The Supreme Court on Monday said that employees working under the Railway Board in different zones or divisions are required to be treated equally and there cannot be any discrimination.
The apex court dismissed the appeals filed by the Centre, through the Northern Railways, and others against the November 2019 verdict of the Delhi High Court that directed it to count 50 per cent of service rendered by commission vendors, prior to their absorption, as “qualifying service” for grant of pensionary benefits.
The top court noted that as far as commission vendors working in the western, eastern, southern and south-eastern railway are concerned, pursuant to different orders passed by the Central Administrative Tribunals (CAT) and the high courts, which have been confirmed by the apex court, the issue is held against the Railways.
“It cannot be disputed that employees working in different divisions/zones in the Railways are under the very same employer Railway Board which is under the Ministry of Railways. There are 16 zones and 68 divisions in the Railways,” a bench of justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna noted in its 36-page judgment.
“Therefore, the employees working under the same employer — Railway Board — working in different zones/divisions are required to be treated similarly and equally and are entitled to similar benefits and are entitled to the same treatment. As rightly submitted on behalf of the respondents, there cannot be any discrimination inter se,” the bench said.
On the ground of parity, it said, the commission vendors working in the Northern Railways are entitled to the same benefits that are held to be entitled to all similarly situated commission vendors working under different zones or divisions.
“There cannot be different criteria/parameters with respect to similarly situated employees — commission vendors/bearers working — in different zones/divisions, but working under the same employer,” the top court said.
It said to deny similar benefits would tantamount to discrimination and be in violation of the Constitution’s articles 14 (equality before law) and 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment).
The high court had held that services rendered by commission vendors or bearers in the Northern Railways, prior to their absorption, should be counted for the purposes of pensionary benefits.
In its verdict, the apex court observed that with respect to commission vendors or bearers working in the western, eastern, southern and south-eastern railway, they were held to be entitled to 50 per cent of the services rendered prior to their regularisation to be counted for pensionary benefits and they were granted such benefits.
It said there cannot be discrimination among the similarly situated commission vendors or bearers.
Dealing with the submission on behalf of the Centre that there shall be huge financial burden on the Railways, the bench noted that the issue is with respect to pensionary benefits.
“In view of the above and for the reasons stated above…. the present appeals deserve to be dismissed and are accordingly dismissed by holding that the respondents — commission vendors/bearers — working in the Northern Railway are entitled to have 50 per cent of their services rendered prior to their regularisation to be counted for pensionary benefits like other office bearers/vendors working under the Railway Board…,” it said.