Legal Correspondent

We cannot read it in a manner which will make it in conflict with Art. 14

“Smaller Bench decision cannot override a larger Bench”

New Delhi: “We have to read Uma Devi’s case in conformity with Article 14 of the Constitution [equality before law] and we cannot read it in a manner which will make it in conflict with Article 14,” a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has said.

A five-judge Constitution Bench in Uma Devi’s case said courts should not give a direction for regularisation of the services of daily/temporary workers as they had not been recruited following the due procedure and recruitment rules.

The Uttar Pradesh Electricity Board, citing this judgment, appealed against an Allahabad High Court verdict directing regularisation of the services of 34 daily wage employees, who had been working in the erstwhile Cooperative Electric Supply Society.

The apex court Bench, comprising justices A.K. Mathur and Markandey Katju, pointed out that in Maneka Gandhi’s case, a seven-judge Bench had held that reasonableness and non-arbitrariness were part of Article 14.

“Maneka Gandhi’s case is a decision of a seven-judge Bench, whereas Uma Devi’s case is a decision of a five-judge Bench of this court. It is well settled that a smaller Bench decision cannot override a larger Bench. No doubt, Maneka Gandhi’s case does not specifically deal with the question of regularisation of government employees, but the principle of reasonableness in executive action and the law which it has laid down, in our opinion, are of general application.”

In the present case, many employees had been working from 1985 and it would not be reasonable if their claim for regularisation was denied even after such a long period of service, the Bench said.

The employees only demanded that they be not discriminated against the original employees of the Electricity Board.