It is the duty of the state to voluntarily pay the gratuity amount, the bench observed.
In a huge relief to a retired government employee who fought in courts for many years, against the employer-government which denied his legitimate claim for gratuity, the Supreme Court has directed the state to pay it within three months.
The bench comprising of Justice RK Agrawal and Justice AM Sapre, observed that the Gratuity Act, being a welfare legislation meant for the benefit of the employees, who serve their employer for a long time, it is the duty of the state to voluntarily pay the gratuity amount to the appellant rather than to force the employee to approach the court to get his genuine claim. It also imposed a cost of Rs. 25,000 on the state of Chhattisgarh for dragging the litigation.
“It was indeed the State who took 22 years to regularize the service of the appellant and went on taking work from the appellant on payment of a meager salary of Rs.2776/- per month for 22 long years uninterruptedly and only in the last three years, the State started paying a salary of Rs. 11,107/- per month to the appellant. Having regularized the services of the appellant, the State had no justifiable reason to deny the benefit of gratuity to the appellant which was his statutory right under the Act,” the bench observed.
In this case, the controlling authority and appellate authority had found in favour of the retired employee, but the orders were set aside by the high court. It was observed that because out of the total period of 25 years of his service, he worked 22 years as daily wager and only 3 years as regular employee and hence he could not be said to have worked continuously for a period of 5 years as provided under the Act so as to make him eligible to claim gratuity.
The bench, setting aside the high court order, observed: “In our considered opinion, once the State regularized the services of the appellant while he was in State services, the appellant became entitled to count his total period of service for claiming the gratuity amount subject to his proving continuous service of 5 years as specified under Section 2A of the Act which, in this case, the appellant has duly proved.”
On the facts of the case, the bench said: “It would be the travesty of justice, if the appellant is denied his legitimate claim of gratuity despite rendering “continuous service” for a period of 25 years which even, according to the State, were regularized. The question as to from which date such services were regularized was of no significance for calculating the total length of service for claiming gratuity amount once the services were regularized by the State.”
The court also observed that the following observation made by Chief Justice MC Chagla (as he then was) in the case of Firm Kaluram Sitaram vs. The Dominion of India is fully applicable to the state in this case: “Now, we have often had occasion to say that when the State deals with a citizen it should not ordinarily reply on technicalities, and if the State is satisfied that the case of the citizen is a just one, even though legal defences may be open to it, it must act, as has been said by eminent Judges, as an honest person.”
It was only yesterday that another bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur, while allowing an appeal preferred by the Union of India against a high court order that had favoured a retired railway employee, recommended the Department of Personnel and Training of the Government of India to try and make life after retirement easier for a government servant.