In the year 1999, the govt. brought in the ACP Scheme. The object and intention of the legislature in providing ACP scheme was with the sole and only substantive objective of: ‘Safety Net’ to deal with the problem of genuine stagnation and hardship faced by the employees due to lack of adequate promotional avenue. JTOs/SDEs who in 1999 had completed 24 years of service from their appointment as JTOs were denied the scale of of Rs.8000-275-13500.
Frustration began to creep in many SDEs who had put in long services. Slowly Juniors started getting more than seniors, anomaly cases started creeping in and DoT/BSNL was blind to just aspirations of seniors in the Telecom wing. In due course, JEs Civil, who had completed 24 years of service since recruitment got EE scale while SDEs , who were earlier drawing more than their Civil counterparts, were still languishing in SDE scale even after 24 years of service.
In the initial years of formation of BSNL , TES Gr 'B' unions initiated proposals for relief to SDEs , who had been stagnating for years together for lack of promotional avenues. It was suggested that, as a one time relief, SDEs would be placed in the Sr. SDE grade through Cadre Review Concept by reducing the eligibility criteria from 12 years to 5 years (as approved by Telecom Commission in 1994). This proposal for placement in the existing scheme of Sr. SDE promotion appears to have been approved by Department of Telecom and discussed in the Group of Ministers before the process of absorption of Group B officers was initiated. The same appears to have been approved by the Cabinet in September, 1999 and was subsequently remitted to BSNL as the BSNL came into existence by that time. Hon’ble Minister (Communications & IT),appears to have conveyed to the unions that BSNL has agreed to the proposal, in principle.
BSNL , vide letter no. 12-14/2002-TE.I dated 21.06.2002 addressed to all Heads of Telecom Circles appeared to convey that the proposal for up-gradation of certain posts of SDEs to the scale of Rs. 8000-13500 on matching saving basis has been considered by the Management Committee of BSNL Board. The proposal was to be taken up when the salary and perks of Gr. B Officers are fixed in the IDA pay scales after their absorption in BSNL. The committee did not touch the issue of one time placement in the Sr. SDE Scale for stagnating SDEs.
BSNL continued to show the carrot in the form of such a proposal and when the major chunk of the TES Gr'B' officers got absorbed in April 2004, it rescinded its earlier proposals and instead set up a High Level Committee of BSNL officers to submit its recommendations on Executives’ Promotion Policy in BSNL.
Subsequently , to review the BSNL Executives’ Promotion Policy, a Committee headed by Shri Y. S. Bhave, the then Additional Secretary (T), DoT was constituted. Shri Y.Bhave did give a look at the issue but did not give any firm directions for one time placement of SDEs with long standing service to the Sr.SDE grade. The committee gave the carrot of “SDEs to Sr. SDEs” back to BSNL and asked it to decide whether it was going to give the carrot for eating or not. It can be surmised that it was just a bait for absorption. Point to point fixation with no weightage for past service rendered or pay protection led to SDEs getting an IDA scale basic which was less than the IDA scale equivalent to the CDA scale basic which they were drawing at the time of absorption in in 2004.
Seeing a ray of hope in CAT judgements in ACP related cases, in the year 2006, 16 working SDEs who were recruited as ES/JTOs in 1972 & 1973 (belonging to Tamil Nadu Circle/Southern Telecom Region/Southern Telecom Projects and Chennai Telephones) filed TWO different WRIT PETITIONS WP. No. 25197/2006 and WP. No. 31398/2006 respectively in Madras High Court as there was no separate CAT in Madras at that time. After the filing, the case did not come for regular hearing for quite long time.
The prayer of the WPs was for directing the DOT/BSNL to implement the ACP (Assured Career Progression For The Central Government Civilian Employees) scheme, 1999 and extending the 2nd financial upgradation benefits after 24 years of service from the date of entry in the department as JTO, since the ACP Scheme was better than the existing Lateral Advancement Scheme and was more beneficial.
The crux of the argument was that ACP scheme was extended to one wing of DoT viz. the JEs in Civil and Electrical Wing while being denied to the JEs/JTOs of the Telecom wing and this was discrimination.
In the meantime, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Chennai was revived and the above two cases were transferred to CAT through TA. No. 11/2010 and TA. No.12/2010 . CAT Chennai gave a judgment in favour of the employees on 1st August 2012 with the operative part reading as
“Therefore, the contention of the respondents that the J.T.Os Telecom (Civil) and (Electrical) Wing are governed by separate service rules is not a convincing reason for denying the benefit under the ACP Scheme to the applicants and hence the orders of the respondents denying the benefit of the ACP is liable to be set aside. Accordingly the impugned order No.AST/DE/ACP/Misc/4 dated 2.3.2006 is set aside. The respondents are directed to consider the case of the applicants for extending the benefits under ACP Scheme and to grant them the benefit of ACP as extended to the similarly placed employees of JTO (Civil) and JTO (Electrical) Wing if they are otherwise eligible under the scheme within a period of two months from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.”
In the meantime, since there was no response from BSNL/DoT to the representations from the SDEs praying for implementation of the CAT order for grant of ACP, contempt petitions were filed in the CAT. The administration file two writs in the High Court, Madras viz WP 25694/2013 and WP 27114/2013 seeking quashing of the CAT Order. The High Court did not quash the CAT order but stayed the CAT judgment and so the contempt petitions became infructuous.
The High Court ultimately delivered its judgment on 29-03-2016 with the operative part reading
“Accordingly, we direct the Department authorities to consider the request of the contesting respondents seeking the benefits under ACP scheme, exercising it’s discretion if such scheme would be beneficial to the interest of the employees, in the light of the what we have observed above keeping in mind clause 5.1 and 13 of the office Memorandum dated 9.8.1999. Such exercise to be taken within a period of eight weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.”
A harmonious reading of the High Court order and the elaborate length it had dwelt on the use of discretion would safely lead to conclude that the court felt that discretion has not be used in a fair and equitable manner in the case of directly recruited JTO Telecoms and has dwelt at length to stress this point, quoting Apex Court rulings. The Court Judgment says in no unclear terms that the “Administrative Ministry of the department concerned shall take into consideration the object of the ACP Scheme and take a decision for and on behalf of the employees.
It is for the department to take into consideration the interest of the employees and decide as to whether the ACP scheme would be beneficial to them, keeping in mind their larger interest and exercise the discretion fairly and bonafide. A harmonious reading of orders of the High Court, Madras would show that it was in fact, EMPHATICALLY, placing the onus of extending the benefit to the respondents on the administration and the administration was to use its discretion fairly and bonafide and give the benefits of the ACP Scheme to the respondents if it was beneficial to the employees.
Based on the above High Court Order, the JTOs submitted a representation by enclosing a copy of the High Court Order and requested to implement the ACP scheme and extend the financial benefits.
In the meantime DOT/BSNL, had filed WMP No. 19377/2016 and WMP No. 19378/2016 in the Madras High Court in June 2016 seeking time extension of 3 months for considering the High Court Order and extend the ACP benefits. Even before these came for hearing, authorities in BSNL issued identical Speaking Orders denying grant of ACP to the respondents.