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Provisions for Retirement of Teachers Must Be Read With the Larger Interest of Students in Mind: Supreme Court

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Supreme Court in Navin Chandra Dhoundiyal v State of Uttarakhand reinstated the appellants to their position as Professor on basis of re-employment till the end of June 2021. The bench held that such retirement provisions are to be read keeping in mind the larger interest of students.

Brief Facts of the Case

The appellants are all Professors in the respondent Kumaun University. An order dated 21.12.2019 set out their respective retirement dates. The dates were the last dates of in the months they attained the age of 65 years.

They approached the High Court against the orders. They argued that they were entitled to continue in service till June 2021 relying on Dr Indu Singh v State of Uttarakhand.

The High Court did not agree and rejected the petition on the following grounds:

Indu Singh case is not a binding authority;

The words used “of the end of the academic session”, was held to be “misleading”;

The judgment in Indu Singh is limited to holding that the service of an employee or teacher retiring in a given month would be “extendable only till the end of the month and not more.”

Arguments by the Appellant 

The Counsel argued first that the impugned judgment’s interpretation of Statute No. 16.24 is misleading. 

In this particular case, the intention of the statute was the continuance of the status quo, to avoid disturbance, caused by the retirement, and the likely time to be taken by the University to make alternative arrangements to fill the vacancy.

It was done in larger interest for the students.

Further, a bench on co-equal strength could not have refused to follow an earlier decision. If it doubted it or wished to leave from it, the proper course would have been to refer the issue to a larger, or full bench. 

Arguments by the Respondent

The Counsel argued that the HC had good reasons to differ from the reasoning of Indu Singh case. The bench surmised that the proviso to Statute No. 16.24 embodied the principle underlying that G.O. ensuring that teachers retired only at the end of the month during which they attained the age of superannuation.

Further, one could not read too much into the expression “the 30th June following” beyond the fact that it was meant to illustrate that if a teacher were to meet the age of superannuation during June of any year, she or he could be reemployed till the end of that month.

It did not imply that the teacher, a superannuated employee, had a right to insist that he/she should be reemployed till the end of June of the next year. The Counsel stated that the intent of the main provision, which enacts the essential principle, which is that every teacher attains the age of superannuation when she turns 65. In these circumstances, he/she cannot claim entitlement to re-employment.

Court’s Observation

The Court discussed the case of State of UP v Ramesh Chandra Tiwari. They stated that it could be said that the view of the Courts has been that the teachers who are superannuating are to be treated as re-employed or allowed to continue in the larger interest of the pupils. 

The bench observed that if the view of the impugned judgment is favoured there would be avoidable disruption in teaching and the likely delay in filling vacancies caused mid-session would be to the detriment of the students.

If the university wished to leave from this, appropriate measures could have been taken. And in the absence of any such move, injects uncertainty.

The Court opines that the object and intent of the proviso to Statute No.16.24 is to avoid the disruption caused by discontinuity of service of a teaching staff employee or official mid-session. Thus, the view in Indu Singh was interpreted.

Court’s Order

The bench set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court. It stated that the appellants are entitled to continue until the end of the following June. If any of the appellants have been superannuated they must be reinstated with full salary for the period they were out of employment and allowed to continue till the following June. This will be on a re-employment basis.

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