Chairman/Managing Director, … vs Ram Gopal on 30 January, 2020


Supreme Court of India

Chairman/Managing Director, … vs Ram Gopal on 30 January, 2020

Author: Hon’Ble The Justice

Bench: Hon’Ble The Justice, B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant

                                                                                REPORTABLE


                                       IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                  CIVIL/CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                                         CIVIL APPEAL NO. 852 OF 2020
                         [Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 36253 of 2016]


      Chairman/Managing Director,                                           ..... Appellant(s)
      U.P. Power Corporation Ltd. & others
                                                         VERSUS
      Ram Gopal                                                             .....Respondent
                                                      WITH

                           CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 204 OF 2020
         [Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 2014 of 2017]
                                                   JUDGMENT

Leave granted.

2. Uttar Pradesh Power Corp. Ltd. (hereinafter, “UPPCL”) has preferred

this appeal, assailing an order dated 29.04.2016 passed by a Division

Bench of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad (Lucknow Bench)

which in turn upheld the order dated 05.04.2016 passed by a learned
Signature Not Verified

Single Judge whereby Ram Gopal (Respondent)’s writ petition for setting
Digitally signed by
CHARANJEET KAUR
Date: 2020.01.30
17:13:55 IST
Reason:

aside his termination order and directing his consequent re­instatement,

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was allowed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

3. UPPCL conducted selections for certain Class IV positions of Junior

Meter Tester & Repairer, Mate and Meter Coolie/Chaukidar and declared

results on 31.08.1978 through an Office Memorandum. The Respondent

emerged as one of the successful candidates for being appointed as Meter

Cooli/Chaukidar. Owing to subsequent discovery of certain irregularities in

the selection process, UPPCL cancelled these selections on 03.11.1978 and

consequently terminated services of all appointees on 07.11.1978.

4. Shyam Behari Lal, another successful candidate whose services too

had been terminated, promptly approached the jurisdictional High Court

which allowed his writ petition on 26.10.1989 observing that no reasons

had been assigned for the termination. UPPCL unsuccessfully filed an

intra­court appeal, and thereafter approached this Court by way of Civil

Appeal No. 7123 of 1993 (U.P. State Electricity Board and Others v.

Shyam Behari Lal). The said appeal was allowed vide order dated

22.11.1993 with an observation that the reason for termination was ‘writ

large’ on the order itself, namely, “cancellation of result of selection of

operating staff”, and the matter was accordingly remitted to the High Court

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for disposal on merits.

5. Thereafter, a Division Bench of the High Court considered Shyam

Behari Lal’s case and held that though the writ petition was liable to be

dismissed on merits, however, considering the peculiar circumstances

wherein Shyam Behari Lal had already served the UPPCL for 17 years,

rendering him jobless might be too harsh a consequence. The relevant

operative part of the order dated 30.05.1997 reads as follows:

“In view of what has been discussed above, is true that the
petitioner is liable to be dismissed, but in the peculiar
circumstances of the case and in view of the fact that the
petitioners are continuing in service for last seventeen years, it
would be too harsh to render him jobless at this stage. We
would, therefore, only provide that the opposite parties may
consider his continuance in service and take a suitable decision
as may be thought appropriate in the facts and circumstances of
the case expeditiously.”

(emphasis supplied)

6. After the initial round of litigation in which Shyam Behari Lal had

obtained relief from the High Court in 1989, the present Respondent also

filed WP No. 7897 of 1990 in July, 1990, impugning the order dated

07.11.1978 terminating his services. A learned Single Judge of the High

Court of Judicature at Allahabad summarily allowed the Respondent’s writ

petition on 05.04.2007 on the premise that the matter was “squarely

covered” by the decision of the High Court dated 26.10.1989 in Shyam

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Behari Lal’s case.

7. The aggrieved UPPCL preferred Special Appeal No. 643 of 2007 which

was dismissed by a Division Bench vide the impugned order dated

29.04.2016. Although the Court noted that the order of 1989 relied upon

by the learned Single Judge had been set­aside by this Court and during

fresh consideration of the matter a co­ordinate Bench had held Shyam

Behari Lal’s case being devoid of any merit; yet it laid emphasis on the

equitable considerations which were pressed into aid in Shyam Behari

Lal’s case for his resultant continuation in service. The Division Bench,

thus, dismissed UPPCL’s appeal and held as follows:

“The case of the respondent is similarly situated as his
appointment pertains to the same selection and no reason has
been assigned in the order of cancellation of appointment of the
respondent. Therefore, learned Single Judge has rightly
extended the parity of the aforesaid judgment and order to the
respondent while allowing the Writ Petition.”

CONTENTIONS OF PARTIES

8. Vehemently refuting the Respondent’s claim of illegal termination,

UPPCL has preferred this Civil Appeal both against the Division Bench’s

order dated 29.04.2016, as well as the contempt proceedings initiated

before the High Court by the Respondent. UPPCL has painstakingly urged

that there is no correlation in law or any similarity in facts between the

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case of Shyam Behari Lal and the present case of Ram Gopal.

9. On the other hand, counsel for the Respondent defends the judgment

of the Division Bench, maintaining that both Shyam Behari Lal and Ram

Gopal were recruited through the same office memorandum, and their

services were terminated through the same order. It was urged that what

holds true for one candidate must necessarily also hold true for the other;

and it would be iniquitous and unequal to give rise to a situation where

similarly placed persons end up in vastly different situations.

ANALYSIS

10. Having heard learned counsel for the parties at a considerable length,

we find that the impugned order of the High Court is legally untenable and

cannot be sustained for at least three glaring reasons.

i) Erroneous conclusion of termination order being non-speaking

11. First, the Division Bench’s finding that “no reason has been assigned

in the order of cancellation of appointment of the respondent”, is vividly

erroneous. This Court had earlier vide order dated 22.11.1993 passed in

Civil Appeal No. 7123 of 1993 overruled the High Court’s finding of non­

reasoned termination in Shyam Behari Lal’s case and had held that the

termination order was in fact a speaking order, with the reason for

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termination being writ large and clearly given. The High Court’s findings

thus undoubtedly fall foul of the observations made by this Court and the

impugned order hence ought to be set­aside on this count alone.

ii) Lack of similarity between Shyam Behari Lal and Ram Gopal

12. Second, Quite palpably, the High Court has erred in concluding that

the Respondent’s claim fell squarely within the four corners of its previous

decision in Shyam Behari Lal’s case. The relied­upon judgment dated

30.05.1997 determined unequivocally that there was no merit in the writ

petition and that Shyam Behari Lal’s claim was “liable to be dismissed”. It

was only on account of pending litigation and interim directions of courts

that Shyam Behari Lal had spent 17 years in employment of UPPCL.

Paying heed to these equitable considerations, and not as a matter of any

legal right, the High Court urged the employer to sympathetically consider

his case for retention in employment. This conclusion of the High Court

was not appealed by any party and has undoubtedly attained finality.

Hence, it is clear in law that Shyam Behari Lal’s termination was legal, and

that he had no right of continuation in service, let alone reinstatement as

sought in the present case. The only question which thus survives is

whether the Respondent, Ram Gopal, could seek parity?

13. At the outset, it is apparent that Shyam Behari Lal and Ram Gopal

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share little similarity. Whereas the former had remained in service for over

seventeen years (except a brief period between August to November in

1978) and had fought his case tooth and nail, the Respondent has not

been in the employment of UPPCL since 1978. The fact­situation in Shyam

Behari Lal’s case was unique and altogether different from that of Ram

Gopal, and there arises no reason to seek or grant parity. Even otherwise,

it is a settled canon of common law that equity acts in personam and not

in rem. Hence, there could be no extension of parity between the case of

Shyam Behari Lal and Ram Gopal (Respondent).

iii) Inordinate delay in filing writ petition

14. Finally, the prolonged delay of many years ought not to have been

overlooked or condoned. Services of the Respondent were terminated

within months of his appointment, in 1978. Statedly, the Respondent made

a representation and served UPPCL with a legal notice in 1982, however

such feeble effort does little to fill the gap between when the cause of action

arose and he chose to seek its redressal (in 1990).

15. Seen from a different perspective also, it is clear that the Respondent

has shown little concern to the settled legal tenets. Even a civil suit

challenging termination of services, if filed by the Respondent, would have

undoubtedly been barred by limitation in 1990. In a similar situation

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where the appellant belatedly challenged the promotion of his junior(s),

this Court in P.S. Sadasivaswamy v. State of Tamil Nadu1, held as

follows:

“2. … if the appellant was aggrieved by it he should have
approached the Court even in the year 1957, after the two
representations made by him had failed to produce any result.
One cannot sleep over the matter and come to the Court
questioning that relaxation in the year 1971. … In effect he
wants to unscramble a scrambled egg. It is very difficult for the
Government to consider whether any relaxation of the rules
should have been made in favour of the appellant in the year
1957. The conditions that were prevalent in 1957, cannot be
reproduced now. …It is not that there is any period of limitation
for the Courts to exercise their powers under Article 226 nor is it
that there can never be a case where the Courts cannot interfere
in a matter after the passage of a certain length of time. But it
would be a sound and wise exercise of discretion for the Courts
to refuse to exercise their extraordinary powers under Article 226
in the case of persons who do not approach it expeditiously for
relief and who stand by and allow things to happen and then
approach the Court to put forward stale claims and try to
unsettle settled matters……”

16. Whilst it is true that limitation does not strictly apply to proceedings

under Articles 32 or 226 of the Constitution of India, nevertheless, such

rights cannot be enforced after an unreasonable lapse of time.

Consideration of unexplained delays and inordinate laches would always

be relevant in writ actions, and writ courts naturally ought to be reluctant

in exercising their discretionary jurisdiction to protect those who have slept

1 (1975) 1 SCC 152.

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over wrongs and allowed illegalities to fester. Fence­sitters cannot be

allowed to barge into courts and cry for their rights at their convenience,

and vigilant citizens ought not to be treated alike with mere opportunists.

On multiple occasions, it has been restated that there are implicit

limitations of time within which writ remedies can be enforced. In SS Balu

v. State of Kerala2, this Court observed thus:

“17. It is also well-settled principle of law that “delay defeats
equity”. …It is now a trite law that where the writ petitioner
approaches the High Court after a long delay, reliefs prayed for
may be denied to them on the ground of delay and laches
irrespective of the fact that they are similarly situated to the
other candidates who obtain the benefit of the judgment.”

(emphasis supplied)

17. Similarly, in Vijay Kumar Kaul v. Union of India3 this Court while

considering the claim of candidates who, despite being higher in merit,

exercised their right to parity much after those who were though lower in

merit but were diligently agitating their rights, this Court observed that:

“27. …It becomes an obligation to take into consideration the
balance of justice or injustice in entertaining the petition or
declining it on the ground of delay and laches. It is a matter of
great significance that at one point of time equity that existed in
favour of one melts into total insignificance and paves the path
of extinction with the passage of time.”

18. We may hasten to add that these principles may not, however, apply

2 (2009) 2 SCC 479
3 (2012) 7 SCC 610

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to judgments which are delivered in­rem. The State and its

instrumentalities are expected In such category of cases to themselves

extend the benefit of a judicial pronouncement to all similarly placed

employees without forcing each person to individually knock the doors of

courts. This distinction between operation of delay and laches to

judgments delivered in­rem and in personam, is lucidly captured in State

of Uttar Pradesh v. Arvind Kumar Srivastava4, laying down that:

“ 22.1. The normal rule is that when a particular set of
employees is given relief by the court, all other identically
situated persons need to be treated alike by extending that
benefit. Not doing so would amount to discrimination and would
be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. This
principle needs to be applied in service matters more
emphatically as the service jurisprudence evolved by this Court
from time to time postulates that all similarly situated persons
should be treated similarly. Therefore, the normal rule would be
that merely because other similarly situated persons did not
approach the Court earlier, they are not to be treated differently.

22.2. However, this principle is subject to well-recognised
exceptions in the form of laches and delays as well as
acquiescence. Those persons who did not challenge the wrongful
action in their cases and acquiesced into the same and woke up
after long delay only because of the reason that their
counterparts who had approached the court earlier in time
succeeded in their efforts, then such employees cannot claim
that the benefit of the judgment rendered in the case of similarly
situated persons be extended to them. They would be treated as
fence-sitters and laches and delays, and/or the acquiescence,
would be a valid ground to dismiss their claim.

22.3. However, this exception may not apply in those cases

4 (2015) 1 SCC 347

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where the judgment pronounced by the court was judgment in
rem with intention to give benefit to all similarly situated
persons, whether they approached the court or not. With such a
pronouncement the obligation is cast upon the authorities to
itself extend the benefit thereof to all similarly situated persons.
Such a situation can occur when the subject-matter of the
decision touches upon the policy matters, like scheme of
regularisation and the like (see K.C. Sharma v. Union of
India [K.C. Sharma
v. Union of India, (1997) 6 SCC 721 : 1998
SCC (L&S) 226] ). On the other hand, if the judgment of the court
was in personam holding that benefit of the said judgment shall
accrue to the parties before the court and such an intention is
stated expressly in the judgment or it can be impliedly found out
from the tenor and language of the judgment, those who want to
get the benefit of the said judgment extended to them shall have
to satisfy that their petition does not suffer from either laches
and delays or acquiescence.” (Emphasis applied)

19. The order passed by the High Court for retention of Shyam Behari Lal

in service, does not possess any ingredient of a Judgment in­rem. The

above cited exception, therefore, does not come to the Respondent’s rescue.

It is also pertinent to mention that neither has it been pleaded nor is it

apparent from the material on record that the Respondent was unable to

approach the court­of­law in time on account of any social or financial

disability. Had such been the case, he ought to have availed free legal aid

and should have ventilated his grievances in a timely manner. Instead, he

seems to be under the assumption that the termination order is illegal,

that he consequently has a right to be reinstated, and that he can agitate

the same at his own sweet­will. Neither of these three assumptions are

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true, as elaborated by us earlier.

CONCLUSION

20. For the reasons aforementioned, the appeals are allowed. The

impugned order delivered by the learned Single Judge on 05.04.2007 as

well as the order dated 29.04.2016 of the Division Bench upholding it, are

set aside. Respondent’s writ petition is consequently dismissed. As a sequel

thereto, the High Court’s interim order dated 02.11.2016 in Contempt No.

1271 of 2016, which is under challenge in SLP (Crl.) No. 2014 of 2017, is

also quashed and the contempt petition stands dismissed. No order as to

costs.

……………………….. CJI.

(S. A. BOBDE)

………………………… J.

(B.R. GAVAI)

…………………………. J.

(SURYA KANT)
NEW DELHI
DATED : 30.01.2020

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