“Seeking judicial redressal is not a sin or an offence”

The Madras High Court Bench here on Monday asked Additional Advocate General (AAG) K. Chellapandian to write to all top government officials advising them to desist from victimising government employees who approach the court with regard to their service disputes.

Justice S. Tamilvanan told the AAG, “Seeking judicial redressal is not a sin or an offence. Everyone has a right to approach the court. They cannot be victimised for that. Even the IAS officers might approach the court if there was a dispute over their seniority.”

The oral observations were made during the hearing of a contempt of court application filed by seven menial workers against Social Welfare Secretary Ashok Dongre, Director of Social Welfare V. M. Xavier Chrisso Nayagam and a few other officials. All the contemnors were present in the court on Monday.

The applicants’ counsel J. Nisha Banu alleged that the seven women employees of a hostel run by the Social Welfare Department in Tiruchi were threatened by their superiors, denied food and asked to vacate the premises during night hours in an attempt to make them withdraw the contempt applications.

She produced documents to substantiate her claim and said that it was unfair to victimise the petitioners, who were either widows or destitute women, working as sweepers, scavengers, guards and assistant cooks in the hostel, for having sought legal remedy.

However, the AAG denied the allegations and assured the court that appropriate action would be taken if they were found to be true. Stating that the Secretary might not be aware of the alleged threats, the judge said that the subordinate officials must be instructed suitably.

“There must be a general instruction by the AAG to all the government officers to desist from victimising those who approach the court,” the judge said. He also expressed displeasure over officers’ failure to comply with courts orders in letter and spirit which had led to the filing of the present contempt application. The present applicants had originally filed individual writ petitions in 2011 seeking regularisation of their services since their appointment as daily wage labourers between 1992 and 1996.

A single judge of the High Court ordered the case in their favour on April 28, 2011.Nevertheless, there was a long delay in implementing the order and hence the petitioners proffered the contempt applications. In the meantime, the State filed a writ appeal which was dismissed by a Division Bench which directed the State to regularise the services from the date of their initial appointment.

Thereafter, a Government Order was passed on December 15, 2012 appointing them in government service.

Taking exception to such an order, Justice Tamilvanan held that the officials ought to have regularised their services as per court orders and not treated them as fresh entrants.

Hence, he had issued a statutory notice to the officials on December 21 ordering them to be present in the court on Monday when the officials produced another Government Order passed on January 13 regularising the services of six of the seven petitioners from the year 2006.

“When the Division Bench had ordered to regularise the services from the date of their appointment, you have no business to fix your own date. It is a clear contempt though it may not be deliberate,” the judge said and adjourned the hearing to January 29 to report compliance of the court orders.

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