29 Nov 2023 1:00 PM GMT
The Madras High Court has asked the Central Government to reconsider enhancing the retirement age of all Coast Guard staff from 57 years to 60 years. The court also set aside an order of the Defence Ministry rejecting a plea by Coast Guard members below the rank of Commandant seeking such enhancement. The bench of Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice Bharatha Chakravarthy also...
The Madras High Court has asked the Central Government to reconsider enhancing the retirement age of all Coast Guard staff from 57 years to 60 years. The court also set aside an order of the Defence Ministry rejecting a plea by Coast Guard members below the rank of Commandant seeking such enhancement.
The bench of Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice Bharatha Chakravarthy also gave liberty to the members of the Coast Guard to make representations and submit materials justifying how Ministry's rejection of the plea was incorrect.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by members of the Coast Guard challenging the Constitutional Validity of Rule 20(1) of the Indian Coast Guard Rules 1986 and an order passed by the Ministry of Defense refusing to enhance the age of retirement of members of the Coast Guard up to the level of commandant to 60 years from 57 years.
Relying on the decision of the Delhi High Court in Dev Sharma v Indo Tibetan Border Police and Others (2019), wherein the court had increased the retirement age to 60 for other Central Paramilitary Forces (CAPFs), the petitioners argued that there was no justification in continuing the age as 57 only in respect of the Coast Guard.
It was further submitted that there was no rationale in differentiating between officers below the rank of commandant and those above.
The Centre argued that Article 33 of the Constitution would be applicable in the present case and as such if any law provided for differential treatment, the same would be valid. It was also submitted that the Coast Guard Rules were framed upon exercising powers under Section 123(2)(E) of the Coast Guard Act 1978.
The Centre also argued that the decision of the Delhi High Court was based on the recommendation of the Seventh Pay Commission in which by a majority of 2:1, the commission had recommended a uniform age of superannuation of 60 years to all CAPFs.
It was further submitted that the Pay Commission had specifically noted that there was no request from the Coast Guard regarding the enhancement of age and thus, had not considered the same. It was also argued that the expertise and wisdom of the respondent, especially with respect to the armed forces, could not be substituted or supplanted by the views of the Court.
The court agreed that the Seventh Pay Commission had not issued any directions for the Indian Coast Guard. The court also noted that the Delhi High Court had specifically considered the Centre’s reasons for classification and had found those reasons to not be convincing.
It observed that a similar exercise had to be carried out in the present case to conclude whether the differential age of retirement violated Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
The court observed that when an earlier petition was filed seeking similar relief, the court had directed the Union to consider the case of the Coast Guard which was similar to other CAPFs. The court further observed that the Union had passed the impugned rejection order without application of mind regarding the similarity of the Coast Guard with other CAPFs or without considering the judgment of the Delhi High Court.
The court was also doubtful of the Centre’s submission that the classification was justified as the duties performed by those above the rank of Commandant were administrative while that of those below the rank of commandant were predominantly offshore duties.
The court finally noted that the reasons for rejecting the enhancement of age were primarily on the premise that the Coast Guard was similar to other CAPFs for whom an order was already passed in 2019, implementing a uniform retirement age of 60 years.
However, it added that the similarity of the Coast Guard with other CAPFs had to be considered by the Centre first and only then could a conclusive decision be made on whether discrimination regarding the age of retirement was violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
“The contention of the petitioner relating to the other reasons of Caree Progression etc., mentioned in the impugned order is again primarily on the premise that the same are akin to the CAPFs in respect of which the Order has been passed on 19.08.2019 implementing the uniform age as 60 years. However, the similarity or otherwise has to be first considered by the respondents themselves to arrive at a conclusion. Without a decision being made it cannot be conclusively held that the discrimination in respect of the age of retirement will be in violation of Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India,” the court observed.
Thus, the court observed that it was necessary for the Centre to reconsider the issue and also address the similarity of other CAPFs through the implementation of the Delhi High Court judgment. The court accordingly set aside the impugned order and directed the Centre to reconsider the issue.
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. Prabhu Mukunth Arun Kumar, Mr. Niranjan Rajagopalan, for M/s. G.R. Associates, M/s. Kavya Silambannan for M/s. Kavya Silmbannan Associates.
Counsel for the Respondent: Mr. A.R.L. Sundaresan, Additional Solicitor General of India Assisted by Mr.N.Ramesh, Senior Standing Counsel, Mr. M. Aravind Kumar, CGSPC, Mr. Subbu Ranga Bharathi, CGSC
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 372
Case Title: Lakshmichandra Harishchandra Sharma v Union of India and Another
Case No: W.P. Nos.415, 947, 901 and 766 of 2021