(2.)THE appeal is filed by the General Manager, Northern Railways against the decision dated 14/09/1988 of the Central Administrative Tribunal, New Delhi.
In order to appreciate the grievance of the appellant-Railways against the impugned order, it is necessary to state the relevant facts in brief. Respondent-employees who are Traffic Apprentices belonged to Class 111 Service which has four grades, and the four grades carry different pay-scales as follow:
The promotion to the alternate grade in the said four grades is by selection. However, the appointments to all the four grades is by promotion. Above Class-III posts, are Class II and Class-I posts. Class-I posts are in Junior Scale grade, Senior Scale grade, Junior Administrative Grade and Senior Administrative Grade. The entire Class-II service is filled by promotion by selection from Class-III service. In Class-1 service, 60 per cent posts -are filled by direct recruitment and 40 per cent by promotion from Class-II service. The recruitment as well as promotion to Class-I is through the Union Public Service Commissin ('UPSC'for short). All these posts are available as a promotion avenue to the incumbents of Class-III posts. Class-III service in the Traffic and Transportation Department consists not only of Traffic Apprentices but also of other categories. However, the promotion to Class-II post is not made exclusively from Class-III service of Traffic and Transportation Department. The incumbents of Class-III service in Commer stead of being first absorbed in the scale of Commercial Department are also entitled to be consider for promotion to Class-II posts. Hence, a combined seniority list of Class-III service both in the Traffic and Transportation Department as well as the Commercial Department is prepared. The promotions to further posts, viz., to Class-I posts and to the posts of Junior Administrative Grade are thereafter made from the incumbents of the Class-II posts.
It has further to be noted that the appointments to the posts of Traffic Apprentices is by direct recruitment to the extent of 25 per cent of the annual vacancies in the posts of Section Controllers who are in the grade of Rs. 200-300/ -(PS) and in other posts in the same cadre in the Yard and Station categories. This was according to the scheme prepared by the Railway Board for improving control organisations on the Railways. The Traffic Apprentices thus directly recruited are, on completion of the training, first absorbed as Assistant Movement Inspectors etc. in the grade of Rs. 150-225.00 and are eligible for promotion to the grade of Rs. 200/300/ -(PS)/ Rs. 250-380/ -(AS) as Section Controllers, Station Masters, Assistant Station Masters, Yard Masters etc. provided they complete at least one year's service in the grade of Rs. 150-225.00. Such promotions are, however, to be considered against 25 per cent of the annual vacancies. The Railway Board had further clarified the position that 25 per cent of the total annual vacancies in the grade of Rs.200-300.00(PS)/Rs.250-380/-(AS) were to be earmarked for Traffic Apprentices, and if during any particular year it was not found possible to utilise this quota fully on account of sufficient number of Traffic Apprentices being not eligible for promotion (owing to their not having completed one year's service in the grade of Rs. 150-225.00), the deficit was to be carried forward to the next selection by their further letter of 18/12/1963, the Railway Board directed that with immediate effect, the Traffic Apprentices on successful in stead of being first absorbed in the scale of Rs. 155/225.00(pS)/Rs 205-270/-(AS) as prevalent then.
Thus, it would be clear that Traffic Apprentices were to be directly recruited to fill vacancies to the extent of 25 per cent of the vacancies and the posts of section Controllers etc.After recruitment, they were to be imparted three years' special training and thereafter they were requird to serve for one year in the grade of Rs. 150-225/Rs.205-270/- after which they were considered for selection to the grade of Rs. 200-300/(PS)/Rs.250-380/-(AS). From 1963, they were to be straightway absorbed in the grade of Rs.200-300/Rs.250-380/- after completion of their training period of three years, but without having to qualify through selection Board first and without the condition of one year's service. The Traffic Apprentices, were thus to fill vacancies to the extent of 25 per cent. This quota had to be carried forward in case of shortfall in any particular year, and the remaining 75 per cent of the vacancies were earmarked for promotion to other departmental officials who were called rankers. After both the sources of recruitment merged in the scale of Rs. 200-300/ Rs. 250- 380/-, a single unified cadre, known as "Relieving Transportation Assistants" stood constituted.
(3.)IT appears that the respondents'grievance in the writ petition filed before the Delhi High Court was that their seniority in the cadre of Relieving Transportation Assistants was not correctly fixed according to the qauota rule of 25:75, either because the quota rule was not observed properly or the unfilled vacancies in the 25 per cent quota reserved for them were not carried forward from 1954 onwards. Hence, they wanted their seniority list as Traffic Apprentices to be recast according to quota and rota rule, and the seniority list which was prepared allegedly contrary to the said, rule quashed. The learned Single Judge had rejected the petition on the ground that they had approached the Court too late and, therefore, their petition suffered from laches. The Division Bench in Letters Patent Appeal No. 220 of 1972 did not agree with the learned Single Judge and decided the matter on merits, and gave the finding that the Northern Railways had for the first time communicated by their letter of 26/12/1967 to all the Divisional Superintendents that it was decided that the seniorit of Traffic. Apprentices appointed prior to 18/12/1963 would be determined from the date of their promotion to the grade of Rs. 250-380 and not according to their quota against the vacancies which occurred from 1-4-1954 onwards, the date from which the direct recruitment of the Traffic Apprentices was permitted. The Court held that according to the correct interpretation of the various letters of the Railway Administration, Traffic Apprentices were to be assigned seniority, vis-a-vis rankers (promotees) according to their roster position, taking into account the positions reserved for them, viz., 25 per cent of the actual annual vacancies with effect from 1-4-1954 carried forward in subsequent years. The Court also held that the Railway administration subsequently modified its instructions contained in their letter of 26/12/1967 and issued another letter on 19/04/1968 stating that the Traffic Apprentices would be deemed to have been promoted from the dates they were eligible provided vacancies were available in the particular year for their absorption and that their interests would be protected by giving benefit of pro forma fixation of pay etc. a further letter of December 18, 1968 thereafter followed from the headquarters of the Northern Railways in which it was made clear that the seiority had to be fixed with reference to the dates from which the Traffic Apprentices would have been promoted in the grade of Rs. 250-380.00 had the quota of the vacancies from 1954 onwards always been calculated correctly, i.e., the vacancies from 1954 onwards should always have been taken into account to work out 25 per cent quota for the Traffic Apprentices. On these findings, the Division Bench stated as follows:
"We may state here that all the Rankers who are likely to be,affected by the decision in this case are party respondents. No right of any innocent third party is involved in the case. We are also not quashing any rule executive instruction of letter of the Railway administration or any seniority list issued by the earlier than February 1971. The Supreme Court has not laid down any rigid rule of limitation in entertaining a writ petition under Art. 32 or Art. 226 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Corut was pleased to observe that it will almost always be proper for the Court to hold that it is unreasonably delayed if the writ petition is filed beyond the period of limitation prescribed for a similar civil action. Thus, if there are any exceptional facts and circumstances even the delay beyond the period of limitation prescribed for a civil action for the remedy may be reasonable or justified and the writ petition may still be entertained. The Court may, however, be reluctant to entertain such writ petitions but that does not mean that the court has no jurisdiction. If we are right in holding that the cause of action arose in February 1971, or even earlier in April 1968, then there is no question of any delay. But, if we are not, even then on the facts and circumstances of the case, as discussed above, we have not been able to persuade ourselves to agree with the learned single Judge that the writ petition is enormously delayed. By issuing the writ of mandamus in this case, we are only setting at rest the uncertainty and disparity which is prevailing in the various divisions of the Northern Railway in the matter of fixation of inter se seniority of Traffic Apprentices and Rankers. The Railway Administration have themselves admitted that in Allahabad division of Northern Railway, Seniority has been granted to Traffic Apprentices according to their quota against the vacancies which occurred from 1-4-1954 onwards. In case of commercial apprentices who are similarly situated seniority has been assigned vis -a-vis remain according to their quota on the basis of their roster positions 1, 5, 9, etc. There is no reason why the appellants should be derived of what is legally due to them even if the have approached this court after some delay.
For the reasons stated above, the Letters Patent Appeal is accepted, the judgment of the learned single Judge on question No. 1 is set aside and reversed and we hold that the writ petition was not belated and was not liable to dismissal on the ground of laches. The finding on question No. 2, having been upheld by us, the appellants are entitled to the grant of writ of Mandamus directing respondents 1 to 3 to fix the seniority of Traffic Apprentices, in the light of the observations made by the learned single Judge and as upheld by us. The seniority list, Annexure E attached to the writ petition is quashed. The respondent Railway Administration shall draw the seniority list within 3 months from today and proceed to make confirmations and/or further promotions in the higher grades in accordance with the law, rules and orders in force from time to time. In the circumstances of the case we leave the parties to bear their own costs."
This decision of the Division Bench is of 30/07/1975. Against this decision the Railways preferred a special leave petition which was dismissed. Thereafter, the Railways prepared a fresh seniority list in 1976. IT appears that this seniority list took care of the grievances only of the employees who were parties to the petition. Against the said seniority list, therefore, some of the Traffic Apprentices filed a writ petition being Writ Petition No. 948 of 1976 challenging the seniority. That writ petition was transferred to the Tribunal and numbered as T.A. No. 246 of 1985. IT appears that in the meanwhile in 1983, the Railways, in compliance with the judgments delivered by the High Courts of Allahabad and Punjab and Haryana prepared fresh seniority list, and the Tribunal disposed of the transfer petition (T.A. No. 246 of 1985) by order dated 25/06/1986. By this order, the Tribunal observed that the application before the Tribunal was to direct the respondent-Railways (the appellant herein) to quash the impugned seniority list, i.e., the seniority list of 1976 and to prepare a fresh seniority list and to make the confirmations and promotions in accordance with the fresh seniority list. The Tribunal observed that that relief had already been granted by the Delhi High Court in LPA No. 220 of 1972 by its decision which is already referred to above. Hence, no fresh directions were necessary. The Tribunal also prepared in 1983 in pursuance of the directions given by the High Court. IT appears further that since the seniority list was not prepared within three months as directed by the High Court and according to respondent No. 8 in that application before the Tribunal, the seniority list was also not in onformity with the other directions contained in the High Court judgment, a contempt petition was filed before the High Court and the same was pending before it. The Tribunal, therefore, stated that it expressed no opinion as regards the validity or otherwise of the seniority list prepared in pursuance of the High Court's directions. The Tribunal also made it clear that unless otherwise ordered by the competent authority or the High Court, as the case may be, the seniority list prepared in pursuance of the directions of the High Court shall be acted upon and:
"the confirmations and promotions made on the basis of that list within a period of four months from the date of the receipt of this order. Further, promotions shall be made strictly in accordance with the list prepared in 1983 in pursuance of the directions of the High Court in L.P.A. No. 220 of 1972."
It appears, therefore, that the Railways nad prepared a seniority list of 1983 in pursuance of the directions of the Delhi High Court in LPA No. 220 of 1972 decided on 30/07/1975. The grievance of the petitioners in T.A. No. 246 of 1985 (Writ Petition No. 948 of 1976) was against the seniority list of 1976 and since that seniority list was superseded by 1983 list which the Tribunal observed was in pursuance of the High Court's directions, nothing survived in the grievance of the applicants there (viz., Chadha and others in that application).