The Supreme Court has ruled that Brigadiers serving in Military Engineering Services (MES) as Chief Engineers are not entitled to grade pay at par with their civilian counterparts holding the post of Chief Engineer. The apex court has in its judgment, on January 16, set aside the judgment of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) regional bench in Kolkata which had allowed the claim of a Brigadier for payment of grade pay of Rs 10,000 or more, at par with his civilian counterparts holding the post of Chief Engineer in MES.
The Army officer, who was posted as Chief Engineer, Shillong Zone in the MES had gone to AFT over the disparity with regard to grade pay of Brigadier vis-à-vis civilian Chief Engineer in the MES. The SC, in its judgment, has said that the Court has clearly laid down that the classification of military personnel as different class from non-military personnel is permissible and valid.
“The submissions made on behalf of the appellant that the Army Officers serving in the MES as Chief Engineers continue to get the same benefits and perks attached to the post of Brigadier has not been controverted by the Respondent. Though there is no dispute that the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ is applicable even to tenure or temporary appointments, in view of the IDSE Rules which govern the grade pay of the post of the Chief Engineer, Senior Administrative Grade, we are of the opinion that the Respondent is not entitled to claim parity with members of the IDSE,” the order reads.
The court observed that the validity of the IDSE Rules has not been challenged. “We do not see any force in the submission of the Respondent that grade pay should be made available to all persons working as Chief Engineers irrespective of the source. We are in agreement with the Appellants that the Respondent continues to be a Brigadier for all practical purposes and is entitled for the benefits attached to the post of Brigadier, irrespective of the place and post in which he works,” it said.
The Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Appellants — Union of India — had argued that an Army officer posted as Chief Engineer in the MES cannot seek parity of grade pay with his civilian counterparts in the Indian Defence Service of Engineers (IDSE) because members of the Armed Forces are a distinct and distinguishable class.
The Solicitor General submitted that the Indian Defence Service of Engineers (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2016 are not applicable to the Brigadier and he cannot seek the same grade pay as IDSE officers working as Chief Engineers.
It was further contended that the conditions of service of commissioned officers in the Army and civilian Chief Engineers are entirely different. Commissioned Officers are liable to be posted anywhere in the country including hard field areas such as Jammu and Kashmir and the North East, unlike civilian engineers who do not have an all-India liability.
It was further submitted that the hierarchy of the ranks in the Army are completely different from that of the IDSE. The pay structure and conditions of service are different and the Army officers are entitled to Military Service Pay of Rs.15,000 per month which is not available to their civilian counterparts. That apart, several other facilities in material form such as canteen facilities, mess, ration etc. are provided to the Army Officers, which disentitle them to seek parity with civilian Chief Engineers.
The AFT, on the other hand, had held that the post of the Chief Engineer carries the same duties whether they are performed by a military person or a civilian. The Tribunal was of the opinion that in case the work and duties are similar then the source is immaterial, and whosoever may be assigned the same duties shall be entitled for the same pay and pay band. The Tribunal was also of the opinion that the disparity in pay leads to the reduction of status of an employee, and amounts to an adverse public perception of their capability and their efficiency.
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