03 Aug 2121

The style of therapy in medicine, by itself, does not qualify as an intelligible differentia in the current system of things - Supreme Court of India

Case : North Delhi Municipal Corporation v. Dr Ram Naresh Sharma & Ors. Civil Appeal No. 4578 of 2021 (Arising out of SLP (C) No). 10156/2019)

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hrishikesh Roy

Decided on : 03 Aug 2121

The Relevant Statutes

Articles 14, 21 and 23 of the Constitution of India

Fundamental Rules, 1922

Brief Facts & Procedural History

1. Before the decree, the General Duty Medical Officers [‘GDMO' for short] of the Central Health Scheme [‘CHS' for short], Dentists, and Doctors covered under AYUSH had to retire at the age of 60. (Including ayurvedic doctors). At that time, the Government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued an order extending the age of retirement for non­teaching and public health sub cadres of CHS and GDMOs of CHS to 65 years, with immediate effect. The Department of Personnel Training then issued a Gazette Notification amending the Fundamental Rules of 1922 as a result of this. By issuing an office order, the NDMC approved the Government of India decision, raising the retirement age for allopathic doctors working in the NDMC to 65 years. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare then issued an Office Memorandum clarifying that the enhanced superannuation age granted by the order applies to GDMOs of CHS, i.e., allopathic doctors and municipal corporations, and others were given the freedom to make their own decisions on the matter, on the applicability of the Ministry's decision. As a result, the ayurvedic practitioners did not appear to be covered by the Ministry's directive.

2. As a result of the above, the ayurvedic physicians filed multiple Original Applications (OA) with the Tribunal. Dr Ram Naresh Sharma and other ayurvedic physicians argued that the Government decision and the NDMC office order should be applied to ayurvedic doctors as well.

3. The Tribunal recognised the Ayurveda physicians' allegation of discrimination against allopathic doctors in the shared final ruling. As a result, it was determined that the applicants were entitled to the same service conditions as doctors (GDMOs) operating under the CHS, including a 65-year superannuation age, as outlined in a Ministry of Health and Family Welfare order. As a result, the employer was ordered to enable the Ayurveda physicians to work until they reached the age of 65. It was emphasised that if any of the candidates were forced to retire at the age of 60, he or she would be restored and allowed to serve until the age of 65.

4. The appellant NDMC filed Writ Petitions in the High Court of Delhi after being aggrieved by the Tribunal's judgement. During the pendency of the writ petition, the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (‘AYUSH' for short) of the Government of India issued an order in which it was communicated that the superannuation age of AYUSH doctors has been increased to 65 years, i.e., the date of Union Cabinet approval. Doctors, on the other hand, were only allowed to hold administrative posts until they reached the age of 62, after which they were to be assigned to non-administrative jobs.

5. Similarly, the Writ Petitions contesting the Tribunal's common ruling were heard and rejected, confirming the Tribunal's decision in favour of the ayurvedic physicians. Although the advantage of the government's policy decision to raise the retirement age was first limited to allopathic physicians, the policy decision was later extended to other categories of doctors (including ayurvedic doctors) covered by AYUSH, according to the Tribunal's judgement. Significantly, while the NDMC has followed the Ministry's decision, those NDMC ayurvedic physicians who fall inside the window between 31.05.2016 and 26.09.2017 are not eligible for the higher retirement age. In other words, only those who retire on or after September 27, 2017, will be eligible to serve until they are 65 years old.

6. In a similar decision, the High Court cited the case of Dr Pratibha Sharma, an ayurvedic doctor employed by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation [‘EDMC'], and noted that, unlike the NDMC, her employer had not adopted the Government decision to raise the retirement age for AYUSH category doctors to 65 years. Given that Dr Pratibha Sharma's employers had not accepted the AYUSH Ministry's judgement, the EDMC was given the discretion to handle her matter as it saw fit. With such findings and observations, the WPs were dismissed, upholding the Tribunal's decision in favour of the ayurvedic doctors, and a subsequent directive was issued to the NDMC to disburse payment of arrears of salary and allowances to the ayurvedic doctors who continue to work for the NDMC after reaching the age of 60. A specific directive was also issued about their access to pay and other benefits till they retire at the age of 65. The current appeals were filed in response to the stated judgement of the High Court of Delhi.

The Issue(s) of the Case

Whether the High Court of Delhi's judgement and order dated November 15, 2018, valid?

The Observations of the Court

1. Honourable Supreme Court of India observed that in light of the legal concept of ‘Actus Curiae Neminem Gravabit,' the Interim decision of the Delhi High Court, in Honourable Supreme Court of India opinion, cannot be used to deny respondents pay and arrear benefits. The stated interim order was combined with the final decision, and the respondents were entitled to all employment benefits as a result. As a result, while the responders worked and served patients, the physicians were entitled to the fundamental benefit of a wage.

2. Honourable Supreme Court of India observed that the respondent doctors have been delivering services to numerous patients without compensation or perks for over 5 years in these instances. Their services are freely used by their employer in government institutions. In this respect, the learned senior counsel for the appellant contends that paying the respondent doctors' outstanding salary in arrears will place a significant financial strain on the State. The State's counsel, on the other hand, cannot accept such a statement as a reasonable one. The 'No Work, No Pay' principle shields businesses from having to pay their employees if they don't provide service. In these situations, if the responding doctors' service has been beneficial to both the patients and the employer, a corollary of that principle, "No labour should go unpaid," should be the right theory to follow. As a result, we are certain that the respondents must be paid their legal pay, both in arrears and current, as the case may be. The state cannot use financial hardship as an excuse to refuse payment to doctors who are legitimately employed. Otherwise, it would be a violation of their constitutional rights under Articles 14, 21, and 23 of the Constitution of India.

3. Honourable Supreme Court of India observed that the appellants' main argument before us is that categorising AYUSH doctors and CHS doctors into distinct groups is fair and lawful in law. This, however, does not appeal to us, and we are inclined to concur with the Tribunal's and the Delhi High Court's conclusions that the categorization is discriminatory and irrational, because doctors in both categories fulfil the identical job of treating and curing their patients. The main distinction is that AYUSH physicians treat their patients using indigenous systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Unani, and others, whilst CHS doctors treat their patients with Allopathy. The manner of treatment, in the opinion of the Honourable Supreme Court of India, does not qualify as an intelligible differentia in the current scheme of things. As a result, any arbitrary classification and discrimination based on it would be in clear violation of Article 14 of the Constitution. The AYUSH Ministry's decree on November 24, 2017, increasing the age of superannuation to 65 years, supports this viewpoint. This prolongation is by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's notice of May 31, 2016.

The Decision Held by the Court

1. Honourable Supreme Court of India held that Both AYUSH and CHS doctors provide medical care to patients, and there is no difference between them in this regard. As a result, there is no reasonable basis for giving these two categories of doctors’ separate dates for receiving the benefit of extended age of retirement. As a result, in the present appeals, the AYUSH Ministry's order (F. No. D. 14019/4/2016­E­I (AYUSH)) dated 24.11.2017 must be retroactively implemented to all involved respondent-doctors as of 31.05.2016. This conclusion must be followed by all ramifications.

2. Given the foregoing, the appellant's failure to pay the respondent doctors their proper salary and benefits, while their counterparts in the CHS system were paid in full, must be considered discriminatory. As a result, we have no problem in ruling that the respondent-doctors are entitled to their entire wage arrears, which must be paid within eight weeks of today's date. From the date of this purchase until the date of payment, late payments will accrue interest at a rate of 6% per month. It is arranged in this manner. The appeals are dismissed on the aforementioned grounds, with no cost order.

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