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1997 (9) TMI 620 - SUPREME COURT

1997 (9) TMI 620 - SUPREME COURT - 1998 AIR 1537, 1997 (4) Suppl. SCR 327, 1997 (8) SCC 89, 1997 (8) JT 290, 1997 (6) SCALE 278 - Appeal (civil) 6713-6715 of 1997 - Dated:- 29-9-1997 - G.N. RAY & G.B. PATTANAIK JJ. JUDGMENT G.N. RAY, J. - Leave granted in all the special leave petitions. Heard learned counsel for the respective parties 2. The appeal arising out of SLP No. 25014 of 1996 is directed against order dated 29-10-1986 passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal, Principal Bench, .....

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cheme for making appointments to the posts of General Managers and equivalent in the Indian Railways, all the appeals have been heard analogously and are being disposed of by this common judgment. It will be appropriate if a short background of facts are noted. 4. The Indian Railway system is managed by the apex authority, namely, the Railway Board. The said Railway Board comprises of the Chairman, the Financial Commissioner and five other members viz. Member (Traffic), Member (Engineering), Mem .....

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5. The posts of General Managers and equivalent are filled up by selection on merit from amongst very senior and suitable administrative grade officers with eight different senior Administrative Grade Services excluding the Indian Railway Medical Service. Such selection is made by a very high-level Selection Committee consisting of the Chairman, Railway Board, Secretary, Department of Personnel and a Member of the Railway Board. The recommendations of the Selection Committee are approved by a Co .....

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s Railway Services for appointment to the posts of General Managers and equivalent on the Indian Railway 6. As indicated earlier, the issue in all these appeals relates to the interpretation of para 7.3 of the aforesaid Scheme. It will be appropriate at this stage to refer to para 7.3 of the said Scheme "7.3 Only such of the empanelled officers would normally be appointed to posts of General Managers and equivalent as will be able to serve for at least two years on such higher post(s)." .....

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date of accrual of vacancy in accordance with the interpretation of the said paragraph by the Allahabad Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal 8. The learned Solicitor has submitted that the respondents Shri B.S. Agarwal and Shri M.P. Kamal Raj were included in 1994-95 panel of the officers eligible for appointment to the posts of General Managers and equivalent. In the case of Shri Agarwal and Shri Kamal Raj, appointments to the posts of General Managers and equivalent have been made out .....

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of them do not have two years of actual service on the date of appointment because the date of appointment was 31-10-1995 and the date of retirement of Shri Agarwal and Shri Kamal Raj is 31-10-1996 and 31-8-1996 respectively. It appears that out of the panel for the year 1994-95 there were in all three officers who did not get appointments for want of the said tenure of two years' reckoning from the date of accrual of vacancy and all the said officers have since retired. If the rule of two y .....

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n the turn of the said officers. Out of the panel 1995-96, 17 appointments of General Managers and equivalent have been made. Shri Zaidi was not appointed. He did not have two years of service from the date of accrual of vacancy falling in his turn. There were 19 officers out of which 15 though senior to Shri Zaidi did not get appointment to the said posts of General Managers and equivalent on similar considerations. All the said 19 officers are still in service. The actual appointment of Genera .....

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vacancy falling in their turn. It therefore appears to us that appointments in question have been made on consideration of residuary service of two years reckoned from the date of accrual of vacancy 9. The learned Solicitor has further submitted that the respondents Shri Zaidi, Shri Kamal Raj and Shri B.S. Agarwal were not eligible to be appointed because none of them had two years' tenure either on the date of accrual of vacancy in their turn or on the date of actual appointment of empanell .....

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uld be unfair and will bring about unmerited hardship if on the date of actual appointment, a large number of eligible and suitable officers even though senior are to be kept out of consideration because on the date of actual appointment they do not have two years' tenure although they had such requisite tenure when the vacancies arose. The learned Solicitor General has submitted that there is no manner of doubt that reasonable length of tenure in the key posts of General Managers and equiva .....

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e of accrual of vacancy is a fixed point but the dates of subsequent stages of consideration and actual appointment are not fixed and necessarily such dates may widely vary depending on the convenience of the Committee to sit and consider and thereafter to take final decision for appointment by the appropriate authority. The learned Solicitor has submitted that though it is highly desirable that the actual appointment should be made as early as practicable whenever the vacancy has accrued, more .....

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ained in para 7.3 of the said Scheme should be reckoned from the date of accrual of the vacancy. It has been contended by the learned Solicitor that on proper interpretation of paragraph 7.3 of the Scheme appointments have been made out of empanelled officers who had residual service of at least two years from the date of accrual of vacancy. Therefore there was no question of relaxation of paragraph 7.3 of the Scheme and resorting to hostile discrimination against other empanelled officers by no .....

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legitimate grievance for not being appointed to the post of General Manager and equivalent and the directions given in the impugned decisions, therefore, cannot be sustained and the impugned orders should be set aside 10. Ms Shyamla Pappu, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the respondents, Shri B.S. Agarwal and Shri Kamal Raj in appeals arising out of SLP (C) No. 25014 of 1996 and SLP (C) No. 24361 of 1996 has submitted that para 7.3 of the Scheme should be read along with para 4.1 of the Sch .....

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officers considered suitable in all respects for appointment to the posts of General Managers and equivalent. The Selection Committee may also recommend the specific type/types of assignments for which a particular officer mentioned in the panel may be considered suitable 4.4 While taking action as in the preceding sub-para the Railway Board shall normally suggest the promotion of empanelled officers in order of their inter se seniority within those clear for that particular type of assignment, .....

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ry departure from the order of seniority in the panel for a few months to fit the officers considered in different vacancies arising within a short time-span in a manner best in keeping with their relative background and aptitude. In this event, it will be notified that the junior officer will not gain any seniority vis-a-vis his empanelled seniors, or (c) it becomes inescapable to promote an officer of a particular discipline as General Manager Open Line ahead of normal turn, to meet the requir .....

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appointment in order to avoid undue predominance of any one service by holding of more than six posts of General Managers and equivalent by officers belonging to any one service. In this event, it will be notified that the junior officer will not gain any seniority vis-a-vis his empanelled seniors 11, Ms Shyamla Pappu has submitted that every year in July a select panel is drawn up by empanelling the officers of Senior Administrative Grade (SAG) equivalent to the grade of Joint Secretary and Off .....

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Board, Secretary Department of Personnel and one Member of the Railway Board nominated by the Cabinet Secretary. Ms Pappu has contended that paragraph 9 of the Scheme provides that the said high-powered selection committee should meet once a year at a suitable time after 1st of April as soon as ACRs for the year ending on March 31, are available for consideration. Ms Pappu has also submitted that although it is intended that the selection committee should meet prior to July every year so that th .....

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rd with no blemish whatsoever. Shri Agarwal received Indian Railway Construction Shield and award of Rs. one lakh for outstanding and meritorious work relating to construction and gauge conversion work. Despite such brilliant and outstanding service record, he was not appointed to the post of General Manager and equivalent. Shri Agarwal made representations to the Chairman, Railway Board, Railway Minister, Cabinet Secretary and Prime Minister. Officers junior in service to Shri Agarwal were appo .....

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ill be able to serve at least for two years in the post of General Manager and equivalent. It is contended by Ms Pappu that such intention of at least two years of service tenure as General Manager or equivalent is evident if a reference is made to the Scheme for appointment as Members of the Railway Board which provides that "2 years or more from the date of occurrence of vacancy" will be available to the incumbent as Member, Railway Board in express contradistinction of the provision .....

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s petition because juniors were favoured by relaxing the provisions of para 7.3 of the Scheme without making such relaxation in the case of Shri Agarwal thereby resulting in hostile discrimination against Shri Agarwal 14. Ms Pappu has further contended that even if it is assumed that the expression "normally" appearing in para 7.3 of the Scheme brings some flexibility enabling the appointing authority to relax the rigour of at least 2 years of tenure in an appropriate case, the appoint .....

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at injustice had been meted out both to Shri Agarwal and Shri Kamal Raj and they had been discriminated against in the matter of appointment to the post of General Manager and equivalent for no valid reason thereby offending Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. In the impugned judgments, such hostile discrimination has been clearly indicated 15. Ms Pappu has also contended that interpretation of para 7.3 of the Scheme was made by the Central Administrative Tribunal, Principal Bench as early a .....

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iscrimination was not an issue before the Allahabad Bench. Ms Pappu has submitted that it is a settled principle in service jurisprudence that relaxation, if possible, should not be arbitrarily made. Such relaxation must be based on some principle and should not encourage discrimination amongst persons similarly circumstanced. The decision of the Principal Bench in Ahuja case squarely applied in the facts of the case of Shri Agarwal. Considering all aspects, the Tribunal has passed the impugned .....

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ost of General Manager and equivalent when his juniors were appointed and also pay post-retiral benefits on that basis 16. Mr Devendra Dwivedi, the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the respondent S.A.A. Zaidi in the appeal arising out of Special Leave Petition (C) No. 9068 of 1997, has submitted that for the purpose of disposal of this appeal, it is not only necessary to decide the true import of paragraph 7.3 of the Scheme but also to consider whether or not the respondent Shri Zaidi has be .....

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eration of merit and suitability enters the decision-making process in the preparation of panel of eligible officers for appointment to the post of General Manager and equivalent. But once the panel is finalised, officers are to be appointed in accordance with paragraph 7.3 of the Scheme according to their inter se seniority positions. Once an officer is empanelled, his seniority cannot be ignored. Mr Dwivedi has submitted that almost three decades ago, this Court has held in Sant Ram Sharma v. .....

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nd 16. Under the constitutional scheme, judicial interference is permissible to prevent violation of the constitutional safeguards. Any consideration on the score of problems of the Government or its convenience is incidental and secondary and cannot be permitted to transgress constitutional safeguards. In support of such contention, reference has been made to the decision of this Court in B. Prabhakar Rao v. State of A.P. 1985 Supp(SCC) 432 : 1986 SCC(L&S) 49 : 1985 (S2) SCR 573] (SCR at p. .....

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h they are used having regard to a rational nexus to the objective that is sought to be achieved. It is only when the courts consider that the application of the words in their ordinary sense would produce absurd result or would be unreasonable, unworkable or irreconcilable with the object of the statute or the order, that the courts allow themselves a limited role in adding or amending the meaning of the words used. The language of the statute or order has to be interpreted if any interpretatio .....

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ed norms/schemes for appointment of the Members of the Railway Board as well as General Managers of the Indian Railways. The pertinent question that goes to the root of the problem of interpretation of para 7.3 of the Scheme lies in the clear difference in the choice of the language that has been employed while laying down the norms for appointment of the Members of the Railway Board. Mr Dwivedi has supported Ms Pappu by contending that in the matter of appointment of General Managers and equiva .....

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that the Union Government definitely intended and meant that only such persons will be appointed as General Managers who on being appointed as general Managers, will have residual service of at least two years. Any other interpretation is not only against the plain meaning of the expression used in paragraph 7.3 of the Scheme but also against the policy of continuity in decision-making process for a desired length of time, sought to be achieved 20. Mr Dwivedi has contended that neither the appel .....

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1. Mr Dwivedi has submitted that the Principal Bench of CAT has decided in Ahuja case that any deviation of residual service of two years from the date of appointment, if made, can be said to have been done only by invoking paragraph 10 of the Scheme which permits relaxation. Such decision was accepted by the Union of India. Mr Dwivedi has submitted that in the impugned decision, the Tribunal has held to the effect that if the appointments of the juniors can be explained or justified on the face .....

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no interference by this Court, particularly in the exercise of discretionary jurisdiction under Article 136 is called for. Mr Dwivedi has also contended that there was no plea of discrimination in appointing a junior ignoring the claim of the senior in A.S.P. Sinha case decided by the Allahabad Bench of CAT. The interpretation of Allahabad Bench of para 7.3 of the Scheme in Sinha case is not only erroneous but such interpretation being obiter and not accepted in the said four decisions of vario .....

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lso be manipulated. Mr Dwivedi has submitted that if a reference is made to paragraph 14 of the judgment of the Tribunal in Ahuja case it will be evident that vacancy was preponed from 31-8-1990 to 10-8-1990 as a result of the incumbent General Manager, Shri V.K. Fondekar proceeding on one month's leave. Likewise, Shri B.T. Bhind, incumbent General Manager/ICF/Madras applied for 34 days' leave w.e.f. 28-11-1990 which facilitated initial promotion of Shri M.C. Das and he was eventually ad .....

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, the guarantee enshrined under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution cannot be violated. If a panel of eligible officers for the purpose of appointment to the post of General Manager or equivalent is prepared, then each of such empanelled officers must be held to have been found suitable for appointment to such post. Therefore, if the said empanelled officer conforms to the requirement of para 7.3 of the Scheme, his inter se seniority cannot be ignored in giving appointment to the post of Gene .....

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is therefore, necessary to scrutinise whether any relaxation has in fact been made in the matter of appointments concerning these appeals and if so, whether such relaxation has been made ignoring the inter se seniority of the empanelled officers resulting in hostile discrimination against some of the empanelled officers 24. In order to appreciate the true import of paragraph 7.3 of the Scheme, it is necessary to decide whether the tenure for at least two years as referred to in para 7.3 of the .....

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cipal Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal is in conflict with the interpretation given by the Allahabad Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal. It appears that the Union of India has followed the interpretation given by the Allahabad Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal in giving appointments in question in these appeals 26. For the purpose of appreciating correct interpretation of para 7.3 of the said Scheme consistent with equity and justice and avoiding unmerited hardsh .....

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se of the appellant that after the decision of the Allahabad Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal, the ACC is approving appointment of such officers from the panel who are not only held suitable for appointment to the posts of General Managers or equivalent but who have a tenure of at least two years from the date of accrual of the vacancy in their turn. Between the date of accrual of vacancy and actual appointment made, there has persistently been considerable time-lag. As a result, man .....

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ay flowing from the usual red-tapism and proverbial administrative lethargy. It is also not unlikely that in some cases the delay may be caused in a designed manner so as to deprive some of the eligible suitable officers in order to benefit juniors by bringing a fact situation when tenure of two years is not fulfilled in case of some seniors and otherwise suitable officers resulting in dropping of such officers 27. Para 7.3 of the Scheme in express terms refers to the residual service of at leas .....

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on account of normal procedural delay or delay caused in a designed manner. An empanelled officer having higher inter se seniority over others has a reasonable expectation to get appointment on the accrual of vacancy but if the actual appointment is not made promptly either on account of inherent time-lag associated with procedural formalities or on account of bureaucratic lethargy or by delaying the process of appointment in a calculated and designed manner an eligible and senior officer in the .....

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iew, such expression of residual service for at least two years as contained in para 7.3 does not stand in the way of giving a fair and reasonable interpretation. In our view, para 7.3 must be held to be referable to the date of accrual of vacancy in order to ensure fairness and transparency in the matter of appointment as General Manager or equivalent. The date of accrual of vacancy is a fixed one and even if any manipulation is made about the date of accrual of vacancy, the actual date of accr .....

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heme. The court should lean in favour of such interpretation of a statute which conforms to justice and fair play and prevents potentiality to injustice by liberally construing the provision without intrinsically violating the language of the statute and the purpose intended to be achieved. We may indicate here that although the residual tenure is referable to the date of accrual of vacancy, the intended purpose of reasonable length of service in the post of General Manager and equivalent should .....

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the date of accrual of vacancy. Shri B.S. Agarwal and Shri Kamal Raj were included in 1994-95 panel of the eligible officers for appointment to the posts of General Managers and equivalent. The officers who had two years of service from the date of accrual of vacancy had been appointed because Shri Agarwal and Shri Kamal Raj had not such residual service with reference to the date of accrual of vacancy. Therefore, the question of ignoring a senior officer by relaxing the requirement of para 7.3 .....

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