PM CARES Fund
PM CARES Fund
Apprentice Lawyer

"Voluntary" contributions to PM CARES Fund: A stone-hearted decision?

The view taken by the Court labelling the Professor as being ‘stone hearted’ is a rebuke to a citizen of this country for even seeking to have a choice to decide how and in what manner to utilize his or her own money.

Meghna Sharma

A professor of Delhi University recently moved the Delhi High Court over the deduction of one day’s salary amounting to Rs. 7,500 as a voluntary contribution to the PM CARES Fund. In doing so, he asserted that such contribution was not really voluntary.

The further grievance was that University did not give its employees adequate notice of such deduction and proceeded to deduct one day’s salary even in respect of those employees who had expressed their desire not to make the contribution.

Having failed to convince the Single Judge Bench of the Delhi High Court, the Professor appealed to the Division Bench. The order of June 16 of the Division Bench makes for interesting reading. The Court observed that the University Grants Committee (UGC) and the University had made appeals in the month of March 2020 for such contribution for which the last date of objection was April 2. The Court made “judicial notice” of the fact that we live in the “internet age” and found it prima facie difficult to believe that the Professor did not know about such appeal for contribution.

The Court proceeded to dispose of the grievance of the Professor, holding that “issues of notice and consent are disputed questions of fact which cannot be adjudicated in a writ petition”. The Court went on to hold that in view of the severity of COVID-19, the deduction of one day’s salary cannot be said to be “contrary to public interest or harsh or inequitable”, and that “a writ petition is not a statutory proceeding and a Court is not bound to entertain and allow the same if the cause espoused by the petitioner is contrary to public interest and/or inequitable –as is the case in the present matter”.

Thus, the Court declined to intervene, relegating the Professor to a remedy of filing a suit for recovery and offering its view that “wouldn’t a ‘stone hearted person’ only challenge the decision to deduct one day’s salary for a pandemic?”

The Court erred, in my opinion, on several fronts. To start with, “issues of notice and consent” are questions of compliance with Article 14 of the Constitution, which forbids arbitrariness and requires adherence with principles of natural justice by the University, a state instrumentality under Article 12. Article 300A, in fact, mandates that “no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law. The sum of Rs 7,500 is the constitutionally protected property of the Professor.

Should the Court have found itself handicapped because of there being “disputed questions of fact”, all that was required was to have the parties put on record the facts on affidavit. Indeed, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has noted in Kochunnimoopil Nayar (1959) that questions of fact can and very often are dealt with on affidavits.

Again, the issue as to whether or not the deduction of one day’s salary was “contrary to public interest or harsh or inequitable” did not quite arise when the question before the Court was whether a contribution that was professed to be voluntary was, in effect, forcible. In any case, the jump made by the Court from opining that the deduction of one day’s salary was not “contrary to public interest or harsh or inequitable” to holding that the cause espoused by the Professor “is contrary to public interest and/or inequitable” is startling, and inexplicable.

So is the Court’s observation that “a writ petition is not a statutory proceeding”. Surely, the Court could not have been unaware that the said writ petition was a constitutional proceeding involving constitutional rights, and that its discretion to entertain any writ petition is coupled with a duty to do so when requisite facts present themselves. It is well settled that there is a public duty implicit in the public power to be exercised on behalf of the public and pursuant to a public proceeding (Vardichand, 1980).

The Court, without even ascertaining whether there had been a violation of Article 14, Article 300A or principles of natural justice, relegated the professor to the onerous and illusionary remedy of filing a suit for recovery for Rs 7,500. The hapless professor is likely to spend many times that amount if he chooses to file such suit, apart from suffering the painful delays and inevitable wastage of time and effort.

But, perhaps, the most unfortunate part of the view taken by the Court was its labelling the Professor as being ‘stone hearted’, which essentially is a rebuke to a citizen of this country for even seeking to have a choice to decide how and in what manner to utilize his or her own money.

The author is a final-year law student.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Bar & Bench.

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