K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr., 1985

K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh

Introduction

This case analysis of K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh is written by Vikranta Pradeep Barsay a student of National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.

This case of K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr. (1985) 2 SCR 579 deals with the power of judicial review of the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution in matters of policy-making by a public department.

Petitioner: K. Nagaraj & Ors.

Respondent: State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr.

Citation: 2 SCR 579 (1985)/ 1 SCC 523 (1985)/ 1 SCALE 31 (1985).

Judges: Chief Justice Y. V. Chandrachud, Justice R. S. Pathak and Justice S. Mukharji (henceforth, known as the ‘bench’).

Facts of the Case

In January 1983, the state of Andhra Pradesh held their elections to the State Legislative Assembly, wherein Telugu Desam, a new political faction won the elections by an overwhelming majority. The newly-formed Government of Andhra Pradesh passed an order (G. O. M. S – 36 GAD) on February 8, 1983, where the superannuation age of all government employees (except the government employees belonging to the LGS category) had been reduced from fifty-eight years to fifty-five years to enliven the government employment opportunities among the youth of the state. The previous state government had increased the superannuation of all government employees from fifty-five years to fifty-eight years on October 29, 1979.

The aforementioned order came into force on February 28, 1983, wherein every government employee (not only ministerial but also non-ministerial) was asked to vacate its office. It is worth noting that 18,000 government employees and 10,000 public sector employees were superannuated on February 28, 1983.

The superannuated employees filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for a perceptional violation of Articles 14, 21 and 311(2) of the Indian Constitution by the newly-formed Government of Andhra Pradesh. The petitioners held the following contentions:

  1. The reduction of the superannuation age has no direct relevance in raising employment opportunities for the youth of the state.
  2. The exercise of power by the incumbent government is arbitrary since it fails to understand the fixation of the superannuation of the preceding government at fifty-eight years.
  3. The incumbent government did not provide any prior notice to the government and private sector employees before issuing the said order, wherein the superannuated employees had no time to prepare for retirement.
  4. The incumbent government is barred from reducing the superannuation age since the superannuated employees were working under the supposed aegis of the increased superannuation of 1979.
  5. The forced retirement of matured and experienced employees from government service will prove to be detrimental to the quality of public service within the government sector of the state.
  6. The incumbent government has reduced the age of superannuation without understanding that increased longevity has allowed individuals to work for longer.
  7. The abrupt retirement of 28,000 individuals burdens the state government with the payment of the pension benefits to the retired individuals.

The respondent argued that the unemployment level within the state had touched 17, 84, 699 on December 31, 1982, wherein the causal and unwarranted increase in the superannuation age in 1979 by the preceding government not only led to an increase in the population of unemployed youth in the state by one-third but also frustrated the government employees due to impaired chances of promotion. The respondent abrogated the petitioner’s rationale that the elevated superannuation age reflects the heightened average life expectancy of seventy years.

The respondent observed the general trend across different states of India, wherein the states of Kerala and Karnataka had reduced the age of superannuation from fifty-eight years to fifty-five years; additionally, the respondent added that it is acting within its economic capacity to effectively solve the unemployment issue of the state by creating employment opportunities for the qualified, educated, talented and unemployed youth of the state. Finally, the respondent added that the aforementioned order is a government policy that is immune from judicial review via the petitioner’s writ petitioner.

The article uses a doctrinal approach to analyse the questions held before the Supreme Court of India about the violation of Articles 14, 21 and 311(2) of the Indian Constitution due to the aforementioned government order.[1]

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Analysis: Obiter Dicta

The three-judge divisional bench posited that the question of fixing the superannuation age is the admixture of three observations:

a) Performance of the employees,

b) The obligation of employing the younger sections of the state, and

c) The desideratum of providing promotion opportunities to the existing employees when they are in the early stage of their career;

Consequently, the state is always divided between two considerations:

a) Superannuation deprives the public service of the benefit of its matured and experienced senior employees, and b) Frustration cannot exist within the junior employees of the sector and the younger sections of the society due to depressed promotion opportunities and non-availability of employment opportunities respectively.

The bench held that the aforementioned considerations require the minute policy-related discussions, which must be isolated to the expertise of the Executive and the Legislative; hence, the Supreme Court rejected the petition in favour of the respondents.

The bench opined that the judicial machinery is incompetent to pick an effective and satisfactory policy from a pool of conflicting policies, wherein the sensitive judicial scale (evidence-centric justice system) may wrongly tilt in favour of a particular policy (the policy that makes more substantial arguments with convincing pieces of evidence); hence, the bench upheld that policy-related matters must be left with the Executive and the Legislative, however, the bench added that certain policy-related questions can come under the purview of judicial review.

The fundamental premise of a public policy by the government machinery must be neither arbitrary nor unreasonably unfair across comparable situations, wherein a public policy must serve the interests and rights of a larger public without any violations of the constitutional limitation on the Legislative’s authority to make laws.[2]

It is worth noting that a public policy needs to fulfil the aforementioned predicament. The incumbent government’s order to reduce the superannuation age to fifty-five years was not unreasonable and arbitrary (it was not affixed at an extremely lower age) since it serves the interests of a larger group of individuals.

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Analysis: Ratio Decidendi

An arbitrary and unreasonable law creates an implicit divide along political, logical and constitutional lines; hence, such a law is a violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution (Equality of a person before the eyes of the law with equal protection of legal statutes within the territory of India).

The bench held that the aforementioned order is not unreasonable even though it was ordered by the respondent within one month of the assumption of office without any scientific investigation and statistical study about the number of superannuated employees and the number of individuals who will be employed as a result of the aforementioned order; hence, the bench held that the order does not violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Justice K. S. Paripoornan in the case of Gauri Shanker v. The Union of India (1994) 6 SCC 349, held that Article 14 of the Indian Constitution rouses equality within individuals of similar circumstances (equality among equals), wherein any discriminatory statute that treats some of the said individuals with differential prejudice, is a violation of Article 14 since the discrimination has no reasonable effect on the objective ought to be achieved by the said statute.

Rational classification of individuals for legislative purposes do not violate Article 14 if and only if it satisfies two conditions: a) The classification, and subsequent distinction of certain individuals from the rest of its group must be founded on intelligible grounds (ex: geographical, occupational, demographical, etcetera), and b) The differentiation must have a reasonable relation to the objective ought to be achieved by the legislative statute.[3]

One can argue that the bench rejected the writ petition since the classification by the respondent was on reasonable and intelligible grounds; additionally, the classification has a reasonable nexus with the objective of raising the employment opportunities for the youth of the state.[4]

The petitioner argued that the premature superannuation deprives the government and public sector employees of their right to livelihood under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The bench stated that a superannuation age at any level would deprive an individual of its right to livelihood. If the state does not retire its senior employees due to a supposed violation of their right to livelihood, then the state government suffers from a situation where it must remunerate its senior employees who are past the point of peak performance.[5]

The bench held that the rules of superannuation do not abrogate an individual’s right to livelihood, but it reasonably limits the said individual’s right to hold office for a predetermined number of years; consequently, the bench stated that the aforementioned order does not violate Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (Right to Life and Personal Liberty).

Article 311, Section 2 of the Indian Constitution talks about the Dismissal, Removal, Reduction in Rank with subsequent Penalization of the Civil Servant under the Union and the State Government after an inquiry is conducted where the individual is not only informed about the charges against itself but also provided with a reasonable opportunity to explain itself in the light of the said charges. The petitioners held that the superannuated employees were not given a reasonable opportunity to be heard before being dismissed on February 28, 1983.

The bench critiqued that the provisions under Article 311, Section 2 apply only to individuals employed in civil capacities;[6] hence, the compulsory termination of a government employee after attaining a superannuation age by a legislative order of the State Legislative Assembly does not come under the aegis of ‘Removal’ under Article 311, Section 2 of the Indian Constitution.[7]

The bench diverted the attention of the petitioners to the case of Bishnu Narain Mishra v. The State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.,[8] wherein the Government of Uttar Pradesh had increased the superannuation age to fifty-eight years from fifty-five years with a notification on November 27, 1957, however, the same government ordered the reduction of the superannuation age to fifty-five years on May 25, 1961.

It is worth noting that the appellant in the aforementioned case attained the age of fifty-five on December 11, 1960, wherein the appellant continued his service since the existing superannuation age was fixed at fifty-eight years. The appellant filed a petition with the Supreme Court of India after the appellant was superannuated in December 1961 due to the change in the superannuation age.

The five-judge constitutional bench in the aforementioned case (Justice K. N. Wanchoo, Justice P. B. Gajendragadkar, Justice M. Hidayatullah, Justice R. Dayal and Justice J. R. Mudholkar) held that the compulsory retirement of a government employee due to attainment of superannuation age is not covered the ambit of Article 311, Section 2 of the Indian Constitution since the appellant is not a civil servant.

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Conclusion

The judgement of the Supreme Court of India in the present case forms a cornerstone verdict where it was held that the Judiciary cannot interfere in the policy-related matters of the Executive and the Legislative bodies under normal circumstances, wherein the decision to fix a superannuation age for the government and public sector employees rests entirely with the Executive and the Legislative.

The judgement proved to bolster the judicial interpretation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution where reasonable and rational classification of individuals on intelligible grounds owing to a legislative notification is not a violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as long as the discriminatory classification has a nexus with the objective ought to be achieved by the said notification, without being prejudicial to any individual.

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[1] Surinder Mistry, K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh& Anr, INDIA: ASIAN ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF LAW (Nov. 02, 2010), https://india.lawi.asia/k-nagaraj-and-ors-v-state-of-andhra-pradesh-and-anr.

[2] Pawan Reley, K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr., ACADEMIA (Mar. 14, 2015), https://www.academia.edu/11422387/Case_Comment_on_K_NAGARAJ_and_ORS_VS_STATE_OF_ANDHRA_PRADESH_and_ANR.

[3] Budhan Choudhry & Ors. v. The State of Bihar, 1 SCR 1045 (1955) (India).

[4] Reley, supra note 2, at 8.

[5] K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh , LAWYER SERVICES. https://www.lawyerservices.in/K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (last visited Apr. 15, 2021).

[6] Shyam Lal v. The State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr., 26 SCR (1955) (India).

[7] Bishun Narain Mishra v. The State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors., 1 SCR 693 (1965) (India).

[8] Id.

K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh

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