Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association v. Union Of India (1990 AIR 334)

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  1. Justice M.M. Dutt
  2. Justice Dr T.K. Thommen


Petitioner- Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association, etc.

Respondent- Union of India & Anr, etc.


“Judicial independence is the bulwark of our system. It gives life to the words of the Constitution.”

Douglas Abrams

In any country, judicial independence is the most important thing. When the judiciary of a country is independent, then only justice can be delivered. What exactly judicial independence mean? Independence of the judiciary is the ability of courts and judges to perform their duties without any influence or control from major driving forces like government or private influencers. The independence of the judiciary can only be maintained when the salaries and service conditions of judges are protected and the judges are inhibited from carrying out their practice in courts after retirement. 

Res judicata means the matter that has been already decided. This objective of this doctrine is that no person shall be held twice for the same cause, to put a bar on litigation in the interest of the state¸ and any judicial decision that is delivered must be accepted as correct. This doctrine of res judicata is applicable to writ petitions under Article 226 and Article 32 of the Constitution of India. According to this, if a similar question has been decided by the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution and the matter concludes with an order appertaining to no relief to the petitioner, then such decision shall act as Res Judicata in the subsequent petitions claiming the same relief. 

This case of Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association v. Union of India[1] deals with a writ petition demanding an increase in pay and other reforms in services by various classes of employees and a Committee was set up by the Supreme Court in response to such petition. 

Facts of the Case

A writ petition was filed by the employees of the Supreme Court requesting to increase their pay scale. Two events instigated the employees to approach the Court for the instant issue. The first is the report of a Committee of five-judge bench consisting of Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Justice R.S. Pathak, Justice V.D. Tulzapurkar, Justice Murtaza Fazal Ali, and Justice D.A. Desai. Another event was the judgement of the Delhi High Court which was passed. 

The report by the Five-judge bench Committee stated that there was no such attempt to provide a separate and distinct identity to the ministerial staff belonging to the Supreme Court Registry. The Committee stated that the pay scale of the various categories of staff in the Registry should at least show that the pay scales initiated by the Pay Commission must be practically adopted by the Chief Justice of India for comparable categorization in the Apex Court. The Committee added that no attempt was made to ascertain the nature of work of the employees in various categories of staff and for determining the pay scale. Thus, the Committee recommended that the Chief Justice of India should frame rules under Article 146 of the Constitution and with the concurrence of the Central Government must refer the instant case to the Fourth Panel Pay, to be presided by Justice Singhal. 

Thereafter, many writ petitions were filed by categories of employees before the Delhi High Court. The employees included Private Secretaries, Readers of the Judges, Superintendents, Senior Stenographers, Assistants, Junior Readers, Junior Stenographers, Joint Registrars, Assistant Registrars, Deputy Registrars, and many other employees of Class IV. The Delhi High Court revised their pay scales and also granted Punjab pay-scales and Central Dearness Allowances. 

Further, the employees of the Supreme Court approached the Court for the revision of their pay-scales which were allowed in the case of Delhi High Court. The employees alleged that the work done by the Supreme Court employees was more arduous as compared to that of Delhi High Court, so they are entitled to equal pay for equal work.  

Also Read  Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 1989 SC 594)

Issues of the Case

The case involved the following issues:

  • Whether the judgement of the High Court relating to Lower Division Clerks and Class IV employees is correct or not?
  • Whether the judgement of the Delhi High Court is conclusive and binding on the parties?

Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner

The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association is the Additional Solicitor General, Mr D.D. Thakur. He contended the following points on behalf of the petitioner:

  1. The petitioner placed reliance on two parts. The first part was related to the Junior Clerks and the Class IV employees of the Apex Court. While the second part was related to other employees of the Supreme Court belonging to the Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association.
  2. That the judgement of the Delhi High Court on revising the pay-scales of Class III and Class IV employees has raised their pay to Rs. 400-600 and Rs. 300-430 respectively. 
  3. That the High Court of Delhi was empowered under Article 226 of the Constitution to issue writs if it believed that the recommendations made by Third Pay Commission discriminated in any manner or if it violated Article 14 of the Constitution. 
  4. That the special leave petition filed by the Government aggrieved by the decision of the Delhi High Court of revising the pay scales was dismissed and as a result Class IV employees have attained finality and operate as res judicata between the Delhi High Court and Union of India. 
  5. That the interim order passed by the Delhi High Court was akin to justice and equity. 
  6. That the Fourth Pay Commission was not supposed to prescribe a lower pay scale for the staff of the Supreme Court than the one prescribed by the interim order as this would amount to neutralizing the effect of the orders passed by the court.
  7. That the recommendation of the Fourth Pay Commission would result in the reduction of the salaries of the employees than what they were receiving on the revision date, so if their suggestion is allowed to prevail it would amount to a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution.  

Arguments on behalf of the Respondent

The learned Attorney General, appearing on behalf of the Union of India contended the following points:

  1. That the judgements of the Delhi High Court, especially the case of Shri Kamalanand v. Union of India and Ors[2] are based on the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’ placed under Article 39 (d) of the Indian Constitution.
  2. That the judgements of the High Court of Delhi are erroneous and neither are they final nor do they work as res judicata between the parties. 
  3. That the scale of pay of Rs. 400-600 and Rs. 300-430 are pay-scales of Punjab and their pay-scale was higher because they were linked to higher Consumer Price Index(‘CPI’) 320 as of January 1, 1978, instead of CPI 200. 
  4. That the employees of the High Court or Supreme Court cannot get the Punjab pay-scale merged into Dearness Allowance between CPI 200 and CPI 320 as well as the Central Government Dearness Allowance. 
  5. That the Delhi High Court judgement is erroneous and should not be relied upon. 

Provisions and the Statutes involved

  1. Article 14 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Right to Equality
  2. Article 16 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Equal opportunities in matters related to Employment in the public sector
  3. Article 32 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Right to Constitutional Remedies
  4. Article 136 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Special Leave to appeal by the Supreme Court
  5. Article 141 of the Constitution of India, 1950– The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all the Courts in the territory of India
  6. Article 146 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Officers and servants and the expenses of the Supreme Court
  7. Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Power of High Court to issue certain writs
  8. Supreme Court Officers’ and Servants (Conditions of Service and Rules), 1961

Judgement of the Case

The judgement was pronounced by a division bench on July 24, 1989. 

Also Read  S. Varadarajan v. Venkateswara Solvent Extraction

An interim order was passed by the Apex Court on July 25, 1986, directing that the staff members of the Registry might get the same pay allowances that were enjoyed by the staff of High Court of Delhi belonging to the same category. Another interim order was passed on August 14, 1986, which stated that the employees who were not covered by the earlier order shall be paid an amount equal to 10% of their basic pay, subject to a minimum of Rs. 50/-. This was later modified by a subsequent order on November 14, 1986.  

Finally, in the judgement of 1989, the Supreme Court increased the pay of some class of employees working in the Supreme Court. The matter was further sent to the Fourth Pay Commission for consideration, but the Commission did not suggest any pay-scale change. Finally, the Apex Court disposed of the petitions by saying that no imminent question of law was involved for which the Special Leave Petition can be filed. Thus, there was no increase in pay that was declared by the Supreme Court. 

Referred Cases

  1. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. v. State of Bihar[3]In this case, the Supreme Court held that if a Special Leave Petition has been dismissed in limine, it does not justify that the contentions raised in the petition have also been dismissed on the merits of the case. 
  2. Union of India v. All India Services Pensioners Association[4] – In this case, the Apex Court held that if the Court provides reasons for dismissing a Special Leave Petition, then it will be considered under Article 141 of the Constitution, otherwise, it cannot be said that there was a declaration of law under Article 141 of the Constitution. 
  3. Waman Rao v. Union of India[5]– In this case, the Court discussed the doctrine of prospective overruling. Thus, the court held by citing this case that the Delhi High Court judgement was wrong and the benefits aroused with such judgement shall not be conferred upon the future employees of Delhi High Court or the Supreme Court. 
  4. State of Punjab v. Joginder Singh[6]– In this case, the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of equal pay for equal work has nothing to do with any of the Articles enshrined under Part III of the Constitution. 
  5. V. Markandeya v. State of Andhra Pradesh[7]– In this case, the Court laid down that if on the analysis of the relevant rules, orders, nature of duties, or functions, the Court finds that the classification made by the State was on a rational basis with a nexus to the object, then such classification must be upheld and carried on by the Court. 
  6. Kirit Kumar Chaman Lal Kundaliya v. State of Gujarat[8]In this case, the Apex Court held that doctrine of res judicata or the principles of the final judgement cannot be allowed to override the constitutional mandate enshrined in Article 32 of the Constitution of India. 

Analysis and Conclusion of the Judgement

This judgement delivered by the Supreme Court went through many interim orders, many appeals, and many interrelations. But, in the end, the Apex Court concluded by delivering a final judgement declaring that the decision of the High Court was not rational and must not be applied in any circumstance. Further, the court added that the principle of res judicata shall not apply on the writ of Habeas Corpus under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Thus, if a writ of Habeas Corpus is once dismissed by the High Court, it can also be filed in the Supreme Court on the same facts. 

Therefore, the judgement, in this case, has been a precedent for many other cases as this was a just and reasonable one. The judges of the Supreme Court are also bound by the decisions pronounced by them as per the law. Thus, the writs act as a judicial restraint for policy decisions that are unreasonable, unjust, and against the public interest. 

[1] 1990 AIR 334.

[2] ILR 1986 Delhi 63.

[3] (1986) 4 SCC 146.

[4] AIR 1988 SC 501.

[5] (1981) 2 SCR 1.

[6]  (1963) Supp. 2 SCR 169.

[7] (1989) 2 JT 108.

[8] (1981) 2 SCR 718.