Court not expected to insist on absolute equality by taking rigid view: SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that mere differential treatment on its own cannot be termed as “anathema” to the Constitution’s Article 14, and the court is not expected to insist on absolute equality by “taking a rigid and pedantic view”.

It said a valid classification is nothing but valid discrimination and that being the position, there can never be an injury to the concept of equality enshrined under the Constitution, not being an inflexible doctrine.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh said: “A mere differential treatment on its own cannot be termed as an anathema to Article 14 of the Constitution. When there is a reasonable basis for a classification adopted by taking note of the exigencies and diverse situations, the court is not expected to insist on absolute equality by taking a rigid and pedantic view as against a pragmatic one.”

The top court made these observations while setting aside a judgment of Uttarakhand High Court, which allowed a plea by a registrar in a state government university seeking pay parity with the lecturers at the university, pointing out that he did function as a lecturer for a limited period.

The Uttarakhand government counsel contended that there are two circulars dealing with the lecturers and the registrars. “A decision was made to revise the pay scales of the UGC for the lecturers and not for the Rrgistrars. One has to see the economic implication. Respondent No. 1A has got neither any accrued nor vested right to seek pay parity. Such a parity cannot be sought by comparing the lecturers and the other registrars working in the Central Universities. There is no mandatory compliance of the Central Government’s revised pay scale implementation for the State Universities,” said the state government, which moved the top court against the high court order.

Justice Sundresh, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said such a discrimination would not be termed as arbitrary as the object of the classification itself is meant for providing benefits to an identified group of persons who form a class of their own.

“When the differentiation is clearly distinguishable with adequate demarcation duly identified, the object of Article 14 gets satisfied. Social, revenue and economic considerations are certainly permissible parameters in classifying a particular group. Thus, a valid classification is nothing but a valid discrimination. That being the position, there can never be an injury to the concept of equality enshrined under the Constitution, not being an inflexible doctrine,” he said.

The bench added there is no way courts could act like appellate authorities, especially when a classification is introduced by way of a policy decision clearly identifying the group of beneficiaries by analysing the relevant materials.

“If the right to equality is to be termed as a genus, a right to non-discrimination becomes a specie. When two identified groups are not equal, certainly they cannot be treated as a homogeneous group. A reasonable classification thus certainly would not injure the equality enshrined under Article 14 when there exists an intelligible differentia between two groups having a rational relation to the object,” said the bench.

It added that as long as the classification does not smack of inherent arbitrariness and conforms to justice and fair play, there may not be any reason to interfere with it.

The bench observed that it is the wisdom of the other wings which is required to be respected except when a classification is bordering on arbitrariness, artificial difference and itself being discriminatory.

The bench said law has become quite settled that the appellant (Uttarakhand government) is not bound by any direction issued by the central government which would at worst be mandatory to the central universities and the central government colleges receiving funds.

Concluding the judgment, the top court said: “When the classification is distinct and clear having adequate rationale with due relation to the objective, there is no reason to hold otherwise by treating a Registrar at par with the Lecturers. One is meant for administration and the other teaching.”

20220407-185239

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here