Thomas Daniel vs State Of Kerala . on 2 May, 2022


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Supreme Court of India

Thomas Daniel vs State Of Kerala . on 2 May, 2022

Author: S. Abdul Nazeer

Bench: S. Abdul Nazeer, Vikram Nath

                                                      1


                                                                          REPORTABLE

                                   IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                                    CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                                    CIVIL APPEAL NO. 7115 OF 2010


          THOMAS DANIEL                                              … APPELLANT(S)

                                                  VERSUS

          STATE OF KERALA & ORS.                                     … RESPONDENT(S)


                                              JUDGMENT

S. ABDUL NAZEER, J.

(1) This appeal raises an issue as to whether increments granted

to the appellant, while he was in service, can be recovered from him

almost 10 years after his retirement on the ground that the said

increments were granted on account of an error?

(2) The brief facts of the case, in nutshell, are as under:

In the year 1966, the appellant herein joined services as a
Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by

High School Assistant/Teacher at Craven High School, Kollam
Anita Malhotra
Date: 2022.05.02
16:46:23 IST
Reason:

which is an aided school. During his tenure, he availed leave
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without allowance starting from 20.10.1972 to 31.03.1973 and

again from 02.07.1973 to 28.03.1974, for pursuing post­graduation

i.e., M.Sc. (Chemistry) Course. Thereafter on 1.06.1989, the

appellant was promoted as Headmaster of the school and he was

granted senior grade promotion and his pay scale was revised

accordingly.

(3) In the year 1997, a notice dated 09.10.1997 accompanied with

an audit report of the respondent no.5­ Account General of Kerala

was served on the appellant by the respondent no.4­ District

Educational Officer, Kollam with an objection that the period of

leave obtained by the appellant for undergoing higher education

should not be included while determining his total qualifying

service. Therefore, the pay and subsequent increments granted to

the appellant should be recovered from him. Meanwhile, the

appellant had retired from service on 31.03.1999 and since then he

was neither paid pensionary benefits nor death­cum­retirement

gratuity (D.C.R.G.). The appellant filed various representations but

he received no response.

3

(4) Ultimately on 25.05.2000, the appellant challenged the

proposal to initiate recovery proceedings against him by way of

filing a complaint before the Public Redressal Complaint Cell, Chief

Minister of Kerala, for recovering the increments granted to the

appellant during the year 1989 and 1991. The respondent herein­

State of Kerala rejected the said complaint by order dated

26.06.2000 stating that post­graduation degree­M.Sc. (Chemistry)

was not useful as per the Rule 91A Part I of the Kerala Service

Rules in any manner to the public service, therefore, leave without

allowance cannot be counted for service benefits. In the meantime,

on an application filed by the appellant under Rule 116, Part III of

the Kerala Service Rules, the respondent no.3­Deputy Director

Education, Kollam on 6.10.2000 sanctioned the release of 90% of

the D.C.R.G. amount after withholding 10% of the said amount and

subsequently on 15.01.2001 the amount was released to the

appellant.

(5) Being aggrieved, the appellant filed a writ petition before the

High Court. During the pendency of the writ petition, the remaining

amount of D.C.R.G was also released to the appellant. However, the
4

respondent­ State of Kerala in their counter affidavit took a stand

that the period during which the appellant was on leave without

allowance for undertaking post­graduation cannot be counted for

the purpose of grant of increments and, therefore, the demand for

recovery made by them was justified. The learned Single Judge vide

order dated 05.01.2006 upheld the reasoning given by the State of

Kerala and dismissed the writ petition holding that the mistake

committed by the department concerned while granting the service

benefits can be rectified subsequently by way of proposed recovery

to be effected from appellant’s D.C.R.G. amount. Thereagainst, the

appellant filed a writ appeal before the High Court. The Division

Bench of the High Court vide impugned order dated 02.03.2009

dismissed the appeal, affirming the order of the learned Single

Judge.

(6) Learned counsel for the appellant would contend that the

excess payment made to the appellant was not on account of any

misrepresentation or fraud on his part. The excess payment was

made due to a mistake in interpreting the Kerala Service Rules. It

is further submitted that the appellant has retired on 31.03.1999.
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The appellant had to undergo a bypass surgery and he is in huge

debts. After repeated request, D.C.R.G. benefit was released in his

favour. He prays for setting aside the impugned judgment and also

the order dated 26.06.2000 passed by the Public Redressal

Complaint Cell, Chief Minister of Kerala.

(7) On the other hand, learned counsel appearing for the

respondents­State of Kerala has supported the impugned judgment

of the High Court.

(8) We have carefully considered the submission made at the Bar

by learned counsel for the parties and perused the materials placed

on the record.

(9) This Court in a catena of decisions has consistently held that

if the excess amount was not paid on account of any

misrepresentation or fraud of the employee or if such excess

payment was made by the employer by applying a wrong principle

for calculating the pay/allowance or on the basis of a particular

interpretation of rule/order which is subsequently found to be

erroneous, such excess payment of emoluments or allowances are

not recoverable. This relief against the recovery is granted not
6

because of any right of the employees but in equity, exercising

judicial discretion to provide relief to the employees from the

hardship that will be caused if the recovery is ordered. This Court

has further held that if in a given case, it is proved that an

employee had knowledge that the payment received was in excess of

what was due or wrongly paid, or in cases where error is detected or

corrected within a short time of wrong payment, the matter being in

the realm of judicial discretion, the courts may on the facts and

circumstances of any particular case order for recovery of amount

paid in excess.

(10) In Sahib Ram v. State of Haryana and Others1 this Court

restrained recovery of payment which was given under the

upgraded pay scale on account of wrong construction of relevant

order by the authority concerned, without any misrepresentation on

part of the employees. It was held thus :

“5. Admittedly the appellant does not possess the
required educational qualifications. Under the
circumstances the appellant would not be entitled
to the relaxation. The Principal erred in granting
him the relaxation. Since the date of relaxation, the
appellant had been paid his salary on the revised
scale. However, it is not on account of any
1 1995 Supp (1) SCC 18
7

misrepresentation made by the appellant that the
benefit of the higher pay scale was given to him but
by wrong construction made by the Principal for
which the appellant cannot be held to be at fault.

Under the circumstances the amount paid till date
may not be recovered from the appellant. The
principle of equal pay for equal work would not
apply to the scales prescribed by the University
Grants Commission. The appeal is allowed partly
without any order as to costs.”

(11) In Col. B.J. Akkara (Retd.) v. Government of India and

Others2 this Court considered an identical question as under:

“27. The last question to be considered is whether relief
should be granted against the recovery of the excess
payments made on account of the wrong
interpretation/understanding of the circular dated 7­6­
1999. This Court has consistently granted relief against
recovery of excess wrong payment of
emoluments/allowances from an employee, if the
following conditions are fulfilled (vide Sahib Ram v. State
of Haryana
[1995 Supp (1) SCC 18 : 1995 SCC (L&S)
248], Shyam Babu Verma v. Union of India [(1994) 2 SCC
521 : 1994 SCC (L&S) 683 : (1994) 27 ATC 121] , Union
of India v. M. Bhaskar
[(1996) 4 SCC 416 : 1996 SCC
(L&S) 967] and V. Gangaram v. Regional Jt.
Director
[(1997) 6 SCC 139 : 1997 SCC (L&S) 1652] ):

(a) The excess payment was not made on account of
any misrepresentation or fraud on the part of the
employee.

(b) Such excess payment was made by the employer
by applying a wrong principle for calculating the
pay/allowance or on the basis of a particular
2 (2006) 11 SCC 709
8

interpretation of rule/order, which is subsequently
found to be erroneous.

28. Such relief, restraining back recovery of excess
payment, is granted by courts not because of any right
in the employees, but in equity, in exercise of judicial
discretion to relieve the employees from the hardship
that will be caused if recovery is implemented. A
government servant, particularly one in the lower rungs
of service would spend whatever emoluments he receives
for the upkeep of his family. If he receives an excess
payment for a long period, he would spend it, genuinely
believing that he is entitled to it. As any subsequent
action to recover the excess payment will cause undue
hardship to him, relief is granted in that behalf. But
where the employee had knowledge that the payment
received was in excess of what was due or wrongly paid,
or where the error is detected or corrected within a short
time of wrong payment, courts will not grant relief
against recovery. The matter being in the realm of
judicial discretion, courts may on the facts and
circumstances of any particular case refuse to grant
such relief against recovery.

29. On the same principle, pensioners can also seek a
direction that wrong payments should not be recovered,
as pensioners are in a more disadvantageous position
when compared to in­service employees. Any attempt to
recover excess wrong payment would cause undue
hardship to them. The petitioners are not guilty of any
misrepresentation or fraud in regard to the excess
payment. NPA was added to minimum pay, for purposes
of stepping up, due to a wrong understanding by the
implementing departments. We are therefore of the view
that the respondents shall not recover any excess
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payments made towards pension in pursuance of the
circular dated 7­6­1999 till the issue of the clarificatory
circular dated 11­9­2001. Insofar as any excess payment
made after the circular dated 11­9­2001, obviously the
Union of India will be entitled to recover the excess as
the validity of the said circular has been upheld and as
pensioners have been put on notice in regard to the
wrong calculations earlier made.”

(12) In Syed Abdul Qadir and Others v. State of Bihar and
Others3
excess payment was sought to be recovered which was
made to the appellants­teachers on account of mistake and wrong
interpretation of prevailing Bihar Nationalised Secondary School
(Service Conditions) Rules, 1983. The appellants therein contended
that even if it were to be held that the appellants were not entitled to
the benefit of additional increment on promotion, the excess amount
should not be recovered from them, it having been paid without any
misrepresentation or fraud on their part. The Court held that the
appellants cannot be held responsible in such a situation and
recovery of the excess payment should not be ordered, especially
when the employee has subsequently retired. The court observed
that in general parlance, recovery is prohibited by courts where
there exists no misrepresentation or fraud on the part of the
employee and when the excess payment has been made by applying
a wrong interpretation/ understanding of a Rule or Order. It was
held thus:

3 (2009) 3 SCC 475
10

“59. Undoubtedly, the excess amount that has been paid
to the appellant teachers was not because of any
misrepresentation or fraud on their part and the
appellants also had no knowledge that the amount that
was being paid to them was more than what they were
entitled to. It would not be out of place to mention here
that the Finance Department had, in its counter­affidavit,
admitted that it was a bona fide mistake on their part.
The excess payment made was the result of wrong
interpretation of the Rule that was applicable to them, for
which the appellants cannot be held responsible. Rather,
the whole confusion was because of inaction, negligence
and carelessness of the officials concerned of the
Government of Bihar. Learned counsel appearing on
behalf of the appellant teachers submitted that majority
of the beneficiaries have either retired or are on the verge
of it. Keeping in view the peculiar facts and
circumstances of the case at hand and to avoid any
hardship to the appellant teachers, we are of the view
that no recovery of the amount that has been paid in
excess to the appellant teachers should be made.”

(13) In State of Punjab and Others v. Rafiq Masih (White

Washer) and Others4 wherein this court examined the validity of an

order passed by the State to recover the monetary gains wrongly

extended to the beneficiary employees in excess of their entitlements

without any fault or misrepresentation at the behest of the recipient.

This Court considered situations of hardship caused to an

employee, if recovery is directed to reimburse the employer and
4 (2015) 4 SCC 334
11

disallowed the same, exempting the beneficiary employees from

such recovery. It was held thus:

“8. As between two parties, if a determination is rendered in
favour of the party, which is the weaker of the two, without
any serious detriment to the other (which is truly a welfare
State), the issue resolved would be in consonance with the
concept of justice, which is assured to the citizens of India,
even in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. The right to
recover being pursued by the employer, will have to be
compared, with the effect of the recovery on the employee
concerned. If the effect of the recovery from the employee
concerned would be, more unfair, more wrongful, more
improper, and more unwarranted, than the corresponding
right of the employer to recover the amount, then it would be
iniquitous and arbitrary, to effect the recovery. In such a
situation, the employee’s right would outbalance, and
therefore eclipse, the right of the employer to recover.

xxx xxx xxx

18. It is not possible to postulate all situations of hardship
which would govern employees on the issue of recovery,
where payments have mistakenly been made by the
employer, in excess of their entitlement. Be that as it may,
based on the decisions referred to hereinabove, we may, as a
ready reference, summarise the following few situations,
wherein recoveries by the employers, would be impermissible
in law:

(i) Recovery from the employees belonging to Class III and
Class IV service (or Group C and Group D service).

(ii) Recovery from the retired employees, or the employees
who are due to retire within one year, of the order of
recovery.

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(iii) Recovery from the employees, when the excess
payment has been made for a period in excess of five years,
before the order of recovery is issued.

(iv) Recovery in cases where an employee has wrongfully
been required to discharge duties of a higher post, and has
been paid accordingly, even though he should have rightfully
been required to work against an inferior post.

(v) In any other case, where the court arrives at the
conclusion, that recovery if made from the employee, would
be iniquitous or harsh or arbitrary to such an extent, as
would far outweigh the equitable balance of the employer’s
right to recover.”

(14) Coming to the facts of the present case, it is not contended

before us that on account of the misrepresentation or fraud played

by the appellant, the excess amounts have been paid. The appellant

has retired on 31.03.1999. In fact, the case of the respondents is

that excess payment was made due to a mistake in interpreting

Kerala Service Rules which was subsequently pointed out by the

Accountant General.

(15) Having regard to the above, we are of the view that an attempt

to recover the said increments after passage of ten years of his

retirement is unjustified.

(16) In the result, the appeal succeeds and is accordingly allowed.

The Judgment and order of the Division Bench dated 02.03.2009
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and also of the learned Single Judge of the High Court dated

05.01.2006 impugned herein, and the order dated 26.06.2000

passed by the Public Redressal Complaint Cell of the Chief Minister

of Kerala and the recovery Notice dated 09.10.1997 are hereby set

aside. There shall be no order as to costs.

…….……………………………J.

(S. ABDUL NAZEER)

…….……………………………J.

(VIKRAM NATH)

New Delhi;

May 2, 2022.



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