CASE COMMENTARY ON STATE OF GUJARAT & ORS. V. DR. PA BHATT & ORS. (2023)


Date of JudgementApril 26, 2023
BenchJustice V. Ramasubramanian and Justice Pankaj Mithal  
Advocates representing the Appellant’s sideMs. Swati Ghildiyal and Ms. Aniruddha P. Mayee, Advocates  
Advocates representing the Respondent’s sideRameshwar Prasad Goyal and Ms. Kusum Chaudhary, Advocates

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:

The respondents in the present case are those doctors practicing alternative systems of medicine. The doctors took the step of filing a writ petition in the Gujrat High Court in order to seek equal pay based on the recommendations given by the Tikku Pay Commission. Further, the High Court of Gujarat allowed these writ petitions and held that those doctors practicing alternative medicine systems to be treated at par with those having an MBBS degree. Aggrieved by the order of the High Court, the state of Gujarat filed several appeals before the division bench of the High Court which were however dismissed and as a result, the State of Gujarat filed civil appeals before the Supreme Court. It was held by the honorable bench of the Supreme Court on 26th April 2023 that ayurvedic doctors are not entitled to equal pay as they do not perform the same level of work as allopathy doctors. The basic questions that the Supreme Court addressed were if discrimination on the basis of pay scale depending on their professional degrees is valid even if the officers belong to the same cadre and whether the work of the allopathic doctors and those practicing alternative medicine systems be considered equal.

FACTS OF THE CASE:

  • The civil appeals arise in this case based on the order passed by the Division Bench of the High Court of Gujarat (Ahmedabad) which held that the doctors possessing a degree of BAMS should be treated equally as those doctors holding a MBBS degree are treated with respect to pay scales. They seek to get the benefits of the recommendations given by the Tikku Pay Commission.
  • The State of Gujarat accepted the recommendations of the Tikku Committee (31/10/1990) with respect to allopathy doctors and issued a resolution (17/10/1994) that a desirable number of allopathic doctors were not available in service in the state and therefore it was necessary to attract allopathy doctors to join service.
  • The state of Gujarat by a government resolution (17/10/1994) clarified that non-MBBS doctors are also entitled to get the benefit. It was also stated that the recommendations of the Tikku Committee could be availed by those doctors working under the Employees State Insurance Scheme as per Government Resolution dated 01/07/1997.
  • The respondents present in this case were appointed on an ad hoc basis under the ‘Community Health Volunteer Medical Officers Scheme’ started by the Government of India and were later absorbed by the state of Gujarat in May 1999. By filing four writ petitions they sought to seek a higher pay scale by availing the extension of benefits as per the recommendations of the Tikku Pay Commission.
  • A separate writ petition was filed by Medical Officers(Ayurveda) who were comprised of initially appointed  Class III  Medical Officers.
  • The High Court allowed the writ petitions and gave the judgment on 26/07/2012. It was held by the court that no discrimination on the basis of pay scale  is permissible between MBBS and Non – MBBS doctors and they should be treated on par with each other.
  • Subsequent;y, intra-court appeals were allowed by the State of Gujarat.. As a result of the appeals, it issued a government resolution dated 31.07.2013 withdrawing the resolution dated 01.01.1999 which extended the benefits to non–MBBS doctors as the learned Single Judge held that discrimination between non-MBBS degree holders working in the ESI Scheme and non-MBBS degree holders working in other areas is not appropriate.
  • The Division bench of the High Court held that no discrimination on the basis of educational qualifications is desirable between those employed within the same cadre. As both doctors are performing similar work, they are entitled to have a common pay scale.
  • The State came up with appeals aggrieved by the division bench of the Gujarat High Court. As a result, the court passed an interim order on 08/09/2014 and granted leave in special leave petitions.
  • As the interim order was not complied with, subsequent contempt petitions were filed in 2016,2017. Five civil appeals and three contempt petitions are in hand.

ISSUES RAISED

Particularly, two questions were put forth by the judges after the consideration of the appeals-:[1]

(1) Whether different scales of pay can be fixed for officers appointed to the same cadre, on the basis of educational qualifications possessed by them?

(2) Can allopathy doctors and doctors of indigenous medicine be said to be performing “equal work” so as to be entitled to “equal pay”?

CONTENTION FRAMED BY BOTH THE PARTIES:

●      Arguments by the Appellants:

The learned counsel of the appellant made contentions that the Tikku Pay Commission recommendations were particularly applicable only to the MBBS doctors by assailing the challenged order of the Gujarat High Court. They highlighted that there is no provision in the law that prohibits providing different pay scales to people belonging to the same cadre based on the qualifications of the professional. It was highlighted that the High Court of Gujarat has lacked behind to recognize the different nature of the work of the ayurvedic and allopathy doctors and therefore the appellant seeks to establish that the impugned order of the High Court is wrong. Contentions were further made that the revision of pay scales was made solely for the purpose of overcoming the shortage of allopathy doctors and so as to provide necessary healthcare infrastructure to the citizens of the country. However, the nation was never facing a shortage of AYUSH doctors and hence there was no necessity to hike their salaries to attract them to service. The learned counsel further highlighted that the Gujarat High Court failed to consider  the varying nature of the work of the MBBS and those doctors practicing alternative medicine systems. Therefore, the learned counsel of the appellant concluded that the bench should declare the impugned order of the High Court as wrong.

●     Arguments by the Respondents:

The preliminary issue that was raised by them was the question raised in the appeals is evenly covered by the court in various judgments such as North Delhi Municipal Corporation vs. Dr. Ram Naresh Sharma in which the court held that both the doctors under AYUSH and CHS are rendering services to patients and by taking into consideration this core aspect, there is no need of distinguishing between them. The primary issue in the North Delhi Municipal Corporation vs. Dr. Ram Naresh Sharma was regarding the age of retirement. Therefore, the learned counsel of the respondents highlighted that the issue of the age of retirement is not similar to terms of condition of service relating to the payment and allowances and revision of payment and so according to them, the issue that is  raised in the appeals is not covered under the decision of the case North Delhi Municipal Corporation vs. Dr. Ram Naresh Sharma.

It was highlighted that one must consider the distinction between –[2]

(i)              the issue of law that equal work entails equal pay; and

(ii)             the issue of fact as to whether two categories of employees are performing equal work or not.

Contentions were made by the learned counsel of the respondent by stating that the allopathy and ayurvedic doctors are appointed as Class–II Medical Officers of the Gujarat Medical Services which means to the same cadre and that they have an equal pay scale and are governed by the same set of rules then the classification made by the government at a later stage is not desirable. The counsel stated that both Allopathy and Ayurvedic doctors are performing the same duty that is, treating patients and therefore there is no need to create a sense of discrimination. The counsel also highlighted that the recommendations given by  Tikku Pay Commission were made applicable to those doctors who don’t have an MBBS degree and are working under the ESI scheme by a government resolution dated 01/01/1999. It was further contended by the learned counsel that it was only after the Single Judge allowed the writ petitions because of which the state issued another resolution on 31/07.2013 by withdrawing the resolution dated 01/01/1999 and that the fact findings of the Single Judge and the division bench of the Gujarat High Court does not call for any interference under article 136 of the Constitution and therefore the appeals are liable to be dismissed.

RATIONALE OF THE CASE:

  • In order to arrive at the judgment of the present case the court analyzed several judgments. While addressing the first issue the court analyzed the following judgements. In the State of Mysore Vs. P. Narasinga Rao[3], the court discussed the differentiation between matriculates who are recruited on high pay scales and non-matriculates who are recruited on low pay scales . Before the states were reorganized, both the candidates were eligible for equal pay , however after the reorganization, the candidates were not eligible for equal and still, the court upheld the classification.
  • In Dr. C. Girijambal vs. Government of Andhra Pradesh[4], the court held that the principle of equal pay for equal work shall not be applicable in those fields in which professional services are rendered at any rate.
  • In Mewa Ram Kanojia vs. All India Institute of Medical Sciences[5], the court held that the State is allowed to stratify the employees based on those criteria such as responsibility, duty, and qualifications of their respective posts.
  • In Shyam Babu Verma Vs Union of India[6] held that the court held that if the basis of classification such as an academic degree or experience is justified then even if the nature of work may be similar, the payment scale may vary.
  • While addressing the second issue the court highlighted as to why it is necessary to encourage indigenous medicine systems in India and how important ayurvedic doctors are for the nation. Yet, the court highlighted that ayurvedic and allopathy doctors are not handling similar cases and therefore the principle of equal work and equal pay is not applicable. Therefore, the 2nd issue of the present case was answered against the respondents.

 

DEFECTS OF THE LAW:

  • The court took into consideration primarily the field of medicine, it failed to take into consideration the case of equal pay for equal work in other fields of work. In some cases of fields of work, the concept that an equal pay for equal work must be given is desirable. To date, several fields have been following the discriminatory approach in terms of payment based on the rank of employment which is accepted. However, some people still argue that in the case of MBBS doctors and Ayurveda Doctors, they are both performing the job of treating patients and are not classified on the basis of rank.

INFERENCE FROM THE CASE:

  • In the view of the honorable bench of the Supreme Court of India, the impugned order of the Gujrat High Court must be set aside and the civil appeals made shall be allowed. The court highlighted that as those benefits derived by the respondents as per the interim order passed by the court shall be recovered from them which it would not ordered but as some doctors have received and some haven’t it has to allow the recovery by the State.
  • Therefore, according to the verdict of the court, the benefits derived by the respondents and a consequence of the interim order of the court shall be recovered.. The judgment of the court stated that it is not possible for the court to make a distinction between the Ayurveda doctors as those who have and have not received the benefits as per the  interim order of the Gujrat High Court. The court does not refrain from overlooking the basic principle of law that those benefits derived by a person as a result of an interim order must not be allowed to be retained if the final result of the case goes against such a person.
  • As a result, it was concluded in the judgment given by the Bench that the appeals are allowed, writ petitions that were filed by the respondents are dismissed and the order given by the High Court shall be set aside. It was also stated that contempt petitions shall also be dismissed along with the interlocutory applications which include impleadment application(s).

Riya Risbud

ILS Law College, Pune


[1] State of Gujarat v. P.A. Bhatt, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 503.

[2] State of Gujarat v. P.A. Bhatt, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 503.

[3]State of Gujarat v. P.A. Bhatt, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 503.

[4] SCC Online, https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2023/05/19/supreme-court-denies-equal-treatment-of-mbbs-and-ayurved-allopathy-doctors/, (last visited  Nov 11, 2023).

[5] State of Gujarat v. P.A. Bhatt, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 503.

[6] SCC Online, https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2023/05/19/supreme-court-denies-equal-treatment-of-mbbs-and-ayurved-allopathy-doctors/, (last visited  Nov 11, 2023).