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R. Rajkumar & Others v/s Union of India, Represented by Its Principal Secretary, Ministry of Science & Technology, Department of Science & Technology, New Delhi & Another

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    WP(C). No. 4117 of 2018 (L)

    Decided On, 11 October 2019

    At, High Court of Kerala


    For the Petitioners: P. Sankarankutty Nair, Venu Menon, V. Shankar, Advocates. For the Respondents: P. Vijayakumar, Assistant Solicitor General of India.

Judgment Text

1. The case put forth by the petitioners is that, the fixation of Rs.12,000/- per month as stipend for Research Fellowship of Ph.D Research Scholars in Humanities is unconstitutional, and they are entitled to get an amount of Rs.25,000/- as is given to the Lecturers in Science who are having National Eligibility Test (NET) qualification. Brief material facts for the disposal of the writ petition are as follows:

2. Petitioners are Research Scholars in the Department of Humanities under the Indian Institute of Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, the 2nd respondent herein. As per Exts.P4 and P5 Rules and Regulations for Ph.D. issued by the 2nd respondent, a monthly fellowship of Rs.12,000/- was fixed for Lecturers with NET qualification in both Science and Humanities. However, as per Ext.P12 Ph.D. Rules and Regulations issued by the 2nd respondent dated 26.10.2017, an unreasonable classification is made, by which, Rs.25,000/- is given as fellowship to Ph.D. Research Scholars in Science on and with effect from 21.10.2014, whereas the petitioners who are having the similar qualification of NET are provided only with an amount of Rs.12,000/- per month, subject to certain riders. Therefore, according to the petitioners, the classification so done in Ext.P12 is unconstitutional, being an unreasonable classification.

3. I have heard learned counsel for the petitioners and the learned counsel representing the ASGI, and perused the pleadings and the documents on record. Even though notice is served on the 2nd respondent, there is no appearance.

4. The subject issue revolves around Clause 9 of Ext.P12 Ph.D. Rules and Regulations approved on 26.10.2017, which read thus:

“9. Research Fellowship

9.1. Full-time Programmes

9.1.1. IIST Funded

a) All research scholars selected under IIST funded Ph.D. fellowship will receive Institute fellowship following DST Guidelines (and upon DOS approval) for emoluments for research personnel pursuing Ph.D. in Central Government Departments/Agencies. As per current norms, scholars with Masters Degree in Engineering/Technology and scholars with Masters degree in Science or Humanities with NET-JRF or Gate qualification will be given a Fellowship of Rs.25,000/p.m. scholars with NET - Lectureship from the Sciences and Humanities are given a Fellowship of Rs.25,000/p.m. and Rs.12,000/p.m., respectively. Scholars with NET-Lectureship in Humanities will be given a Fellowship of Rs.25000/pm, if the scholars qualify for NET-JRF. All the Fellowship amounts shall be revised from time to time as per Government norms.

b) After two years of research experience, their performance will be evaluated by the respective DC and a Department level committee constituted by the HoD. Based on the review, fellowship amount of Rs.25000/12000 may be enhanced to Rs.28000/14000, respectively”.

5. Therefore, on an analysis of the said provision, it is clear that scholars with NET - Lectureship from the Sciences are given Rs.25,000/- per month, however, scholars with NET - Lectureship in Humanities are given only a Fellowship of Rs.12,000/- per month. As pointed out earlier, the sum and substance of the contention put forth by learned counsel for the petitioners is that, there is clear discrimination by and between the Lecturers having the same qualification teaching Science and Humanities. That apart, it is clear from the afore provision, petitioners are entitled to get the same amount as that of Science scholars only if they are acquiring further qualifications.

6. By this time, it is well settled that, Article 14 of the Constitution of India will come into play when serious discrimination is meted out by and between equals under similar circumstances. It is also well settled that every individual is entitled as of right for equal treatment under similar circumstances. To put it otherwise, there should be a rational basis or relationship with respect to the classification done, though may not be in mathematical precision, however, substantially, and definitely not to the disadvantage of a citizen. This is more so in democratic governance guided by rule of law and the concept shall remain a reality rather than a mockery, illusion, or a myth, failing which, there will be serious repercussions interfering deeply with the rights and liberty of the citizens. Equality before law in accordance with the settled principles mean that, among equals, the law should be equal and it shall be administered and implemented, and all the similar should be treated similarly. It also forbids classification between persons similarly situated.

7. Now coming to the facts of this case, Lecturers may be of different grades and according to the grade, they may be able to be classified, which may not be an unreasonable classification. But the lecturers having same status in their attire and classification, shall not be classified differently, especially for economic and financial purposes. A lecturer in Science is teaching the subject like a lecturer teaching the subject in Humanities, and merely because they are teaching different subjects, they cannot be classified differently, because such classification may be nothing short of treating equals unequally. Such classification cannot also be said to be a reasonable one to survive the litmus test of standards prescribed for equality before law and the equal protection of laws.

8. It is also well settled that in order to pass muster for permissible classification, two things are predominantly requested: (1) There should be an intelligible differentia which distinguishes the classification of persons or things who are grouped together; and (2): the differentia must have a rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the statute/guidelines/rules. The said imperatives are clearly expressed by the apex court in 'State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar' [AIR 1952 SC 191]. So also, it is well settled that the classifications should be lawful and made in good faith to achieve the object without discrimination.

9. Having evaluated the legal and factual circumstances, I am of the considered opinion that, there is a clear transgression made by the respondents so as to seriously interfere with the mandates of the constitutional principles, justifying this Court to arrive at a conclusion that the classification made is unreasonable. In this context, it is worthwhile to extract the principles laid down in 'Shri Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Shri Justice S.R. Tendolkar and Others' [AIR 1958 SC 538], which principles are restated in 'Special Courts Bill Re [(1979) 1 SCC 380]. Paragraph 11 of the judgment reads as follows:

“11. The principal ground urged in support of the contention as to the invalidity of the Act and/or the notification is founded on Art. 14 of the Constitution. In Budhan Choudhry v. The State of Bihar, 1955-1 S C R 1045 : ((S) A I R 1955 S C 191) (A) a Constitution Bench of seven Judges of this Court at pages 1048-49 (of S C R) : (at p. 193 of A I R) explained the true meaning and scope of Art. 14 as follows :

"The provisions of Art. 14 of the Constitution have come up for decision before this Court in a number of cases, namely, Chiranjit Lal v. Union of India, 1950 S C R 869 : ( A I R 1951 S C 41) (B), State of Bombay v. F. N. Balsara, 1951 S C R 682 : ( A I R 1951 S C 318) (C), State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, 1952 S C R 284 : (A I R 1952 S C 75) (D), Kathi Raning Rawat v. State of Saurashtra, 1952 S C R 435 : (AIR 1952 S C 123) (E), Lachmandas Kewalram v. State of Bombay, 1952 S C R 710 : (A I R 1952 S C 235) (F), Qasim Razvi v. State of Hyderabad, 1953 S C R 589 : (AIR 1953 S C 156) (G) and Habeeb Mohammad v. State of Hyderabad, 1953, S C R 661 : AIR 1953 S C 287) (H). It is, therefore, not necessary to enter upon any lengthy discussion as to the meaning, scope and effect of the article in question. It is now well established that while Art. 14 forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purposes of legislation. In order, however, to pass the test of permissible classification two conditions must be fulfilled, namely, (i) that the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group and (ii) that that differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question. The classification may be founded on different basis, namely, geographical, or according to objects or occupations or the like. What is necessary is that there must be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the Act under consideration. It is also well established by the decisions of this Court that Art. 14 condemns discrimination not only by a substantive law but by a law of procedure."

The principle enunciated above has been consistently adopted and applied in subsequent cases. The decisions of this Court further establish –

(a) that a law may be constitutional even though it relates to a single individuals if, on account of some special circumstances or reasons applicable to him and not applicable to others, that single individual may be treated as a class by himself ;

(b) that there is always a presumption in favour of the constitutionality of an enactment and the burden is upon him who attacks it to show that there has been a clear transgression of the constitutional principles ;

(c) that it must be presumed that the Legislature understands and correctly appreciates the need of its own people, that its laws are directed to problems made manifest by experience and that its discriminations are based on adequate grounds ;

(d) that the legislature is free to recognise degrees of harm and may confine its restrictions to those cases where the need is deemed to be the clearest ;

(e) that in order to sustain the presumption of constitutionality the Court may take into consideration matters of common knowledge, matters of common report, the history of the times and may assume every state of facts which can be conceived existing at the time of legislation ; and

(f) that while good faith and knowledge of the existing conditions on the part of a Legislature are to be presumed, if there is nothing on the face of the law or the surrounding circumstances brought to the notice of the Court on which the classification may reasonably be regarded as based, the presumption of constitutionality cannot be carried to the extent of always holding that there must be some undisclosed and unknown reasons for subjecting certain individuals or corporations to hostile or discriminating legislation.

The above principles will have to be constantly borne in mind by the Court when it is called upon, to adjudge the constitutionality of any particular law attacked as discriminatory and violative of the equal protection of the laws.

10. Taking into account the principles of law laid down by the apex court an

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d the factual circumstances involved in this case, there can be no doubt that there is no substantial difference in the work carried out by the lecturers in Science and Humanities having the same Scholarship with NET qualification. So also, in this background, the principle of 'equal pay for equal work' done, by similarly situated persons comes into play, and therefore, unequal pay for the work done having substantial similarity cannot pass the test of equality principles. The sum and substance of the discussion made above would make it clear that, both Science and Humanities lecturers with the NET qualification are having same status in their attire and shall not be classified differently. 11. Resultantly, petitioners are entitled to succeed in this writ petition, and therefore, I quash that part of Clause 9.1.1(a) of Ext.P12 Ph.D. Rules and Regulations approved by the Director of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology on 26.10.2017, providing fellowship of Rs.12,000/- per month to the petitioners who are scholars with NET - Lectureship in Humanities and accordingly direct the 2nd respondent to provide Fellowship to the petitioners at Rs.25,000/- per month. The writ petition is allowed accordingly.