The Madras High Court Bench in Madurai has quashed two government letters issued by the Transport Secretary in September 2010 and April 2011

The Madras High Court Bench here has quashed two government letters issued by the Transport Secretary in September 2010 and April 2011 directing all state owned transport corporations to switch over to government pattern of payment of House Rent Allowance (HRA) to those working in the managerial cadre in the corporations.

Allowing a batch of writ petitions filed by Assistant Managers, Deputy Managers and Managers of various transport corporations, Justice D. Hariparanthaman held that the benefit of a unique pattern of HRA given to the petitioners through a government order (G.O.) passed in July 1980 could be reversed only by way of another G.O., and not by letters written by the Secretary.

He agreed with senior counsel M. Vallinayagam that a G.O. issued by the State in the name of the Governor and by exercising its executive power under the Constitution, could never be equated with letters written by a secretary to the government.

Further, it was a settled law that in no circumstances, a government letter could override the contents of a government order.

Different pattern

In so far as the present case was concerned, the managerial employees of the transport corporations were given the scale of pay and Dearness Allowance (DA) on a par with the government employees with effect from April 1, 1978. However, the 1980 G.O., which conferred the benefit on them, stated that HRA alone would be paid in a different pattern unlike the one followed for government employees.

As per the unique pattern, the HRA was categorised into two — Grade I (a) and Grade I (b) — with those working in Chennai city, district headquarters as well as headquarters of transport corporations falling under the former category and others in the latter category.

This system led to employees working in a town like Kumbakonam receive HRA applicable for Chennai city as it was a headquarters of a transport corporation.

The exclusive pattern of HRA was not disturbed for years together. It was allowed to continue even when the pay was revised for government as well as transport corporation employees as per the recommendations of the fourth, fifth and sixth pay commissions.

It was only in September 2010 that the Transport Secretary took steps to bring in uniformity.

Pointing out that transport corporations’ technical and administrative supervisors, who were accorded the benefit of government scale of pay only from August 2008, were being paid HRA only as per government pattern, he issued the first letter asking transport corporations to switch over to government pattern of HRA even with respect of managerial staff.

Also stating that the government pattern of HRA could be made applicable to managerial staff from June 1, 2009 when a G.O., was issued with respect to revision of pay as per sixth pay commission recommendations, he ordered the transport corporations to recover the excess amount of HRA paid to them since June 2009.

Second letter

The second letter written in April 2011 was a reminder in this regard.

Pursuant to these two letters, the transport corporations passed consequential orders for recovering the excess HRA and hence the managerial staff approached the court with the present writ petitions.

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