13 Dec 2010

Retirement age prerogative of Government: Supreme Court

The conditions of service regarding government employees are governed in a strict regime in terms of the rule-based regime which governs the employment. While a number of additional safeguards are available to government employees (in comparison to those in private employment), the courts have been vigilant enough by not stretching the limits the protection available to them in a manner so as to render the governmental functioning otiose. In this line of reasoning the Supreme Court has declared that the fixation of retirement age is the prerogative of the Government and the same is beyond challenge. 

In State of U.P. v. Hirendra Pal Singh the Court was examining the validity of the order of the Allahabad High Court wherein the High Court had stayed the provision reducing the retirement age of District Government Counsel from 62 to 60 years and had allowed the incumbents to continue upto the age of 62. In this context noting that the High Court had not been appraised of the legal position regarding the change in retirement age, a three judge Bench of the Supreme Court clarified the law in the following terms;
7. ... So far as the issue of reduction of age from 62 to 60 years is concerned, it has not been brought to the notice of the High Court that it is within the exclusive domain of the State Government to reduce the age even in Government services. So in case of purely professional engagement, the age could validly be reduced by the State Government unilaterally.
8. A Constitution Bench of this Court in Bishun Narain Misra v. The State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors., AIR 1965 SC 1567 held that new rule reducing the age of retirement from 58 to 55 years could neither be invalid nor could be held to be retrospective as the said rule was a method adopted to tide over the difficult situation which could arise in public services if the new rule was applied at once and also to meet any financial objection arising in enforcement of the new rule. 
9. In Roshan Lal Tandon v. Union of India & Ors., AIR 1967 SC 1889, a similar view has been reiterated by this Court observing that emoluments of the Government servant and his terms of service could be altered by the employer unilaterally for the reason that conditions of service are governed by statutory rules which can be unilaterally altered by the Government without the consent of the employee. (See also B.S. Vadera v. Union of India & Ors., AIR 1969 SC 118; The State of Jammu & Kashmir v. Triloki Nath Khosa & Ors., AIR 1974 SC 1; B.S. Yadav & Ors. v. State of Haryana & Ors., AIR 1981 SC 561; and State of Jammu & Kashmir v. Shiv Ram Sharma & Ors., AIR 1999 SC 2012). 
10. In K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr. etc., AIR 1985 SC 551, this Court examined the amended provisions of Andhra Pradesh Public Employment (Regulation of Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 1983 by which the age of retirement was reduced from 58 to 55 years and this Court upheld the amended provisions being neither arbitrary nor irrational. The court further rejected the submission of the appellants therein that the said amended provisions would have retrospective application taking away their accrued rights. (See also State of Andhra Pradesh etc. etc. v. S.K. Mohinuddin etc. etc., AIR 1994 SC 1474).
11. In view of the above, it is evident that even in government services where the terms and conditions of service are governed by the statutory provisions, the Legislature is competent to enhance or reduce the age of superannuation. In view of the above, it is beyond our imaginations as why such a course is not permissible for the appellant-State while fixing the age of working of the District Government Advocates.

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