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Delhi High Court Dismisses Ex-Indigo Employee's Termination Challenge: Understanding Limits on Writ Jurisdiction and the Distinction Between Public Duty and Private Function


Delhi High Court dismisses ex-Indigo employee's plea challenging termination.

Cause of Action: Employee sought quashing of the termination letter issued by INDIGO AIRLINE and award compensation for various damages.

Court held: Writ petition under Article 226 is not maintainable for private contract disputes and against those not falling within the definition of Article 12 of the Constitution of India.

The Delhi High Court had observed:

“Merely because the petitioner has challenged or sent a representation to the DGCA on his alleged illegal termination, cannot be construed to mean, as if the petitioner’s termination would become a subject matter of a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The major or the original action of termination ought to be by an Authority, which falls within the definition as ascribed under Article 12 of the Constitution of India, to be assailable under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. Similar action of termination by any other Authority unless they are performing a public duty, would not fall within the purview of Article 226 of the Constitution of India.”


Key points of the judgement:


1.    First, it is settled law that the party against whom the writ is to be issued must fall within the ambit of Article 12 i.e., it should be a 'State' or "other authority'.


2.    The Government entity which has been privatized is not amenable to writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and does not fall within the ambit of Article 12 of the Constitution of India.


3.    The guiding factor, therefore, is the nature of duty imposed on such a body namely, the public duty to make any authority amenable to the writ jurisdiction.


Now what is the distinction between public duty and private function and what actions can be amenable to the writ jurisdiction of the court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India?


This question of law has been settled in the landmark judgement passed by the Supreme Court of India in St. Mary’s Education Society V. Rajendra Prasad Bhargava (2023). The court held:


a.    “Individual wrongs or breach of mutual contracts without having any public element as its integral part cannot be rectified through a writ petition under Article 226.”...


b.    Nature of rights to be enforced: The right which purely originates from a private law cannot be enforced taking aid of the   writ jurisdiction irrespective of the fact that such institution is discharging the public duties and/or public functions.


c.    The scope of the mandamus is basically limited to an enforcement of the public duty and, therefore, it is an ardent duty of the court to find out whether the nature of the duty comes within the peripheral of the public duty.


d.    There must be a public law element in any action that has been brought under challenge before the court.


e.    Employees cannot invoke writ jurisdiction against private (educational) institution for disputes relating to ordinary contract of service.


f.     Even if an institution may fall within the domain of a “public function” or “public duty” be undisputedly open to challenge and scrutiny under Article 226 of the Constitution.


g.    The actions or decisions taken solely within the confines of an ordinary contract of service, having no statutory force or backing, cannot be recognised as being amenable to challenge under Article 226 of the Constitution.


h.    Contractual obligations vs. constitutional rights: Disputes arising from a private contract should be addressed through regular civil litigation, not constitutional writs like Article 226.



In simple words, that even if a body is performing a duty makes it amenable to writ jurisdiction, all its functions are not subject to judicial review except those with a public element therein.




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