An employee of a public sector undertaking who gives legal advice to his colleagues against the interest of the organisation in his capacity as a lawyer after his retirement runs the risk of losing certain benefits. The public enterprise may refuse medical reimbursement crucial for him in his advanced age.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has dealt with this issue in its recent judgment through which it struck down the observations of the Delhi State Consumer Commission regarding the ability of a State Trading Corporation’s retired employee to give advice to his former colleagues. This has accorded validity to an STC circular of 1997 declaring such employees ineligible for medical coverage.

According to the STC circular issued on October 8, 1997, a retired employee who indulges in any activity which goes against the interest of the Corporation would be debarred from getting medical facilities after retirement. The circular’s provisions also applied to the employees who joined the services of STC from other public sector organisations and had served the Corporation for a minimum period of two years.

H.C. Goel, who retired as the STC Chief Legal Advisor in 1988, was operated in emergency at a private nursing home and incurred expenses of Rs.18,965. He claimed reimbursement of medical expenses as well as payment of a fixed amount of money from STC, which denied it saying that his surgery was carried out in a non-panel hospital.

Mr. Goel, practising as a lawyer in Tis Hazari Court here after his retirement, moved the District Consumer Forum which directed the STC to reimburse his medical expenses and also awarded compensation of Rs.20,000. On an appeal filed by STC, the Delhi State Consumer Commission reduced the compensation amount to Rs.10,000 in 2008.

Dealing with the STC’s contention about Mr. Goel having given adverse legal advice to its employees, the State Commission observed that it was applicable only if he was indulging in this activity during his service. “After having retired from the appellant organisation, no rule prevented him from giving any advice or otherwise,” it said.

A National Commission Bench comprising Justice K. S. Chaudhari and B. C. Gupta said it in its judgment that the State Commission had committed error by making this observation and struck it down. However, it refused to delve into the legality of the 1997 circular, saying it was not to be seen by the consumer forums.

“The circular has to be applied strictly and according to this circular if [a] retired employee indulges in any activity against the interest of the Corporation, he can be debarred from getting medical facilities subject to the right of appeal to the Chief Medical Officer,” stated the Bench.

Mr. Goel, who has since died, was represented in the National Consumer Commission by his wife, son and daughter.

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