Sunday, November 27, 2022

Supreme Court allows appeal by ECR private secretaries for pay parity

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The Supreme Court on August 31 allowed the Appeal with claims made by Private Secretaries (Grade-II)  employed in the Eastern Central Railways (Field Office/Zonal Railways), for parity in pay with their counterparts working in the Central Secretariat Stenographers Service (CSSS)/Railway Board Secretariat Stenographers Service (RBSSS)/Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).

The Division Bench comprising of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy noted that  Sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC)  referred to the demands made by common category posts relating to certain cadres in the Ministry of Railways. One of the common category posts is that of “Typists and Stenographers”. These common categories have been covered by the Commission elsewhere in the report. It was stated that the recommendations made therein shall apply in respect of the common category posts in the Ministry of Railways as well, there being no separate recommendations made for this category.

Chapter 3.1 of the report of the 6th CPC, which deals with “Headquarters Organisations in Government of India & Office Staff in field offices”.

“Disparity between Secretariat and field offices 3.1.2 The senior administrative posts in the Secretariat are mainly filled by officers of All India Services and Central Group A services on deputation under the Central Staffing Scheme. Some of the posts in the middle level are also held by officers of the Central Secretariat Services, Railway Board Secretariat Service in the Ministry of Railways, Defence Forces Headquarters Services in the Ministry of Defence, and by Indian Foreign services (B) in the Ministry of External Affairs. Historically, various services in the Secretariat have been given an edge over analogous posts in the field offices. This was done on the ground that office staff in the Secretariat performs complex duties and are involved in analyzing issues with policy implications whereas their counterparts in field offices perform routine work relating to routine matters concerning personnel and general administration, etc. Another argument that is used to justify the edge for various posts in the Secretariat is that level jumping occurs and personnel in the grade of Assistant etc. submit files directly to decision-making levels of Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary, etc.”

 3.1.3 Higher pay scales in the Secretariat offices may have been justified in the past when formulation of proper policies was of paramount importance. The present position is different. Today, the weakest link in respect of any Government policy is at the delivery stage. This phenomenon is not endemic to India. Internationally also, there is an increasing emphasis on strengthening the delivery lines and decentralization with greater role being assigned at delivery points which actually determines the benefit that the common citizen is going to derive out of any policy initiative of the Government. The field offices are at the cutting edge of administration and may, in most cases, determine whether a particular policy turns out to be a success or a failure in terms of actual benefit to the consumer. Accordingly, the time has come to grant parity between similarly placed personnel employed in field offices and in the Secretariat. This parity will need to be absolute till the grade of Assistant. Beyond this, it may not be possible or even justified to grant complete parity because the hierarchy and career progression will need to be different taking in view the functional considerations and relativities across the board.”

The recommendations in have been made for various posts from the LDC to the Director including Section Officer, with a caveat that in the case of Sections Officers having pay scale of Rs. 8000- 13500, the scale would only be available to such of these organizations/services which have had a historical parity with CSS/CSSS.

The respondent’s claim that their pay-scale ought to be governed by para 3.1.9 is misplaced. These paragraphs read as under:

3.1.9 Accordingly, the Commission recommends upgradation of the entry scale of Section Officers in all Secretariat Services (including CSS as well as nonparticipating ministries/departments/organizations) to Rs.7500-12000 corresponding to the revised pay band PB 2 of Rs.8700-34800 along with grade pay of Rs.4800. Further, on par with the dispensation already available in CSS, the Section Officers in other Secretariat Offices, which have always had an established parity with CSS/CSSS, shall be extended the scale of Rs.8000-13500 in Group B corresponding to the revised pay band PB 2 of Rs.8700- 34800 along with grade pay of Rs.4800 on completion of four years service in the lower grade. This will ensure full parity between all Secretariat Offices. It is clarified that the pay band PB 2 of Rs.8700-34800 along with grade pay of Rs.4800 is being recommended for the post of Section Officer in these services solely to maintain the existing relativities which were disturbed when the scale was extended only to the Section Officers in CSS. The grade carrying grade pay of Rs.4800 in pay band PB-2 is, otherwise, not to be treated as a regular grade and should not be extended to any other category of employees. These recommendations shall apply mutatis-mutandis to the post of Private Secretary/equivalent in these services as well.

“Recommendations for non – Secretariat Organizations 3.1.14 In accordance with the principle established in the earlier paragraphs, parity between Field and Secretariat Offices is recommended. This will involve a merger of few grades. In the Stenographers cadre, the posts of Stenographers Grade II and Grade I in the existing scales of Rs.4500-7000/Rs, 5000-8000 and Rs.5500-9000 will, therefore, stand merged and be placed in the higher pay scale of Rs.6500-10500. In the case of ministerial posts in non- Secretariat Offices, the posts of Head Clerks, Assistants, Office Superintendent and Administrative Officers Grade III in the respective pay scales of Rs.5000-8000, Rs.5500-9000 and Rs.6500-10500 will stand merged.

The Union  referred to the  judgment (V.N. Narayanappa & Ors. v. The Secretary, Railway Board Etc.) decided on 13.04.2016. The factual matrix in the  case is that there was such historical parity under the first and second Pay Commissions’ recommendations. However, the third and fourth Pay Commissions did not give parity and the fifth Pay Commission gave parity to a limited extent. Thus, there is no continued history of parity insofar the present case is concerned, i.e., sometimes parity was given and sometimes not.

The Court added  that the views of the Madras CAT have not been interfered with by the Apex Court. Both an SLP challenging the decision and a subsequent Review Petition met with a summary dismissal and resultantly, the question to be decided in this case has not been specifically dealt with by the Top  Court. This has resulted in the implementation of different orders in different matters, which are really contradictory in nature.

The Bangalore Bench of the CAT in seeking to determine the issue on merits sought strength from an earlier decision of the Principal Bench (Delhi) in OA No.2102/2010 in Rabindra Nath Basu & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. and other connected matters decided on 16.05.2011 dealing with the case of the Assistant Staff Officers of the Ordnance Factory Board. The CAT therein opined that the applicants belonged to a non- Secretariat organization and would therefore be covered by the pay-scale prescribed in para 3.1.14 of the 6th CPC.

“If we were to opine otherwise and equate everybody there would have been no purpose in the 6th CPC making separate recommendations for non-Secretariat Organizations in their wisdom. It is not as if the Commission was unaware of the plea of disparity between the Secretariat and field offices as that was dealt with in paras 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 but despite having taken note of the same some difference was sought to be made between Secretariat and non-Secretariat offices”, said the Court.

The Pay Commission is a specialized body set up with the objective of resolving anomalies. Top Court noted that that the anomaly in question was referred to the Pay Commission at the request of candidates similarly situated to the respondents and thus, the 6th CPC was aware of the claim for parity and the requirement of making a recommendation in that regard. In its wisdom while giving better scales it has still sought to maintain a separate recommendation for non-Secretariat Organizations.

There is a plea by the respondents that there have been times when a common competitive exam was conducted and sometimes the exams were conducted separately. In this regard, it has been explained by the  Additional Solicitor General on behalf of the appellants that the cadres are separate and the rules governing them are also separate. The Stenographers under the Railway Board are governed by the RBSS Rules, 1971, the Central Secretariat Stenographers are governed by the CSS Rules, 1969 and the CSSS Rules, 2010 and the Stenographers in the Central Administrative Tribunal are governed by the CATSS Rules, 2013. These are the posts with which the respondents sought parity. On the other hand, the respondents working in the Zonal Railways were governed by Rule 107 of the Indian Railway Establishment Code. The avenue and channel of promotion of stenographers in the Railway Board and the Zonal Railways, it has been stated, are entirely different.

Counsel for the appellants did accept that there were some cases of transfer, but those were persons who were brought to the Railway Board for exigency of work – it was not as if they were absorbed in the Railway Board. There were also cases where transfers took place from the Railway Board to the Zonal Railway offices, but that was on the specific request of such officers and considered on a case-to-case basis and they had to take seniority at the bottom of the list.

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Referring to the case of  Union of India v. Tarit Ranjan Das,  where it was opined that the principle of equal pay for equal work cannot be applied merely on the basis of designation. While dealing with the 5th Pay Commission recommendations with respect to functional requirements, it was held that there was no question of any equivalence on that basis. The said case dealt with Stenographers of the Geological Survey of India. While observing that as a general statement it was correct to state that the basic nature of work of a Stenographer remained by and large the same whether they were working for an officer in the Secretariat or for an officer in a subordinate office; it was held that Courts ought not to interfere if the Commission itself had considered all aspects and after due consideration opined that absolute equality ought not to be given.

“In the end we would like to reiterate that the aspect of disparity between the Secretariat and the field offices was a matter taken note of by the Commission itself while making the recommendations. Yet to some extent, a separate recommendation was made for Secretariat Organizations and non-Secretariat Organizations. Once these recommendations are separately made, to direct absolute parity would be to make the separate recommendations qua non-Secretariat Organizations otiose. If one may say, there would have been no requirement to make these separate recommendations if everyone was to be treated on parity on every aspect,” the order reads.

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