Hyderabad: With Assembly elections round the corner, the TS government was given some respite by the Hyderabad High Court on Tuesday by allowing the government to absorb more than 23,000 workers, employed on outsourcing basis, into the power utilities of the state.
A division bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice V. Ramasubramanian dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) and a writ petition challenging the proceedings of the Transmission Corporation of Telangana Ltd, Southern Power Distribution Company of Telangana Ltd, and Northern Power Distribution Company of Telangana Ltd, in absorbing 23,667 workers employed on outsourcing basis.
The petitioners that the impugned actions of all the Corporations clearly fall foul of the law declared by the Supreme Court in Umadevi’s case. The petitioners contended that all the Corporations were formed as Power Utility Establishments in TS and came within the definition of “Instrumentality of State” and hence the appointment to posts in these Corporations constitutes public employment attracting Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.
The petitioners also contended that engaging thousands of persons through outsourcing agencies, and allowing them to continue in employment for some time and then absorbing them against regular vacancies is nothing but a way of making backdoor entries legal. The bench noted that the Corporations issued proceedings for absorption of workers based on the agreement between the Telangana Electricity Trade Unions Front and the Corporations, under the Industrial Disputes Act.
The bench observed that “It may be true that when thousands of people already in employment join together and make a demand for absorption, their potential to become a solid vote bank may influence the decisions taken by the policy makers.” The bench said that “while the political executive can easily choose the option of recognising the rights conferred upon this work force, identifiable as a group, as against an unidentifiable group of unemployed youth, it is not so easy for the courts to balance these competing interests and rights.”
The bench pointed out that if the argument of the petitioners based upon Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution and also based upon the respondent-Corporations being Instrumentalities of State, is to be accepted, the Court may have to divest thousands of persons, now working in these Corporations, of their Fundamental Right to Livelihood under Article 21.
The bench made it clear that the rights that the workmen in an industrial establishment seek to enforce through settlements reached under Section 12(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act, also have Constitutional sanction under Article 21 and hence they overweigh or eclipse the rights that the unemployed seek to enforce under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. While vacating the interim order granted on August 2, 2017, suspending the process of absorption, the bench held that "appointment to a post or absorption in a post in the respondent-Corporations cannot be equated to 'any office under the State' within the meaning of Clauses (1) and (2) of Article 16 of the Constitution....