Legal Correspondent

Government service is a status and not a contract; rights, duties imposed by public law

UPSC appeal allowed High Court judgment erroneous: Bench

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that government service is a status and not a contract. The hallmark of the status is that the rights and duties are imposed by the public law and not by a mere agreement between the parties.

A Bench consisting of Justices K.G. Balakrishnan and G.P. Mathur held that an employee working on contract in a government department was not a government servant and was not entitled to the benefits available to a regular employee.

The Bench allowed an appeal filed by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) challenging a Bombay High Court judgment, whichheld that respondent Girish Jayanti Lal Vaghela, who was appointed drugs inspector on a contract basis, was a government servant and hence entitled to age relaxation.

Quite different

Writing the judgment, Justice Mathur said: "Cases of contractual employment are different from those of government employees whose employment is a matter of status and not of ordinary contract. The conditions of service of a government servant are regulated by the statute or statutory rules made under Article 309 of the Constitution. It is much more than a purely contractual relationship voluntarily entered into between the parties."

In this case, Mr. Vaghela was appointed on March 11, 1996 for six months on a fixed salary. His contract was renewed after small breaks and he continued in service for five years. On March 24, 2001, the UPSC issued an advertisement for the post of drugs inspector and the upper age limit was fixed at 30. The respondent was overage by two years at that time but he claimed the five-year relaxation available to government servants. The UPSC, however, denied him the relaxation. The High Court held that he was entitled to it. The apex court said: "The appointment of the respondent being purely contractual, the stage of his acquiring the status of a government servant had not arrived." Further, "it is the contract which will govern the terms of contract of service and not the rules framed under Article 309."

The Bench said: "We are clearly of the opinion that the respondent cannot be said to be a government servant as he was working on a contract basis and, therefore, he was not eligible for any relaxation in the upper age limit. The view taken by the High Court is clearly erroneous and is liable to be set aside."