The Calcutta High Court on Friday came down heavily on the administration of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) for its decision to outsource the services rendered by a batch of contractual employees who had been working as gardeners since 2013 to a government contractor.
The Court set aside the resolution dated January 3, 2022, which contained such a direction and further ordered that under no circumstances can the contractual employees be pushed to a Government contractor from the aegis of the ISI administration.
Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay minced no words in disapproving of the practice of governmental interference in the functioning of autonomous institutions.
"An autonomous institution has autonomy in its administration and in its other functions. The Government cannot play the role of a modern day Shylock by saying, as the Government is putting the money, Government will control the autonomous institution in administrative functions. This cannot be done in a country like India where a large number of autonomous bodies are working for a long time. Where is the declared policy which says that the Government will interfere into the administration and other works of the autonomous body? Or such interference would be done in an indirect manner? As the Government is giving money it cannot say that it will control partially or in full an autonomous body, the Government is duty bound to give the money which is not anybody's personal money but the money of the people of India collected from tax and other sources and the Government cannot question the autonomy enjoyed unless there is very serious irregularities in respect of the autonomous institution. No serious financial irregularity has been shown here. Here some person would do the same job but now not under ISI but under a Government contractor. What is the purpose? Nobody has been able to explain it before me", the Court observed.
Directing the ISI administration to consider giving permanent employee status to the petitioners, the Court further observed,
"I wholly set aside and quash the resolution taken in the meeting dated 03.01.2022 that ISI should procure the cooking and gardening services by following the due procedure on GeM. In no circumstances petitioners can be pushed to a Government contractor from the fold of ISI. On the contrary ISI should consider with sincerity about giving permanent employee status to the petitioners as artificial breaks were given in their contractual periods from 2013 to 2021."
In the instant case, the petitioners work as gardeners at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) and had been hired as contractual employees in the year 2013. They had been appointed through a recruitment procedure for which advertisement had been published in the newspaper. Thereafter, their services had been outsourced to Kalpataru Enterprise instead of the ISI. Furthermore, the existing recruitment policy had been changed.
Earlier, the ISI had a recruitment policy that stipulated that the extension of contract may continue till the petitioners attain the age of 59 years if they are physically fit and a medical test will be essential for that purpose. However, under the new recruitment policy, instead of up to 59 years, the petitioners were given employment for only one year of service period.
The Court noted at the outset that this change in the recruitment policy is clearly prejudicial to the interest of the petitioners.
"A benefit granted to the contractual workers by a committee of the autonomous body can never be changed to the detriment of the beneficiary workers that too without taking their consent. This is wholly illegal. Every citizen of this country has a status and prestige as human being as guaranteed by Article 21 of the constitution of India and their life and prestige as a human being cannot be dealt with by some powerful persons like pawns", the Court underscored.
The Court further referred to the petition which contained an averment made by a Government officer that the continuation of contractual appointment in the way it has been done cannot be supported by the Government. Expressing serious reservations against this, Justice Gangopadhyay further remarked,
"Why it cannot supported? What is the reason? Cannot the autonomous body have its own say and decisions in the matter? There is no answer."
The Court further remarked that it appears that some Government officers are making comments in respect of running of an autonomous institution as if from a higher pedestal without giving any reason for their comments.
Opining further on the outsourcing of services, the Court remarked with dismay,
"Why the services should be outsourced? What is the reason? Where is the financial involvement and analysis? Is expenditure the only guiding factor in such cases? Service of human beings under a protective umbrella of an autonomous body has no value to a welfare state? And what will happen to the already taken decision of continuation of the contractual employee till 59 years? When this decision has been overruled? Why this decision of the said committee of the autonomous body will not be respected? There is no answer."
The Court further referred to the minutes of the meeting dated January 3, 2022 wherein the decision to outsource the job for which the petitioners were engaged had been taken. Terming such a decision to be 'wholly unreasonable', the Court remarked further,
"High handedness is no substitute for reasoning. In an autonomous institution no Government officer can dictate terms as if standing on a higher pedestal as has been done by some Government Officers in the meeting dated 03.01.2022."
The Court further noted that the breaks given in the contractual services of the petitioners are 'wholly artificial to save the rigour of law'. It was further opined such artificial breaks have been given after each contractual period in order to give the impression that the employees are contractual employees when in reality their duty is perennial in nature.
"What is the reason for giving such artificial breaks except doing something indirectly when the same cannot be done directly? If required, it could have been said to the contractual employees that their services were not required.. Such artificial breaks given to the contractual employees are not at all acceptable to this court which exercises jurisdiction under the Constitution of India as it is unfair", the Court remarked further.
Accordingly, the Court objected to the decision taken to send the petitioners under a government contractor when the petitioners are instead entitled to be permanently absorbed by the ISI administration.
Thus, the Court categorically ruled that the petitioners will continue to work under the ISI administration and that under no circumstances can their services can be terminated without following the prior recruitment policy with regards to the conduct of physical fitness and medical test.
The petitioners have been represented by Advocates Raghunath Chakraborty and Tanusree Das. The State has been represented by Advocate Debapriya Gupta.
Case Title: Shri Aloke Singh & Ors v. Indian Statistical Institute & Ors
Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 4.