A two-judge bench comprising of Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.S. Bopanna while commenting upon the Liberalized Active Retirement Scheme for Guaranteed Employment for Safety Staff - LARSGESS scheme placed reliance upon the precedent Manjit v. Union of India and observed that a three-judge of the Apex Court in the case had held that the Scheme provided an avenue for backdoor entry into service and was contrary to the mandate of Article 16 which guarantees equal opportunity in matters of public employment.

Hence, in pursuance of these observations, the Apex Court quashed and set aside the impugned judgments from the Madras High Court which had been tagged together due to similar questions of law being present.

Counsel Mr. Anil Katiyar assisted by Amrish Kumar appeared for the Petitioners while Counsel Mr. Karunakar Mahalik appeared for the Respondents before the Apex Court.

In this case, the Railway Board under the Union Ministry of Railways introduced a scheme known as the Safety Related Retirement Scheme for the categories of Gangmen and Drivers. The scheme was intended to cover these "two safety categories" since the working of Drivers and Gangmen was perceived to have a crucial bearing on train operations and track maintenance. It was subsequently notified that the benefit of the scheme would be extended to other safety categories of staff with grade pay of Rs.1800/- per month.

The period of qualifying service was reduced from 33 years to 20 years and the eligible age group from 55-57 to 50-57 years for seeking retirement under the scheme. The nomenclature of the scheme was modified to read as Liberalized Active Retirement Scheme for Guaranteed Employment for Safety Staff ('LARSGESS Scheme'). The qualifying service period of 33 years and the age group of 55-57 years was to remain unchanged for Drivers.

In this backdrop, in the case of Union of India v. Kala Singh, the Supreme Court observed that since the LARSGESS scheme stood terminated and was no longer in existence nothing further had to be done in the matter.

Furthermore, in Narinder Siraswal v. Union of India, the Court permitted the petitioners who claimed the benefit of the scheme which was in existence when the applications were filed to move an appropriate representation.

In Manjit v. Union of India, the Apex Court declined to entertain a petition under Article 32 on the ground that a conscious decision had been taken by the Union of India to terminate the scheme.

Moreover, the Court observed that - (i) the grant of reliefs to the petitioners would only enable them to seek back door entry; (ii) the Union of India had correctly terminated the scheme; and (iii) no person can claim a vested right or legitimate expectation under the scheme.

In the present case, since similar questions of law arose both the special leave petitions were tagged. In the first appeal, the facts were that the father of the Respondent was a Senior Trackman in Southern Railway. He had submitted an application for voluntary retirement under the LARSGESS Scheme. The application for voluntary retirement was returned on the ground that in terms of the date of birth furnished in the application, the employee was overage on the cut-off date. A second application was submitted and the employee retired and received his retirement benefits. The third application was submitted seeking reconsideration of the rejection of the first application on the ground that the date of birth in the first application had been wrongly recorded.

With respect to the facts of the second appeal, the Respondent was found to be medically unfit for appointment in the category of Trackman and his father was due for retirement, the claim was rejected. The Tribunal accordingly directed the Railways to consider the respondent in a post according to his medical fitness (CEE ONE and below).

The Respondent instituted a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the High Court for a mandamus directing compliance with the order of the Tribunal. The High Court directed the implementation of the judgment of the Tribunal.

The Divisional Officer of the Southern Railway issued a communication negating the claim of the Respondent on the ground that the Punjab and Haryana High Court had held that the LARSGESS Scheme was contrary to the provisions of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. The Respondent instituted a writ petition before the Madras High Court. The High Court by its judgment came to the conclusion that the rejection of the claim was in disregard of the order of the Tribunal and the petition was allowed by directing the Railways to comply with the order, granting appointment to the respondent in any post in CEE ONE and below categories. The judgments of the Madras High Court in these two cases had been challenged before the Supreme Court.

The primary issue in this case was -

(i) Can the LARSGESS scheme be extended to an employee who had attained the age of superannuation in the normal course.

The Apex Court noted that a decision was taken by the Railway Board after seeking legal opinion from the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, to terminate the LARSGESS Scheme with effect from October 27, 2017, which was the date on which it was put on hold. The Railway Board directed that no further appointments would be made under the scheme except in those cases where employees had already retired under the scheme but had not naturally superannuated, and their wards could not be appointed despite successfully completing the entire process due to the scheme having been held in abeyance.

The Court further sought to determine if the claims of the respondents were covered by the exception clause in the notification issued on September 28, 2018. The notification clearly envisaged that in spite of the termination of the LARSGESS scheme, appointments under the scheme could only be made if (i) the staff had voluntarily retired (and not naturally superannuated) under the scheme before 27 October 2017; and (ii) appointment of the ward was not made because of 'formalities' which remained. The exception did not cover all pending claims.

The Court noted that another Division Bench of the Madras High Court had held that an employee who received service benefits till the date of superannuation, was not entitled to make a claim under the LARSGESS scheme. Clause (x) of notification which was issued stated that discretion to accept the request for retirement would vest with the administration depending on the suitability of the wards for appointment in the same category as the employee. Therefore, it was opined that the Respondents could not be brought within the purview of the exception.

The Court observed herein that for the Respondent to have been appointed under the scheme, he must have fulfilled the criteria for the appointment to the category in which his father was serving. Therefore, in terms of the scheme, though the Respondent fulfilled the medical criteria requirement for some other posts, he could not be considered for appointment.

It was clearly evident that on the plain terms of the scheme as it stood, the case of the respondent did not fulfill the criteria envisaged in the scheme. In the companion appeal which arose by the father of the respondent seeking employment for his son, the Tribunal noted that the constitutional validity of the scheme was suspect and that the respondent's father had retired on attaining the normal age of superannuation. In this backdrop, the impugned judgment of the Madras High Court issuing a mandamus for the appointment of the respondent could not be sustained.

Thus, the Supreme Court accordingly allowed the appeals and set aside both the judgments of the Madras High Court. Moreover, the writ petitions filed by the Respondents before the High Court were dismissed.

Click here to read/download the Judgment