CHENNAI: Observing that the greatness of a court of law lies in its courage and ability to correct its own mistakes, a division bench of Madras High Court dismissed a batch of writ petitions, spawned by an order of 2008 which was wrongly interpreted.
"Justice is more precious than discipline", the bench comprising justices V Ramasubramanian and T Mathivanan quoted the principle highlighted by the Supreme Court while delivering the verdict.
The case pertains to a plethora of writs filed by serving and retired government drivers, seeking higher pay scale after an order by a single judge on September 30, 2008, directing the concerned authorities to grant them higher selection grade and special grade benefits.
According to the Tamil Nadu Revised Scales of Pay Rules, 1998, the 'Selection Grade Scale of Pay' for this category of employees is Rs 4000-100-6000 and Special Grade Scale of Pay is Rs 4300-100-6000. The Tamil Nadu Government Department Drivers' Association had raised a claim for Rs 5,000 and Rs 5,500 respectively, which was turned down by the government in March 2006.
When the case came to the HC, a single judge directed the government to grant the benefit of selection grade and special grade to the drivers of various departments as per GO 162 dated 13 April, 1998 - under which the revised scales of pay rules were framed.
Though the order did not specifically grant a particular scale of pay to the petitioners, "the Government of Tamil Nadu, quite unfortunately, challenged the order in a batch of writ appeals...inviting trouble for themselves," the bench noted.
A division bench dismissing the government's appeals led to a torrent of petitions from both serving and retired employees, all of whom claiming for better pay on the basis of the order. Pointing out that many have already availed the benefit, hundreds sought and received the same for themselves.
"Unfortunately, when batches and batches of drivers queued up before this court, this court found it convenient to dispose of many of those cases even at the stage of admission, without even ordering notices to the concerned departments, on the ground that the issue raised in those writ petitions were covered by the order of the single Judge... and the Division Bench," the court admitted candidly.
Except for Justice D Hariparanthaman, no judge had gone into the basic question of entitlement to higher pay, pointed out the bench.
After a detailed examination of the issue and documents, the present division bench found that the original petitions were of three categories - first set on fixing the scale of pay at Rs 5,000 and 5,500 and the second set seeking extending the benefit of appropriate scale of pay. There was no direction to fix the selection grade scale at Rs 5,000 and Rs 5,500.
"But unfortunately, the subsequent orders passed by this court mentioned these amounts without any basis," it said.
Even after going through the documents several times, the court said it was unable to find, "however lenient our approach is", any legitimate ground to claim higher pay. What they have claimed and got in most of the previous decisions was not what they are lawfully entitled to, it added. "An illegality will not undergo a metamorphosis and become legal, merely because it received the seal of approval of a Court of law," the bench added, and dismissed all the petitions.