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Whether the writ petition filed by an employee of a minority private unaided educational institution challenging his termination, maintainable?

Court name – Supreme Court

Judgement Name – St. Mary’s Education Society & Anr. Vs Rajendra Prasad Bhargava & Ors.

Judgement date- 24 August, 2022

Judges/bench – Aniruddha Bose, J.B. Pardiwala

 

Introduction-

An order was passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh which held that a writ petition filed by an employee of a private unaided minority educational institution which seeks to challenge his termination from service is maintainable by law. The aggrieved appellant, St. Mary’s Education Society has challenged this decision by filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court.

In   the   present   appeal,  two   pivotal   issues   fall   for consideration of this Court: (a)Whether a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is maintainable against a private-unaided minority institution?

(b) Whether a service dispute in the private realm involving a private educational institution and its employee be adjudicated in writ petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution?1

 

Background of the Case –

The appellant runs a private unaided educational institution. The respondent was working as an employee in the said institution and was served with a show-cause cum suspension notice on 08/09/2014. A departmental charge sheet was later issued by the appellant on the following six grounds-

  1. Refusal to receive and deposit the PTA fund from the lady teachers of the school and misbehaving with them and talking to them in an impolite, loud manner. The refusal acts as a gross misconduct and a dereliction of duty.
  2. Habitual unwanted letters are written to different authorities by the respondent against the school Principal in disrespectful, derogatory and offensive language, which in turn, spoils the reputation of the school.
  3. Threatening and pressurising the institution by refusing to accept the salary and showcasing will against working for the institution. 
  4. Prior instances of rude behaviour with the principal where the respondent was left with a warning to work upon and improve the same but no such improvements were shown. Misbehaviour with two earlier Principals- Sr. Lalita and Sr. Flavia.
  5. Threatening the institution by writing to the President of the country that if something were to happen to the appellant, either physically or mentally at work, the responsibility for the same lies upon the Management, Principal and various other school authorities. The school was compelled to file a police complaint against the threat.
  6. Taking frequent, unsanctioned leaves.

Followed by a departmental enquiry, the services of the respondent were terminated.

The respondent filed an appeal against the departmental enquiry under Rule 49 of the CBSE Affiliation Bylaws. The appeal was ordered to be dismissed by the enquiry committee. Followed by this, the respondent filed a writ petition in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.

 

Contentions of the Appellant –

The learned single Judge of the High Court rightly took the view that the writ petition filed by the respondent No.1 herein seeking to challenge the order of termination passed by the appellant No. 1 herein could not be said to be maintainable in law.2

The dispute between the parties is a private issue that arises out of a contract between them. No element of public involvement is contained in it and a writ petition does not stand.

The termination letter has been passed by the appellant as a private body.

 

Contentions of the Respondent –

The respondent is a bona fide employee who has diligently and honestly performed his duty and been in service for 27 years and should not be terminated.

The writ of mandamus has a very wide scope and technical limitations should not come in the way of justice and the writ filed by the respondent should be held valid in the interest of justice.

At the time of his appointment, the school was affiliated with the Madhya Pradesh State Board and received funds from the State. It was only later on that it came to be associated with the CBSE. 

 

Observations of the Court in the present case-

  1. Based on the argument of the respondent that the school was affiliated with Madhya Pradesh State Board at the time of his appointment and later on with CBSE, the contention aims to point out that he was performing public duty. A writ petition can be filed during the course of public duty when the matter involves an element of public interest.
  2. CBSE is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act,1860 and not a statutory body.
  3. It is, therefore, clear that there is a well-marked distinction between a body which is created by the statute and a body which after having come into existence is governed in accordance with the provisions of the statute. In other words, the position seems to be that the institution concerned must owe its very existence to a statute which would be the foundation head of its powers. The question in such cases to be asked is, if there is no statute would the institution have any legal existence. If the answer is negative, then undoubtedly it is a statutory body, but if the institution has a separate existence of its own without any reference to the statute concerned but is merely governed by the statutory provisions it cannot be said to be a statutory body.”3 
  4. In response to the contention of the respondent that a writ petition can be filed against the Committee of Management since it is governed by the CBSE bye laws stands rejected as the CBSE is not a statutory body, neither the fact that it grants recognition to the institution confers any right to any person against the Management Committee. The same has been substantiated in Regina vs St. Aloysius Higher Elementary4.
  5. The appropriate remedy available to the staff of an unaided private educational institution is not to file a writ petition under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution but file a complaint with the CBSE with regard to the violation of its bye laws.

 

Decision held-

Appeal allowed. Writ petition set aside.

 

Opinion-

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the CBSE does not fall within the meaning of “State” under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution. This implies that a writ petition cannot be filed by the employee of an unaided private educational institution against such institution. The affiliation with CBSE implies that in case of disputes, the appropriate remedy is to file a complaint with the governing body, that is CBSE.

 

Written By –

Name: Piyushi Dhingra

College: Law Centre-1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi 

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