Justice Yashwant Varma dismissed the pleas noting that after its disinvestment, Air India Limited (AIL) is no longer a government company, and writ petitions against it, would no longer be maintainable.
Justice Verma said, “The Court also finds merit in the objection which was addressed on behalf of the respondents who had contended that since AIL had ceased to be a government company by virtue of the exercise of privatization noted above, the writ petition itself would cease to be maintainable.”
The petitioners were permanently employed and rendered service as commanders and co-pilots with the Air India Limited. Post their superannuation, they were appointed on contractual terms.
They had approached the High Court assailing the validity of the orders of April 2, 2020 and August 7, 2020.
In terms of the first order, AIL considering the outbreak of COVID-19 and its impact on operations of airlines worldwide, had proceeded to place their engagement on contractual terms under temporary suspension.
By the subsequent order of 07 August 2020, AIL apprised the petitioners that in view of the prevailing scenario in the civil aviation sector, a decision had been taken to discontinue their contractual engagement.
During the hearing, Air India raised a preliminary objection to the maintainability of petitions. After privatisation of Air India, these writ petitions are not maintainable.
Air India also argued that the engagement of the petitioners was governed by a mere contract of service, a writ petition either for its enforcement or alleged violation of its terms would not be maintainable.
Senior advocate Rajiv Nayar appearing for AIL, had taken a preliminary objection to the maintainability of the writ petition.
He had submitted that the writ petition would not lie since the terms of engagement of the petitioners was not governed by any statutory provisions.
Senior Counsel had contended that since the engagement of the petitioners was governed by a mere contract of service, a writ petition either for its enforcement or alleged violation of its terms would not be maintainable.
This Court agreed with the submission that a non-statutory contract of service is not enforceable under Article 226 of the Constitution.
The Court reiterates the legal position by holding that merely because the contract of service has been entered into with a body which may be an instrumentality of the State or one which performs a public function would not be determinative of the question, the bench said.
Ultimately, the question of maintainability of a writ petition would have to be adjudged on the anvil of whether the contract is statutory or not. Decisions taken by such bodies within the confines of an ordinary contract of service and which has no statutory force or backing, would not be amenable to judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution, the bench added.
“Accordingly and for all the aforesaid reasons, the preliminary objections are upheld. The writ petitions shall consequently stand dismissed. The present order, however, shall not deprive the petitioners of the right to assail the action of AIL in accordance with law, if so chosen and advised,” the Court ordered on October 31. (ANI)