Supreme Court of India
Anil Joshi & Ors vs State Of H.P.& Ors on 9 March, 2015Author: A M Sapre
Bench: Fakkir Mohamed Kalifulla, Abhay Manohar Sapre
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL Nos.6097-6100 OF 2009
Anil Joshi and Others Appellant(s)
State of Himachal Pradesh
and Others Respondent(s)
CIVIL APPEAL No.6101 OF 2009
CIVIL APPEAL No.6102 OF 2009
CIVIL APPEAL No.6103 OF 2009
CIVIL APPEAL No.6104 OF 2009
J U D G M E N T
Abhay Manohar Sapre, J.
1. Civil Appeal Nos. 6101, 6102, 6103 and 6104 of 2009 are filed by the
State against the common judgment dated 15.06.2007 passed by the High Court
of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla in Civil Writ Petition Nos. 586 of 1999, 66,
118 and 170 of 2000 wherein the High Court allowed the writ petitions filed
by the State employees working in the Forest Department by setting aside
the judgment/order dated 15.12.1999 passed by the Himachal Pradesh
Administrative Tribunal, Shimla in O.A. Nos. 35 of 1989, 595, 609 and 620
2. So far as Civil Appeal Nos. 6097-6100 of 2009 are concerned, these
appeals are filed by one set of employees after obtaining leave of this
Court because they were not parties before the High Court or before the
Tribunal. According to them, consequent upon the declaration given by the
High Court in favour of the respondents in their absence, they felt
aggrieved and hence filed these appeals.
3. In order to appreciate the issue involved in these appeals, which lie
in a narrow compass, it is necessary to state the relevant facts infra.
4. The respondents herein are the State employees working in the Forest
Department in Himachal Pradesh. They were appointed during 1989-1990 and
accordingly posted as “Range Officers” in the Forest Department. Their
service conditions are governed by the Recruitment & Promotion Rules for
the Himachal Pradesh Forest Service (Class-II) (in short “the Rules”).
5. The respondents, however, claimed that they having qualified the
State Forest Service Course (Diploma Course) from different colleges were
eligible to be posted as ACF (Assistant Conservator of Forest) and
accordingly were eligible for being treated as “direct recruits” in the
H.P. Forest Services Class II.
6. The respondents claimed the aforementioned reliefs essentially on the
basis of one letter dated 28.07.1983 sent by the Director of Forest
Education, Forest Research Institute & College to the Secretary, Forest
Department, States/U.Ts. According to the respondents, the letter was in
the nature of the promise given to them by the State and since the State
declined to grant the reliefs, they filed O.As before the H.P. State
Administrative Tribunal (for short “the Tribunal”) against the State and
sought for the following reliefs:
(i) That the respondents may be directed to appoint petitioner Nos. 1 and
2 as HPFS-II from the date they completed the SFS Training Course from SFS
College Dehradum, i.e. April 1, 1986, the day following the convocation.
That the respondents may be directed to appoint petitioner No.3 as H.P.F.S.-
II from the date of his joining the SFS Training Course at SFS College
Burnihat, i.e., 1.11.1986.
That the petitioners may be declared to have been duly selected for SFS
Diploma against direct quota under the existing R & P Rules and the
respondents may be directed to appoint the petitioners from the due dates
as has been done in the cases of their contemporary direct recruits.
That the petitioners may be held entitled to all consequential benefits
including fixation of seniority and back wages; and
That in the alternative if it is construed that there are some impediments
for considering the petitioners for appointments to HPFS-II from due dates,
in that event, the respondents may be directed to take necessary steps for
doing the needful and if the proposed action/rules create certain
difficulties in the cases of petitioners, the same may be deemed to have
been relaxed in view of peculiar facts of this case.”
7. The State contested the respondents’ claim and contended that no
promise was ever given to the respondents and nor any promise was
discernible from the letter dated 28.07.1983 relied on by the respondents
so as to entitle them to claim the aforementioned reliefs. It was also
contended that since the Rules do not make any provision on the issue in
question and hence it is not possible to consider grant of such relief to
the respondents. Lastly, it was contended that as and when any amendment
in the Rules is made, the cases of the respondents and others alike them
would be considered on their merits at the appropriate stage.
8. The Tribunal, by judgment/order dated 15.12.1999 dismissed the O.As
filed by the respondents. It was held that the letter dated 28.07.1983 does
not give any right to the respondents to claim such reliefs. It was also
held that no case of promissory estoppel, as was sought to be pressed in
service by the respondents, was made out in their favour on the strength of
the letter dated 28.07.1983. It was also held that the cases of
respondents are governed by the Rules and so long as they do not fulfill
the requirements of the Rules, no benefit can be extended to them.
9. Aggrieved by the said judgment/order, the respondents filed writ
petitions under Article 227 of the Constitution of India in the High Court.
By impugned judgment/order, the Division Bench allowed the respondents’
writ petitions and quashed the order of the Tribunal. It was held that a
case of promissory estoppel as pleaded by the respondents is made out
against the State. It was held that if the State has failed to amend the
Rules, no blame can be attributed to the respondents for such lapse on the
part of the State and nor can they be deprived of their legitimate rights
to claim the reliefs for which they filed O.As before the Tribunal.
10. Accordingly, the High Court gave the following declaration in favour
of the respondents:
“We consequently allow the writ petitions, set-aside the orders of the
learned Tribunal dated 15th December 1999 and hold that the petitioners are
entitled to be inducted in the H.P. State Forest Service-II with effect
from the date they successfully completed the State Forest Service Course
(Diploma Course) in Forestry with all consequential benefits. No order as
11. It is against this order, the State filed C.A.Nos. 6101, 6102, 6103
and 6104 of 2009 and the affected State employees, who were not parties
before the High Court or the Tribunal filed C.A. Nos. 6097-6100 of 2009.
12. The question which arises for consideration in these appeals is
whether the High Court was justified in allowing the writ petitions by
granting declaration in favour of the respondent-employees.
13. Learned Counsel for the appellant-State while assailing the legality
and correctness of the impugned order made two-fold submissions. In the
first place, learned counsel contended that the High Court erred in holding
that a case of promissory estoppel was made out in favour of the
respondents. According to him, neither any promise was given by the State
and nor it could be spelt out from the contents of the letter dated
28.07.1983. Learned counsel contended that apart from the letter dated
28.07.1983, the respondents did not place reliance on any evidence to
support their plea of promissory estoppel. Learned counsel further
contended that the plea of promissory estoppel was not applicable to the
case in hand for the simple reason that service conditions of the
respondents are governed by the Service Rules. In the second place, learned
counsel contended that the matter is under consideration for making
appropriate amendment in the R & P Rules of HPFS-II and hence so long as
appropriate amendment is not made, the respondents are not entitled to
14. In contra, the respondents supported the impugned order and contended
that no case is made out to interfere in the impugned order and hence the
appeals are liable to be dismissed.
15. Having heard the learned counsel for the parties and on perusal of
the record of the case, we find force in the submission of the learned
counsel for the appellant-State.
16. As mentioned above, the High Court allowed the respondents’ writ
petitions essentially on the ground that a case of promissory estoppel was
made out against the State and hence the State is bound by the promise made
to the respondents for grant of reliefs in question.
17. We cannot concur with the view taken by the High Court, as in our
considered opinion, it is not sustainable both on facts and in law.
18. It is a settled principle of law that the service conditions of a
State employee are governed by the Statutory Rules framed by the State from
time to time. An employee is, therefore, entitled to enforce his statutory
right recognized in the Rules in relation to his service condition if it is
breached due to any action on the part of the State. A plea of promissory
estoppel can be set up by a person against the State only when he is able
to prove with adequate evidence that the State has promised him in writing
in express terms to grant specific benefit and acting upon such promise he
has altered his position. In such situation, the State cannot be allowed
to go back to the promise made to such person and he can enforce the
promise made to him.
19. Coming to the facts of the case in hand, we find that firstly the
terms and conditions of the service of the respondents are governed by the
Recruitment & Promotion Rules known as R & P Rules of HPFS-II. Secondly,
Column 7 of the Schedule to the Rules provides for educational and other
qualifications required for direct recruits, whereas Column 10 of the
Schedule to the Rules provides for method of recruitment whether by direct
or by promotion or transfer. Likewise, Column 11 of the Schedule to the
Rules provides for the necessary qualification for promotion etc. Thirdly,
the respondents were not able to show any Rule, which enabled them to claim
a relief of the nature for which the O.As were filed. Fourthly, perusal of
the letter dated 28.07.1983 would go to show that it only provided that the
Forest Rangers, who passed the Ranger Course with Honours, were considered
eligible to secure admission to the 2nd year of the State Forest Services
Course (Diploma Course) in Forestry being conducted at the State Forest
Service Colleges and such deserving Forest Rangers if found suitable, could
be considered for admission in the State Forest Services Course.
20. For ready reference, letter dated 28.07.1983 is reproduced
GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
FOREST RESEARCH INSTITUTE & COLLEGES,
P.O. NEW FOREST, DEHRADUN-248 006
DATED THE 28TH JULY, 1983.
The Director of Forest Education
Forest Research Institute & College.
Sub: Selection for Diploma Course in Forestry
at the State Forest Service Colleges located
at Burmihat, Coimbatore and Dehradun.
I have the honour to state that in view of the decision taken
by the Council of Forestry Research and Education in one of its meeting
held at Delhi on 5.5.1983, the Government of India have been pleased to
convey their approval to the fact that those trained Forest Rangers who
have/had passed the Rangers Course with honours are eligible for admission
to the 2nd year of the State Forest Service Course (Diploma Course) in
Forestry being conducted at the State Forest Service Colleges located at
Bumihat (Assam-Meghalaya), Coimbatore(Tamil Nadu) and Dehradun. It is
requested that the matter may kindly be given wide publicity and the cases
of deserving trained Forest Rangers may be considered and recommended
accordingly for admission in the State Forest Service Course.
Director of Forest Education
Forest Research Institute & Colleges.
Copy forwarded to the Chief Conservator of Forests, ………for
favour of information and similar action.
Director of Forest Education
Forest Research Institute & Colleges.”
The contents of the letter quoted above, in our opinion, could not be
construed as being in the nature of promise made by the State to the
respondents, so as to enable them to seek its enforcement on the plea of
promissory estoppel. The letter, in our view, only prescribed additional
qualification enabling the Forest Rangers to seek admission in the State
Forest Service Course provided they also fulfill necessary qualifications
prescribed in Column 11 of the Schedule to the Rules.
21. In our considered opinion, the High Court, therefore, committed an
error in placing reliance on the judgments of this Court rendered in
Collector of Bombay vs. Municipal Corporation of the City of Bombay & Ors.,
AIR 1951 SC 469, Union of India & Ors. Vs. M/s Anglo Afghan Agencies etc.
AIR 1968 SC 718, M/s Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd. Vs. The State of
Uttar Pradesh & Ors. AIR 1979 SC 621, Surya Narain Yadav & Ors. Vs. Bihar
State Electricity Board & Ors. (1985) 3 SCC 38 and State of Punjab vs.
Nestle India Ltd. & Anr. (2004) 6 SCC 465, which dealt with the cases of
promissory estoppel. The High Court failed to see the distinction between
the facts of the case in hand and the facts which were subject matter of
the cases relied on. The case in hand being a service matter, the rights
of the parties were required to be decided in the light of the statutory
service Rules applicable to the parties. So far as the decisions relied on
by the High Court were concerned, those were the cases where this Court
laid down the law relating to the promissory estoppel operating in general
field inter se citizen and the State. None of these decisions dealt with
the cases arising out of service law. The principle of promissory estoppel
laid down therein, therefore, could not be applied to the case in hand for
giving benefit to the respondents.
22. Learned counsel for the respondents referring to certain letters,
contended that a case of promissory estoppel was made out against the State
entitling the respondents to claim the reliefs. We find no force in this
23. We have perused the contents of the letters referred to in the
impugned order and find that firstly, the letters were exchanged between
one State Authority to other and not addressed to the respondents and
secondly, no enforceable right of the nature in question was created in
respondents’ favour on the strength of these letters.
24. Learned counsel for the respondents then urged that appellants in
Civil Appeal Nos. 6097-6100 of 2009 have no locus to file the appeal as
none of their service rights were adversely affected. This submission need
not to be gone into on its merits in this appeal in the light of the
decision rendered in C.A. Nos. 6101, 6102, 6103 and 6104 of 2009-appeals
filed by the State against the impugned judgment/order.
25. Learned counsel for the respondents, lastly, brought to our notice
that pending appeals, the respondents were given some benefits independent
to the impugned judgment/order. If that be so, then we prefer to express
no opinion on any such issue because it was not gone into at any stage of
the proceedings. We, however, make it clear that we only examined the issue
which was decided by the Tribunal and the High Court, therefore, this
order would not come in the way of the parties if, in the meantime, they or
anyone received any benefit independent of the controversy involved in this
case. Needless to say, so far as this case is concerned, the cases of the
respondents can always be considered for their promotion etc. in the light
of existing Rules if they fulfill the qualifications laid down or as per
any amended Rules, if made.
26. In the light of foregoing discussion, we cannot uphold the
judgment/order passed by the High Court which deserves to be set aside.
27. The appeals thus succeed and are hereby allowed. The impugned
judgment/order dated 15.06.2007 passed by the High Court in the writ
petitions is set aside. The writ petitions filed by the respondents stand
dismissed resulting in restoration of the order passed by the Tribunal,
which rightly dismissed the O.As filed by the respondents.
28. In the light of the decision in C.A. Nos. 6101, 6102, 6103 and 6104
of 2009, C.A. Nos. 6097-6100 of 2009 are disposed of.
[FAKKIR MOHAMED IBRAHIM KALIFULLA]
[ABHAY MANOHAR SAPRE]
March 9, 2015.