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Teachers Superannuating are to be treated as Re-employed or allowed to continue, in Larger Interest

Navin Chandra Dhoundiyal v. State of Uttarakhand and Ors., Civil Appeal No. 3493/2020 (Arising out of SLP (C) NO. 10943/2020), 16 October, 2020

Counsel for the Appellants: Mr. Gaurav Gupta,

Counsel for the Respondents: Ms. Vanshaja Shukla,

The Hon’ble Supreme Court comprising of Justice S.Ravindra Bhat and Justice Umesh Uday Lalit held in a case that teachers superannuating are to be treated as re-employed or allowed to continue, in the larger interest of the pupils

All the appellants are working as Professors in various disciplines, in the respondent Kumaun University (hereafter “the University”). They are aggrieved by an office order dated 21.12.2019 which set out their respective dates of retirement (which were the last dates in the months they attained the age of superannuation, i.e. 65 years). The appellants relied on Statute No. 16.24 of the University, applicable to them, contending that they were entitled to continue beyond the last date of the month in which each of them attained the age of superannuation, till the “30th of June following” in terms of that provision. The present appeal is appeal by the appellants against the order of the High Court. The High court in its order has refused to follow the earlier judgment of a division bench judgment in a similar case.

The question of law in the case is as to the correct interpretation of a condition in the respondent-University’s statutes regarding the date of superannuation of its teachers.

Counsel for the appellants contended that the purport of the proviso has to be gathered from the circumstance - that it caters to a specific eventuality, where the teacher/official superannuates on a particular day of any month, after June 30th, of an academic year. Superannuation would normally mean that the retirement date would be in accordance with the rules. In this particular case, since the provision applied only to teachers, the intention of the statute clearly was the continuance of status quo, to avoid disturbance, caused by the retirement, and the likely time to be taken by the University to make alternative arrangements to fill the vacancy. They also contended that the High Court should not, having regard to the precedential value of Indu Singh v State of Uttarakhand ( 2017 SCC Online 1527), held that it was incorrectly reasoned, or that its facts were different, because the provision dealing with retirement was in pari materia with Statute No. 16.24.

Counsel for the respondents emphasized that the impugned judgment took note of the submissions on behalf of the state that according to a general order, whenever an employee attained the age of superannuation (regardless of the date), he/she was entitled to continue till the end of that particular month. It was submitted that the Division Bench took note of this argument, and correctly surmised that the proviso to Statute No. 16.24 merely embodied the principle underlying that government order, ensuring that teachers retired only at the end of the month during which they attained the age of superannuation.

After hearing the appellants and the respondents, the court noted the following in regard to the provision:

This court is of the opinion that on a plain interpretation of Statute No. 16.24, including the proviso in question, it is clearly apparent that firstly each teacher attains the age of superannuation on completing 65 years {Statute No. 16.24 (1)}. Secondly, no teacher who attains the age of superannuation has a right or entitlement to reemployment; in fact, the opening expression “No teacher” appears to rule out reemployment of superannuated teachers {Statute No. 16.24 (2)}. Thirdly, and importantly the proviso {to Statute 16.24 (2)} carves out an exception to the main provision, inasmuch as it provides that a teacher whose “date of superannuation does not fall on June 30, shall continue in service till the end of the academic session, that is June 30, following and will be treated as on re-employment from the date immediately following his superannuation till June, 30, following.” (Para 9)

While referring to its judgment in S.K. Rathi v Prem Hari Sharma (2001 9 S.C.C. 377), the court noted the following:

This court no doubt held that a teacher could not continue as principal; yet, it decisively ruled that “There is no doubt that the said decision would enable respondent No. 1 to continue as a teacher, which is his substantive appointment, up to 30th June, following the day when he attained the age of 60 years.” In this court’s opinion, such a categorical expression about a pari materia norm was decisive enough for the court to have found itself compelled to follow. Yet, the impugned judgment- with respect, characterized the expression in S.K. Rath11 as obiter. The Division Bench, in this court’s view, erred on this score. (Para 11)

In regard as discussed above and also with regard to the High Court refusing to follow the decision of the division bench in Indhu Singh( 2017 SCC Online 1527), held the following:

The above analysis would show that the view of the Uttarakhand High Court, as also the Allahabad High Court (now settled by the full bench decision) consistently have been that teachers superannuating are to be treated as re-employed or allowed to continue, in the larger interest of the pupils, has prevailed. If the view that found acceptance with the impugned judgment were to prevail, there would be avoidable disruption in teaching; the likely delay in filling vacancies caused mid-session cannot but be to the detriment of the students. That apart, this court is also of the opinion that if the state or the university wished to depart from the prevailing understanding, appropriate measures could have been taken, putting all the concerned parties to notice, through amendments. In the absence of any such move, the departure from the prevailing understanding through a discordant judgment, as the impugned judgment is, injects uncertainty. (Para 13)

While setting aside the order of the High Court, the court noted the following:

This court is consequently of the opinion that the impugned judgment is in error. The very object and intent of the proviso to Statute No.16.24 is to avoid the disruption caused by discontinuity of service of a teaching staff employee or official mid-session. Therefore, the view in Indu Singh, dealing with an identical statute, was correctly interpreted; the other decisions which dealt with Statute No.16.24 [Professor Sri Krishna Khandelwal and Binod Kumar Singh (supra)] too were correctly decided. (Para 14)

Consequently, the appeal was allowed. It was concluded that the appellants were entitled to continue till the end of the following June on re-employment.

Kalidharun K M



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