K. Rajendran v. State of Tamil Nadu

In the Supreme Court of India
Name of the CaseK. Rajendran & Ors. Etc. Etc vs State of Tamil Nadu & Ors
Citation    AIR 1982 SC 1107; 1982 (3) SCR 628; 1982 (2) SCC 273  
Date of the Case 15th April, 1982
PetitionerK. Rajendran & Ors. Etc.  
RespondentState of Tamil Nadu & Ors 
Bench/JudgesVenkataramiah, E.S. (J)Fazalali, Syed MurtazaVaradarajan, A. (J)  
Statutes/Constitution InvolvedThe Constitution of India, 1949;The Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-Time Village Officers Act, 1981.
Important Sections/ArticlesThe Constitution of India: Articles 14. 19 (1) (g), 32 and 311(2)Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Act: Ss.2 (e), 3 and 5  

Abstract

K Rajendran v. State of Tamil Nadu answers all the questions regarding the power of the State to abolish a post. The case analysis discusses how the State enactment for abolition of civil posts like posts of part-time village Officers and introduction of whole-time village administrative officers is valid and legal. The court has laid down whether government has a right to abolition of posts or abolition of cadre and also about the rights of the incumbent of that particular post. American and English jurisprudence have been considered in the course of adjudgment of this case and the Hon’ble court has also mentioned about the various doctrines involved in the instant case. This case analysis scrutinises the background and facts of the case while also inspecting the emphasized concepts, arguments by either parties and the cases cited by them.

Keywords

Village Officers, Tamil Nadu, Civil Service, Abolition, State

Introduction

The Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Act, 1981 abolished a total

of 23,010 posts. In these writ petitions, the petitioners who were holders of posts of part time

village officers in the State of Tamil Nadu or associations of such persons have questioned the constitutional validity of the Tamil Nadu Abolition of posts of part-time Village officers ordinance, 1980 Tamil Nadu ordinance No. 10 of 1980) (hereinafter referred to as ‘the ordinance’) and the Tamil Nadu Abolition of posts of part-time Village officers Act, 1981  (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act) which replaced the ordinance.

Background of the Case

In Tamil Nadu, the village has been the basic unit of revenue administration from the earliest times of which we have any record. The system of administration was generally known as the barabaluti system consisting of twelve functionaries.

By the late 19th century, two Acts were brought into force for the purpose of regulating the work of some of the village officers. The Madras Proprietary States’ Village Service Act, 1894 dealt with three classes of village officers viz. village accountants, village headmen and village watchmen or police officers and their appointment, remuneration and punishment for neglect and misconduct. The Madras Hereditary Village Offices Act, 1895 regulated the succession to certain other hereditary village offices; Village officers dealt with by this Act were (i) village munsifs, (ii) potels, monigars and peddakapus, (iii) karnams, (iv) nirgantis, (v) vettis, totis and tar dalgars and (vi) talayaris in ryotwari villages.

Under both these statutes, the succession to all hereditary village offices devolved on a single heir and rule of primogeniture governing succession to impartible zamindaris in Southern India. The State Legislature enacted the Madras Proprietary Estates’ Village Service and the Madras Hereditary Village Offices (Repeal) Act, 1968 repealing the 1894 and 1895 Acts. Pursuant to Section 3 of the Act, the State Government promulgated that Tamil Nadu Village officers Service Rules, 1970 which provided for the constitution of the Tamil Nadu Village Officers Service, consisting of (i) village headman, additional village headman (ii) village karnam, additional village karnam (iii) talayari and nirganti and the method of recruitment to the said posts. This was following the judgment in Gazula Dasaratha Rama Rao[1] case where section 6(1) of the Act of 1895 was held to be void as it contravened Article 16(2) of the Constitution.

The distinctive features of the service conditions of the village officers appointed under the aforesaid two Acts or the Board’s Standing Orders were that they were part-time employees of the Government; they were appointed directly by the Revenue officer. The Fundamental Rules applicable to all other State Government employees, the Pension Rules, and the Leave rules were not applicable to these village officers.

Facts

In the year 1973, the Administrative Reforms Commission set up by the State Government recommended that the existing part-time village officers should be replaced by regular whole-time transferrable public servants who should form part of the Revenue hierarchy.  The Commission felt that “the administration at the grass root level, provided by the present generation of village officers with feudal traditions, is inconsistent with the egalitarian principles aimed at in our democratic constitution”. It was further observed that reform of village administration would be beneficial for rural population. The State Government promulgated the Tamil Nadu Village officers Service Rules, 1974 in consistence with the recommendations. Thereafter the Tamil Nadu Village Officers Service Rules, 1978 were issued fixing the age of retirement of Village Officers at 60 years.

By November, 1980, The Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-Time Village Officers Ordinance, 1980 was promulgated abolishing the posts of part-time Village officers in the state. The Ordinance was later replaced by the Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Act, 1981, which provided for the appointment of Village Administrative officers. By Section 3 of the Act, the posts of part-time village officers were abolished with effect from November 14, 1980 and every officer holding a post so abolished ceased to hold such post, and Section 5 provided for payment of compensation to those who cease to be part-time village officers.  The petitioner brought the issue to the notice of the Supreme Court under the Original jurisdiction of the Hon’ble Court as he was a part of the post that was now abolished. He, thus raised issues on the said Act on the basis of it being against Constitutional provisions.

Issues

The key issue raised before the Hon’ble Court was that the Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-Time Village Officers Act, 1981 was against the Constitutional provisions which resulted in violation of fundamental rights of the petitioner. The petitioner questioned the arbitrariness of the Government in abolishing a post altogether. In State government’s opinion, the post of part-time officers was abolished since the post was considered obsolete by the Government and the steps were taken to reform the administrative system to make it more efficient in its functioning. The decision was not taken in bad faith by any manner. The Government also raised objection on the right of questioning of people who were no more the employees of the State government.

Summary of Arguments Raised

Three principal points that were urged before the Supreme Court by the petitioners in their petitions were –

(i) that the ordinance and the Act are violative of Art. 19(1)(g) of the Constitution,

(ii) that they are violative of Article 311 (2) of the Constitution and

(iii) that they contravene Article 14 of the Constitution.

  • The State Government (Respondent) contended that the system of part-time Village-officers was out-moded and did not fit in with the modern needs of village administration, after careful consideration taken the policy decision to abolish all the posts of part-time village officers on grounds of administrative necessity and to introduce a system of whole time officers to be in-charge of the village administration. To achieve this, the ordinance was promulgated on November 14, 1980 which was later replaced by the Act. 
  • It was also contended that since by the ordinance and the Act, certain posts have been abolished, the officials who were incumbents of the abolished posts cannot raise any of the grounds raised by them.

Related Provisions

The case revolves around the constitutionality of the Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Act, 1981 and thus the provisions of the Act together with the Constitutional provisions are examined in the instant case.  Entry 41 in List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution confers the power on the State Legislature to make laws with respect to State public services subject to the provisions of the Constitution. Article 309 of the Constitution provides that subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the State Legislature may regulate the recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the State.

Article 311 (2) of the Constitution states that no person who is a member of a civil service of the Union or an all-India service or a civil service of a State or holds a civil post under the State shall be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank except after an inquiry in which he has been informed of the charges against him and given a reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of those charges. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the laws.

Under Section 2 (e) of Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Act, 1981 “part-time Village Officer” means Village Headman (including Additional Village Headman), Village Karnam (including Chief Karnam and Additional Village Karnam) Revenue Officer appointed under-

(i) the Madras Proprietary Estates Village Service Act, 1894 (Madras Act II of 1894) or the Madras Hereditary Village Officers Act, 1895 (Madras Act III of 1895);

(ii) The Board’s Standing Orders;

(iii) the Tamil Nadu Village Officers Service Rules, 1970 or any other rules made under the proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution; or

(iv) any other law, but does not include Grama Kavalar, Grama Paniyalar and Pasana Kavalar.

Section 3 of the Act mandates the abolition of posts of part-time village officers and persons holding such posts to cease to hold office.

Section 5 mandates for an amount to be paid on abolition of posts of part-time village officers. In the event of death of the person concerned before payment of the amount, the amount remaining so unpaid on his death shall be paid to his legal heir or heirs.

Related Cases

Cases cited by the Petitioner

The petitioner has much relied on the case of State of Mysore v. H. Papanna Gowda & Anr.[2] which was considered in detail by the Hon’ble Court. The respondent in this case was holding the post of a chemical assistant in the Agricultural Research Institute, Mandya in the Department of Agriculture of the State of Mysore established under the Mysore University of Agricultural Sciences Act, 1963. By a notification issued under section 7(4) and (5) of that Act, the Institute in which the respondent was working was transferred to the University. The result was that the respondent ceased to be an employee of the State Government and became an employee of the University. Thereupon he questioned the validity of sub-sections (4) and (5) of section 7 of the said Act on the ground that they contravened Article 311(2) of the Constitution before the High Court of Mysore which upheld his plea. 

Cases cited by the Respondent

  1. It was observed in pages 60-61 of Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union (Regd), Sindri. v. Union of India[3] that Article 19 (1) (g) confers a broad and general right which is available to all persons to do work of any particular kind and of their choice. It does not confer the right to hold a particular job or to occupy a particular post of one’s choice. Even under Article 311 of the Constitution, the right to continue in service falls with the abolition of the post in which the person is working.
  2. In Moti Ram Deka v. General Manager, N.E.F. Railways [4] it was observed that if the services of the said servant were terminated, they would have to be in conformity with the provisions of Art. 311(2), because termination in such cases amounts to removal. The validity of removal of a Government servant holding a permanent post on its abolition was considered in P.V. Nasik. v. State of Maharashtra [5]. The learned Judges held that the termination of service of a Government servant consequent upon the abolition of posts did not involve punishment at all and therefore did not attract Article 311(2).

Judgment

  • The power to abolish a civil post is inherent in the right to create it. The Government has always the power, subject to the Constitutional provisions to reorganise a department to provide efficiency and to bring about economy. The Act is not violative or Article 19 (1) (g) as it does not affect the right of any of the incumbents of the posts to carry on any occupation of their choice even though they may not be able to stick on to the posts which they were holding.
  • The termination of service of a Government servant consequent upon the abolition of posts does not involve punishment at all and therefore does not attract Article 311(2).
  • If the post abolished is a special post or where an entire cadre is abolished and there is no lower cadre to which the members of the abolished cadre can reasonably be reverted, the application of the principle of ‘last come, first go’ may not arise at all.
  • It is necessary to recognise the existence of the power with the Legislature or the Executive to create or abolish posts in the civil services of the State. To deny the power of taking measures needed for streamlining the administration by making alterations in staffing patterns, to the Government, is to strike at the very roots of proper public administration. This power to abolish a post which may result in the holder thereof ceasing to be a Government servant has got to be recognised, but any action legislative or executive taken pursuant to that power is always subject to judicial review.
  • In the instant case it cannot be said that the State Act by which the village officers in the State of Tamil Nadu were abolished, contravenes Article 311 (2). The decision to abolish the village offices which were feudalistic in character and an anachronism in the modern age cannot be said to be arbitrary or unreasonable. 
  • Even though the Village officers appointed after December 16, 1970 were in a way different from the village officials appointed prior to that date the two cannot be equated with the new Village officers who were to be appointed under the 1981 Act and the rules made thereunder. It cannot therefore be stated that Article 14 of the Constitution has been violated in abolishing the posts held by those appointed after December 16, 1970.[6]
  • The petitions were dismissed yet subject to few instructions by the Hon’ble Court:

(i) The State Government will give effect to the memorandum filed on its behalf in the case of those who possess the minimum general qualifications prescribed under the Act and the Rules made thereunder and who were holding the posts of part-time village officers immediately before the Act came into force. The State Government shall re-employ all such persons who have not crossed the age of superannuation and who are selected as per the memorandum in the new cadre within four months. Until they are so selected, they will not be paid any remuneration. Even if they are re-employed, the amount paid to them pursuant to the interim orders will not be recovered from them.

(ii) The compensation, payable by the State Government under Section 5 of the Act to those who cease to be village officers shall be adjusted against the amount paid pursuant to the interim orders passed in these cases. The State Government will not recover from them any amount paid to them pursuant to the interim orders passed in these cases in excess of the compensation, payable to them.

(iii) The interim orders stand vacated.

(iv) No costs.

Highlighted Concepts

  • Along with the articles in the issues raised, the Supreme Court also explained the concept of right to work in the light of Articles 38 and 43 in this case.

Article 41 of the Constitution provides that “the State shall within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.” Article 38 states that the state shall strive to promote the welfare of the people and article 43 states it shall endeavour to secure a living wage and a decent standard of life to all workers. In the instant case, in which the problem of enforceability of such a right was posed before the Supreme Court, while negating the contention that such an abolition of posts would fall foul of the DPSP, the court made it clear that[7]:

It is no doubt true that Article 38 and Article 43 of the Constitution insist that the State should endeavour to find sufficient work for the people so that they may put their capacity to work into economic use and earn a fairly good living. But these articles do not mean that everybody should be provided with a job in the civil service of the State and if a person is provided with one, he should not be asked to leave it even for a just cause. If it were not so, there would be justification for a small percentage of the population being in Government service and in receipt of regular income and a large majority of them remaining outside with no guaranteed means of living. It would certainly be an ideal state of affairs if work could be found for all the able-bodied men and women and everybody is guaranteed the right to participate in the production of national wealth and to enjoy the fruits thereof. But we are today far away from that goal. The question whether a person who ceases to be a government servant according to law should be rehabilitated by being given an alternative employment is, as the law stands today, a matter of policy on which the court has no voice.

  • The broad features of Tamil Nadu Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Act, 1981 were elucidated in the case.
  • The idea of good faith in abolition of positions has been laid down with respect to American Jurisprudence through a book written by H. Elliot Kaplan titled “The Law of Civil Service”. It says that There of course, is no vested right to employment in the public service. The notion, much too prevalent, that anyone who has been appointed after a competitive examination is entitled to be retained in the service is erroneous. Where there is any reasonable justification for eliminating positions in the public service, even where such abolition of positions may be subject to judicial review, the inclination of the courts is not to interfere, avoiding substitution of judicial wisdom or judgment for that of the administrator. Most courts have held that the issue of good faith on the part of an administrative official is one of law solely for the court to pass on, and not an issue of fact which may be submitted to a jury for determination. The jury may determine the facts, which the court in turn may find as a matter of law constitute bad faith; but a verdict by a jury that a department head had acted in bad faith in abolishing a position was set aside as a conclusion of law, and not properly finding of fact.
  • The case has discussed about the doctrine of colourable legislation. In para 13 of the case as pointed out by this Court in Gajapati Narayan Deo’s case[8] also, the whole doctrine of colourable legislation resolves itself into the question of competency of a particular legislature to enact a particular law. If the legislature is competent to pass the particular law, the motives which impel it to pass the law are really irrelevant.
  • The case also mentions about the doctrine of pleasure. The doctrine of pleasure originated in England and it means that the Crown has the power to terminate the services of a civil servant at any time they wish without giving any notice of termination to the servant. When the civil servants are removed from their service, they do not have the right to sue the Crown for wrongful termination and they also cannot ask for damages undergone due to such a termination.[9] While the doctrine of pleasure incorporated in Article 310 cannot be controlled by any legislation, the exercise of that power by the President or the Governor, as the case may be, is however made subject to the other provisions of the Constitution, one of them being Article 311, which is not made subject to any other provision of the Constitution and is paramount in the field occupied by it.

Conclusion

The case thus lays down that abolition of posts by the State does not violate Article 311 of the Constitution and protesting for a post that has already been abolished will not be considered as seeking the right to work. Right to work does not mean clinging on to a single post. The instant case has analysed Articles 14, 19 and 311 in detail and has that the decision of the Government to abolish a post would not be violative of any of them.

Assessment Questions

  1. What does Article 311(2) of the Indian Constitution say?
  2. What is the doctrine of coloured legislation?
  3. Which articles in the Constitution mandate right to work?
  4. What was the system consisting 12 functionaries of revenue administration called in Tamil Nadu?
  5. Which Act abolished the post of part-time village officers?

[1] Gazula Dasaratha Rama Rao v. The State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1961) 2 SCR 931.

[2] State of Mysore v. H. Papanna Gowda & Anr. Etc. AIR 1971 SC 191.

[3] Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union (Regd), Sindri & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. AIR 1981 SC 344.

[4] Moti Ram Deka Etc. v. General Manager, N.E.F. Railways, Maligaon, Pandu Etc. AIR 1964 SC 600.

[5] P.V.Nasik & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra & Anr. AIR 1967 Bom 482.

[6] Satnam Mohapatra, K. Rajendran & Ors V. State Of Tamil Nadu & Ors, LAWi (July 27, 2020, 06:06 PM), https://india.lawi.asia/k-rajendran-and-ors-v-state-of-tamil-nadu-and-ors/.

[7] University of Minnesota Human Rights Resource Center, Justiciability of ESC Rights—the Indian Experience, HRRC (July 27, 2020, 04:22 PM), http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/IHRIP/circle/justiciability.htm#18b.

[8] K.C. Gajapati Narayan Deo v. State of Orissa AIR 1953 SC 375.

[9] Adarsh Singh Thakur, Doctrine of Pleasure, iPleaders ( July 27, 2020, 06:42 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/doctrine-of-pleasure/.

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