In 2001, the State government decided to regularise the services of around 35,000 people who were employed since 1980 as salesmen and packers in various cooperative societies, marketing societies and cooperative wholesale stores. However, it could regularise the services of only about 26,000 employees and the rest were left behind because of a legal interruption.
The Madras High Court on Friday came to their rescue and ordered regularisation of the services of all left-out employees.
Disposing of a batch of cases filed by employees who were excluded, Justice N. Anand Venkatesh ordered that the benefit of regularisation must be extended not only to the petitioners but also to similarly placed persons who had not knocked on the doors of the court. He said the services of all those who were employed, without being sponsored by the employment exchange, before March 12, 2001, must be regularised within eight weeks so that they could get promotions and retirement benefits.
Tracing the case history, the judge recalled that immediately after a government order was issued on March 12, 2001, for regularising the services of 35,000 employees, it was put to challenge before the High Court. A Division Bench upheld the validity of the order in 2002 and permitted the regularisation of those who were employed between July 8, 1980, and March 12, 2001, in accordance with the Tamil Nadu Industrial Establishments (Conferment of Permanent Status to Workmen) Act of 1981.
When the matter was taken on appeal to the Supreme Court, the latter in 2004 dismissed the appeal but reversed certain findings of the Division Bench with respect to the power of the State government to regularise backdoor appointments. Thereafter, during a second round of litigation, a Full Bench (comprising three judges) of the High Court, in 2007, held that the government could not regularise the services of employees who had not been appointed without following the procedure. Though it was not brought to the notice of the Full Bench that the services of 26,000 employees had already been regularised and the rest could not be done due to bureaucratic delays, the judges refrained from expressing any opinion on the regularisations already done since those regularisation orders were not under challenge before them but ordered that the government could not proceed further. Therefore, “this is an unfortunate case where luck has played its part,” Justice Venkatesh observed in his prelude. He went on to examine the entire gamut of issues involved and found that the purport behind the dictum laid down by the courts was to prevent the government from regularising illegal appointments and not irregular appointments.
Pointing out that it was not a case of unqualified candidates being appointed, the judge said the appointments made without employment exchange sponsorship could be termed as an irregularity and not an illegality. Therefore, such services could be regularised, Justice Venkatesh held.
The judge said the government would not be incurring any additional financial burden towards salaries since the employees were already being paid time scale of pay. “At best, the employees who are left with some more years of service will be entitled for promotion and the employees who are at the verge of retirement will be entitled for retirement benefits. In short, they will leave the employment with a happy note as regular employees of the cooperative societies,” the judge concluded.