIT) was only to verify the claims and not to adjudicate upon them. In this context, the Court held that it was evident that the Dogra Report suffered from clear and manifest errors.
Further, the Bench also noted that LIC had objected to the findings of the Dogra Report as the claims that were submitted by the Unions, Associations and individual workers contained duplicate entries.
The Court also observed that the Dogra Report had considered the workers who were clearly outside the ambit of its remit. In this context, the Bench held that the deficiency of the Report in carrying out a proper verification of the claims stood clearly established.
The Court further held –
"…LIC as a statutory corporation is bound by the mandate of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. As a public employer, the recruitment process of the corporation must meet the constitutional standard of a fair and open process. Allowing for back-door entries into service is an anathema to public service."
The Court further noted that pursuant to the decision of the Apex Court in the case of Tamil Nadu Terminated Full Time Temporary LIC Employees Association v. Life Insurance Corporation of India and E Prabavathy (Supra) the situation has become more complicated due to the conflicting decisions of the Court.
The Court held that the remit of CGIT which resulted in the Dogra Report was limited to the verification of claims and not the adjudication of rights and liabilities of workers.
Additionally, the Bench opined that the Dogra Report was flawed because it failed to carry out an accurate verification of only those Class III workers who had put in at least 85 days of work in a period of two years and Class IV workers who had put in 70 days of work in a period of three years.
The Bench also observed –
"A public employer such as LIC cannot be directed to carry out a mass absorption of over 11,000 workers on such flawed premises without following a recruitment process which is consistent with the principles of equality of opportunity governed by Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. Such an absorption would provide the very back-door entry, which negates the principle of equal opportunity and fairness in public employment."
While holding that the dispute is now of antiquity tracking back to nearly four decades, the Bench concluded that the claim of those workers who are duly found upon verification to meet the threshold conditions eligibility should be resolved by the award of monetary compensation in lieu of absorption.
The Bench held so as to avoid uncertainty and more litigation and also 31 years had already elapsed since 1991.
In this context, the Court observed that there shall be a full and final settlement of all claims and demands.
Hence, the Bench directed –
i) A fresh verification of the claims of workers who claim to have been employed for at least 70 days in Class IV posts over a period of three years or 85 days in Class III posts over a period of two years shall be carried out;
ii) The verification shall be confined to persons who were working between 20 May 1985 and 4 March 1991;
iii) All persons who are found to be eligible on the above norm shall be entitled to compensation computed at the rate of Rs 50,000 for every year of service or part thereof
The task of verification shall be carried out by a Committee consisting of (a) Mr. Justice P K S Baghel, former Judge of the Allahabad High Court; and (b) Shri Rajiv Sharma, former District Judge and member of the UPHJS.
In the light of these observations, the Court disposed of the Miscellaneous Applications and the Writ Petitions.