NMC versus MCI employees: Supreme Court orders in favour of NMC to keep former council employees out of office
New Delhi: The replacement of the Medical Council of India (MCI) with the new body of the National Medical Commission (NMC) came as a blow to the 92 employees of the erstwhile MCI, who were shown the exit door with the change of hands. Adding to their setback, the Supreme Court has now set aside a contempt of court order upheld by the Delhi High Court in the matter.
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by UU Lalit upheld the NMC's order and said the employees would have to sit it out at home till the Delhi High Court's final verdict. However, their salaries and perks during this period would be protected, the apex court noted .
In the backdrop, these employees were terminated in accordance to the provisions of the NMC Act, that spells out that the employees of the MCI will not be retained in the newly established medical regulator
Medical Dialogues had earlier reported that the existing MCI employees were indeed in shock with the provisions of the Act as it stated that employees of the Medical Council Of India shall be immediately terminated with a 3 months severance package, as soon as the National Medical Commission comes into effect. Section 60 deals with the issue of Employees and their termination and clearly stated that The Chairman and other Members and employees of the Medical Council of India shall vacate their respective offices and be entitled to the compensation. The section added that they would be entitled to such compensation for the premature termination of his employment which shall not be less than three months' pay and allowances, as may be prescribed.
Once the NMC took over, the Union Health Ministry had asked MCI employees - peons, sweepers to secretaries - to vacate the MCI building with immediate effect. This included over 92 permanent employees of the erstwhile MCI. It was alleged that the employees of MCI were involved in corruption hence they would not be accommodated in the NMC. The NMC act made a provision for their termination.
"Since the National Medical Commission has come into existence and their smooth functioning is essential, you are advised to vacate the offices with immediate effect," a circular dated October 5, 2020, issued by Amit Biswas, Under Secretary, Health Ministry, said.
The Ministry's October 5 circular stated that as per the high court order their services will continue as they have been asked only to vacate the building. However, the employees protested the circular calling it a violation of the court's status quo order.
The employees had moved a contempt plea with the HC claiming that the October 5 decision violated the high court's November 11, 2019 order in the petition challenging section 60 of the NMC Act which provides for dissolution of the MCI and vacation of the offices by its officials.
During the hearing on the plea, the High court expressed displeasure with the Centre and NMC's October 5 decision to shut down the computers of the MCI officials, removing their biometric system of attendance and directing them to vacate the premises by October 7.
The HC bench had stated the October 5 decision was a "prima facie attempt to frustrate" the court's decision of November last year to maintain status quo with regard to services of the MCI officials and therefore, it shall be stayed till the next date of hearing on January 12, 2021.
"We see no good reason why public money is being frittered away in this manner by preventing the petitioners (MCI officials and employees) from discharging their functions," the bench noted
While putting on hold the October 5 decision, the court had directed that the computers of the MCI officials would be made functional and the biometric system of attendance will be put back in place.
Challenging the high court order, the NMC moved to the Supreme Court. Learned Senior Advocate, Vikas Singh appearing for Commission argued that "Though in terms of Section 60 of the Act, there would be a cessation of employment, in deference to the order passed by the High Court, all the concerned writ petitioners were being paid salary and emoluments without fail. However, if the concerned employees were to be permitted to re-enter the offices, it would create a situation of imbalance and disturb the functioning of the National Medical Commission."
Responding to the contention, the employees' representative submitted that "the body of writ petitioners comprised of Peons, Drivers, Lift Operators, Clerks, and Ministerial staff and most of them would not even be doing any regular office work." It was further submitted that "it would be humiliating for an employee to be receiving salary and emoluments without putting in any work on his part."
However, this did not move the apex court to change its decision and the court noted;
Since the original writ petition is pending where the validity of the 2019 Act is in question, at this stage, in our considered view, permitting employees to re-enter the offices may not be proper. So long as the employees are getting their salary and emoluments, there would not be any prejudice and it should be left to the employer to consider whether the services from such employees be taken or not.
The court subsequently, modified the operative directions given by the high court in the contempt application, and directed that pending the hearing and disposal of the writ petition, the relationship between the National Medical Commission and the concerned writ petitioners shall be governed in terms of the communications dated 05.10.2020/09.10.2020.
To access the official judgment, click on the link below-