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State Cannot Plead Financial Burden To Deny Salary For Legally Serving Doctors : Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
3 Aug 2021 1:27 PM GMT
State Cannot Plead Financial Burden To Deny Salary For Legally Serving Doctors : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court has observed that the state cannot be allowed to plead financial burden to deny salary to legally serving doctors. Allowing such an excuse raised by the state would amount to violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14(right to equality) , 21(right to life) and 23(right against bonded labour) of the Constitution."The State cannot be allowed plead financial ...

The Supreme Court has observed that the state cannot be allowed to plead financial burden to deny salary to legally serving doctors. Allowing such an excuse raised by the state would amount to violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14(right to equality) , 21(right to life) and 23(right against bonded labour) of the Constitution.

"The State cannot be allowed plead financial burden to deny salary for the legally serving doctors. Otherwise it would violate their rights under Articles 14, 21 and 23 of the Constitution", the judgment delivered by a bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hrishikesh Roy observed.

The Court made this observation while disapproving the stand taken by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation against payment of salary arrears to ayurvedic doctors who had continued in service for five years under the protection of orders passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal and the Delhi High Court.

The dispute in the case related to the applicability of an order issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 31.05.2016 to raise the age of superannuation for the General Duty Medical Officers [GDMO] of the Central Health Scheme [CHS] from 60 years to 65 years. The issue was if the order was applicable to ayurvedic doctors covered under the Ministry of AYUSH.

On 30.06.2016, the NDMC adopted the Government of India order by issuing office order dated 30.06.2016 and enhanced the retirement age to 65 years for the Allopathic doctors working in the NDMC. Ayurvedic doctors working in the NDMC were aggrieved with their exclusion from the order enhancing age of retirement. Therefore, some of them approached the CAT.

Later, on 27.09.2017, the Ministry of AYUSH issued an order enhancing the age of superannuation of AYUSH doctors as 65 years. Meanwhile, the CAT had allowed the applications filed by Ayurvedic doctors, accepting their argument of unjust discrimination.

The Delhi High Court upheld the CAT's order and directed the NDMC to disburse payment of arrears of salary and allowances to the ayurvedic doctors, who continue to serve with the NDMC beyond the age of 60 years. The High Court also held that the AYUSH Ministry's order enhancing the age of retirement must be retrospectively applied from 31.05.2016, the date on which MoHFW issued its order.

Challenging the High Court' judgment, the NDMC approached the Supreme Court, contending that the doctors had no entitlement to salary arrears as they were working under the protection of interim orders.

Rejecting this argument, the Supreme Court noted that the interim orders had merged with the final judgment passed by the High Court, which upheld the CAT's direction. Further, the Court observed that the doctors had been rendering services during the period.

"..in  the present case, the respondent­-doctors have been working continuously without break,  pursuant to the Interim order of the Delhi High Court dated 26.09.2017", the Supreme Court said.

"In these matters, for almost 5 years, the respondent doctors have been providing service to countless patients, without remuneration or benefits. Their services are utilized by the employer in Government establishments, without demur".

Rejecting the NDMC's plea of financial difficulty, the Supreme Court said that the principle "No work should go unpaid" should be applied here as a corollary of the principle "No Work No Pay", as the service rendered by the respondent doctors have been productive both for the patients and also the employer.

"We are quite clear in our mind that the respondents must be paid their lawful remuneration­ arrears and current, as the case may be. The State cannot be allowed plead financial burden to deny salary for the legally serving doctors. Otherwise it would violate their rights under Articles 14, 21 and 23 of the Constitution".

Classification between allopathic and AYUSH doctors not reasonable

The Court also observed that the classification between allopathic and AYUSH doctors as regards the age of retirement was unreasonable.

Approving the findings of the Delhi High Court and CAT, the Supreme Court said :

"The only difference is that AYUSH doctors are using indigenous systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Unani, etc. and CHS doctors are using Allopathy for tending to their patients. In our understanding, the mode of treatment by itself under the prevalent scheme of things, does not qualify as an intelligible differentia. Therefore, such unreasonable classification and discrimination based on it would surely be inconsistent with Article 14 of the Constitution".

"The doctors, both under AYUSH and CHS, render service to patients and on this core aspect, there is nothing to distinguish them. Therefore, no rational justification is seen for having different dates for bestowing the benefit of extended age of superannuation to these two categories of doctors. Hence, the order of AYUSH Ministry (F. No. D. 4019/4/2016¬E¬I (AYUSH)) dated 24.11.2017 must be retrospectively applied from 31.05.2016 to all concerned respondent¬ doctors, in the present appeals. All consequences must follow from this conclusion".

The Supreme Court ordered that the respondent doctors are entitled to full salary arrears and the same was ordered to be disbursed within 8 weeks from today (August 3). Belated payment beyond the stipulated period will carry interest, at the rate of 6% from the date of the order until the date of actual payment.

Case Details

Case Title : North Delhi Municipal Corporation vs Dr. Ram Naresh Sharma and others

Coram : Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hrishikesh Roy

Citation : LL 2021 SC 346

Click here to read/download the judgment





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