Supreme Court upholds Bombay HC verdict denying appeal for Grants to former Air India Employees.

CASE TITLE – Mr. R.S. Madireddy & ANR. Etc v. Union of India and ORS. Etc

DATED ON – 16.05.2024

QUORUM – Justice B.R. Gavai & Justice Sandeep Mehta



The said appeals were filed challenging the common impugned judgment and order dated 20th September, 2022 passed by the Division Bench of the High Court of Bombay thereby dismissing four writ petitions instituted by the appellants being the former employees of respondent No.3 i.e. Air India Limited (hereinafter referred to as ‘AIL’) as members of its cabin crew force. Appellants came to be employed in AIL in the late 1980s and all of them retired between 2016 and 2018. on 08th October, 2021, the Government of India announced that it had accepted the bid of Talace India Pvt Ltd. to purchase its 100% shares in respondent No. 3 (AIL). Subsequently, on 27th January, 2022 pursuant to the share purchase agreement signed with Talace India Pvt. Ltd., 100% equity shares of the Government of India in respondent No. 3(AIL) were purchased by the said private company and respondent No. 3(AIL) was privatised and disinvested. Therefore, the writ petitions were maintainable on the date of institution but the question that arose before the High Court was whether they continued to be maintainable as on the date the same were finally heard. The Division Bench of Bombay High Court concluded that with the privatisation of respondent No. 3(AIL), jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to issue a writ to respondent No. 3(AIL), particularly in its role as an employer, did not subsist and disposed of the writ petitions vide common impugned judgment dated 20th September 2022, which is assailed in the present appeals by special leave.



Whether respondent No.3(AIL) after having been taken over by a private corporate entity could have been subjected to writ jurisdiction of the High Court?

Whether the delay in disposal of the writ petition could be treated a valid ground to sustain the claim of the appellants even against the private entity?



The Learned Senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellants submitted that the right to seek remedy stands crystallized on the date of institution of proceedings and though subsequent events can be considered, it is a well-settled tenet of law that such subsequent events can be looked at only to advance equity rather than to defeat it. He urged that different view is permissible only in exceptional circumstances and in no event can a party be divested of its substantive rights on account of such subsequent event. The Learned senior counsel further contended that the scope of issuing a writ, order, or direction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is much broader than the high prerogative writs issued by the British Courts and this position has been recognized by this Court. He further submitted that equity should prevail over injustice and since the appellants have diligently pursued their case in the High Court for more than a decade, subsequent events can be accounted for only to support and not undermine equity. It was further contended that a private body that promises the sovereign to fulfill its obligations and liabilities as a public employer towards its employees under Articles 14 & 16, then performs a public duty to the extent of discharging such liabilities. It is not the form, but the nature of the duty imposed that is relevant for adjudging whether a writ petition would lie against a private body. The writ petitions were filed with genuine and bona fide service-related issues of the appellant employees based on substantive allegations of infringement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 and Article 16 of the Constitution of India. However, the writ petitions could not be taken up and decided for over a period of almost 10 years and thus, the appellants cannot be non-suited for the non-disposal of their bona fide lis in a timely manner. He thus urged that appellants herein are entitled to the relief, as claimed for in the writ petitions.



The Learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of respondent No. 3(AIL) contended that a bare reading of Article 226 of the Constitution of India, would clearly show that the ‘test of jurisdiction’ is to be invoked/applied at the time of issuance of the writ by the High Court. It is at the stage of issuance of a writ that the High Court actually exercises its writ jurisdiction, and therefore, it is at that point of time, the High Court ought to be satisfied that the person to whom it is issuing a writ is amenable to the extraordinary writ jurisdiction. Learned senior counsel further submitted that this Court in the case of Kaushal Kishor has held that a writ cannot be issued against non-state entities that are not performing any ‘Public Function’. He further pointed out that it is the conceded case of the appellants that post privatisation, respondent No. 3(AIL) does not perform any ‘Public Function’ and in any case running a private airline with purely a commercial motive can never be equated to performing a ‘Public Duty’.



The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that in order to be declared as “State” or “other authority” within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, it would have to fall within the well-recognised parameters laid down in a number of judgments of this Court. Since 100% of the shares held by the Govt. of India has been transferred to Talace India Pvt Ltd. Thus, unquestionably, the respondent No.3(AIL) after its disinvestment ceased to be a State or its instrumentality within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India. The respondent No.3(AIL), the erstwhile Government run airline having been taken over by the private company Talace India Pvt. Ltd., unquestionably, is not performing any public duty inasmuch as it has taken over the Government company Air India Limited for the purpose of commercial operations, plain and simple, and thus no writ petition is maintainable against respondent No.3(AIL). They observed that the Division Bench of Bombay High Court, only denied equitable relief under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to the appellants but at the same time, rights of the appellants to claim relief in law before the appropriate forum have been protected. The Hon’ble Supreme Court further stated that they could not find any reason to take a different view from the one taken by the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court in sustaining the preliminary objection qua maintainability of the writ petitions preferred by the appellants and rejecting the same as being not maintainable. And held that the Appeals are hereby dismissed.


“PRIME LEGAL is a full-service law firm that has won a National Award and has more than 20 years of experience in an array of sectors and practice areas. Prime legal fall into a category of best law firm, best lawyer, best family lawyer, best divorce lawyer, best divorce law firm, best criminal lawyer, best criminal law firm, best consumer lawyer, best civil lawyer.”

Judgement Reviewed by – Gnaneswarran Beemarao

Click here to view full Judgement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *