In a judgment passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in State of Mahrashtra v. Bhagwan (Civil Appeal No. 7682-7684 of 2021), the bench comprising Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna observed that the State Government and the Autonomous Board/Body cannot be put on par and the employees of the latter are governed by their own Service Rules and service conditions. The Supreme Court observed that the employees of the autonomous bodies cannot claim, as a matter of right, the same service benefits on par with the Government employees.
The issue arose in a batch of Special Leave Petitions filed by the State of Maharashtra challenging the judgment of the Bombay High Court, wherein writ petitions filed by some employees, the Bombay High Court directed the State Government to extend the pensionary benefits to the employees of Water and Land Management Institute (“WALMI”).
The court further observed that interference by the Judiciary in a policy decision having financial implications and/or having a cascading effect is not at all warranted and justified.
The State filed Special Leave Petitions before the Apex Court mainly contending that as per the Service Rules applicable to the employees of WALMI, there is no provision for pension/pensionary benefits. It was further contended that the Pension Rules applicable to the State Government employees shall not be made applicable to the employees of WALMI and therefore they are not entitled to the pensionary benefits
Therefore, the issue considered in this case was whether the employees of WALMI, which is an independent autonomous entity registered under the Societies Registration Act, are entitled to the pensionary benefits on par with the State Government employees.
Referring to T.M. Sampath and Ors. Vs. Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources and Ors., (2015) 5 SCC 333, the bench observed that:
"As per the law laid down by this Court in a catena of decisions, the employees of the autonomous bodies cannot claim, as a matter of right, the same service benefits on par with the Government employees. Merely because such autonomous bodies might have adopted the Government Service Rules and/or in the Governing Council there may be a representative of the Government and/or merely because such institution is funded by the State/Central Government, employees of such autonomous bodies cannot, as a matter of right, claim parity with the State/Central Government employees. This is more particularly, when the employees of such autonomous bodies are governed by their own Service Rules and service conditions. The State Government and the Autonomous Board/Body cannot be put on par."
While setting aside the High Court judgment, the bench held that grant of pensionary benefits is not a one-time payment. Grant of pensionary benefits is a recurring monthly expenditure and there is a continuous liability in future towards the pensionary benefits. Therefore, merely because at one point of time, WALMI might have certain funds does not mean that for all times to come, it can bear such burden of paying pension to all its employees. In any case, it is ultimately for the State Government and the Society (WALMI) to take their own policy decision whether to extend the pensionary benefits to its employees or not. The interference by the Judiciary in such a policy decision having financial implications and/or having a cascading effect is not at all warranted and justified.
By - C.George Thomas