This Article is written by MridushiDamani, student of Hidayatullah National Law University
According to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, it is mandatory for the state to not deny equal protection of law and equality before the law to any citizen within the territory of India. In other words, a law is required to be non-arbitrary and, subsequently, each person is entitled to the fullest protection of the law in its application.
Finally, the Supreme Court in the case of E. P. Royappa vs. State of Tamil Nadu, evolved the new Doctrine of Non-Arbitrariness which was a fresh dimension of equality, where J. Bhagwati termed “equality” and “arbitrariness” as sworn enemies. According to the Doctrine of Non-Arbitrariness, “equality” which is a dynamic concept has various aspects and dimensions to it, and thus, cannot be imprisoned within traditional and doctrinal limits. Non-Arbitrariness which is an essential facet of the said Article hence pervades the entire realm of state-actions governed by Article 14. Hence, as seen in various landmark judgements like that of AjaiHasia vs. Khalid Mujib, Ramana Dayaram Shetty vs. International Airport Authority, and various others, any state-action be it legislative, executive or administrative, which is based on any random choice or personal whim, or which gives arbitrary power to a certain group of people, not based on reasons or a system, is in violation of equality as prescribed under Article 14.
The said Doctrine has been applied in various cases, the following is an analysis of one such case:
TAMIL NADU ELECTRICITY BOARD VS. R.VEERASWAMY AND ORS.
In the present case, the appellant-Board had been formed on 1.07.1957 and the employees of the Electricity Department of the Govt. of Tamil Nadu transferred to the Board, thus the employees of the government became the employees of the Board. The employees (respondents) of the Board were governed by the Contributory Provident Fund Scheme on the day they were transferred i.e. 1.07.1957, and on their retirement, which was prior to 1.07.1986, all the employees (respondents) who were governed by the Contributory Provident Fund Scheme, had received all the retiral benefits in full settlement.
Later the Govt. of Tamil Nadu in G.O.M.S. No.797 dated 30.06.1969 introduced a pension scheme to its employees who were not governed earlier by the said scheme. After complying with the necessary formalities the Board introduced the said pension scheme with effect from 1.07.1986. The retired employees (respondents), aggrieved by the prospective introduction of the pension scheme from the prescribed date, moved the High Court of Madras to quash the Board’s proceedings.
The Single Judge of the High Court in his judgement found that the date fixed(1.07.1986) was neither arbitrary nor violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution,and dismissed the writ petition. The respondents then moved the Division Bench of the High Court, which to the contrary held that the respondents were entitled to the benefits of the pension scheme on the grounds that mere delay on the part of the Board in issuing the impugned proceedings and stating that from the date of the proceedings only the benefit will be extended is arbitrary and against Article 14. Thus, the writ petition was allowed and it was held that the Board would have to extend the benefits of the scheme to all employees retiring even before 1.07.1986.
Aggrieved by the judgement the Board by seeking special leave moved the Supreme Court.
Whether the Board acted illegally or contrary to the law of equality as prescribed in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, in introducing a pension scheme, prospectively from 1.07.1986 in exclusion of those employees who had retired before the prescribed date?
The Supreme Court in its judgement referred to the landmark case of Krishena Kumar vs. Union of India, where it was held that pension retirees and provident fund retirees do not form one homogeneous class and thus similarly, the rules governing provident fund and its contributions are completely different from those of the pension scheme, thereby making it unreasonable to argue that what is applicable to pension retirees must also equally be applicable to provident fund retirees. It was further held that no continuing obligation remained in case of those retiring under the provident fund rules, whereas in the case of pension retirees the obligation continued till the death of the employee.
Further referring the case of Union of India vs. P.N. Menon, a similar question came up where the above judgment was upheld and it was held that whenever the Govt. or state authority, frames or revises a scheme in respect of post-retirement benefits, if it is implemented with a cut-off date which is reasonable and rational, then such a scheme need not be held invalid and arbitrary in the light of Article 14. In fact, whenever such a revision takes place, a cut-off date becomes imperative because the benefit has to be allowed within the financial resources available with the Govt.
In the present case, the employees (respondents) were governed by the provident fund scheme and not the pension scheme and had received all the retiral benefits according to the rules in force. Thus, it was held that the act of the appellant-Board of introducing the pension scheme prospectively from 1.07.1986 was based on well-founded reasons including financial constraints, which was a valid ground because if the Board had given the scheme retrospective effect as per the impugned judgement of the Division Bench of the High Court, the financial burden on the Board would be of Rs.200 Crores which is beyond the capacity of the Board.
It was held that the retired employees before 1.07.1986 (respondents), formed a separate class and could not be treated alike those employees who were employed on 1.07.1986. Thus, the Board had not acted illegally, arbitrarily or in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution in introducing the pension scheme prospectively from 1.07.1986 as it had reasonable grounds for doing so.
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT
In this judgement, the point to be observed is the thin line of which makes an act arbitrary and non-arbitrary. The Supreme Court by impugning the decision of the Division Bench proved that any act which is formed on reasonable and rational grounds will be held valid, however, whenever any act is based on arbitrary grounds, i.e. based on any random choice or personal whim, can be struck down as being violative of the principle of equality prescribed in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
- E. P.Royappa vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (1974) 4 SCC 3 
- Tamil Nadu Electricity Board vs. R.Veeraswamy and Ors, (1999) 2 SCR 221.
- Ajai Hasia vs. Khalid Mujib, (1981) 1 SCC 722
- Ramana Dayaram Shetty vs. International Airport Authority, (1979) 3 SCC 489
- Krishena Kumar vs. Union of India, 1990 AIR 1782
- P Jain, Indian Constitution Law (6th Ed. Reprint 2012, Lexis Nexis Butterworth Wadhwa, Nagpur).
- Dr Durga Das Basu, Introduction to the Constitution of India, LexisNexis (21st ed. 2013).
- J.N.Pandey, The Constitutional Law of India(Central Law Agency,Allahabad,46th Edition 2009)
- Granville Austin, Indian Constitution Cornerstone of a Nation, Oxford Publication.