1. The question that arises in this petition is whether the petitioner is entitled to the protection of Article 311 of the Constitution.
2. The petitioner was appointed to act as the Branch Postmaster, Kilayur, Nagapattinam, with effect from 6-2-1949 by the Superetendient of Post Offices, East Tanjore Division. On 12-10-1955, the Inspector of Post Offices, Nagapattinam, issued an order that:
"pending further enquiries into the complaint of alleged non-payment of a money order payable to Smt. Jaithoon Bivi, Kilayur, Sri V. Subbarayalu, BPM is temporarily kept out of employment with effect from the afternoon of the 12th October 1955." The petitioner claims that he repudiated the suggestion that he was responsible for the non-payment of the money order and demanded an enquiry. No enquiry was however held. He corresponded with the Inspector of Post Offices and was informed by that officer that the matter had been referred to the Superintendent of Post Offices, East Tanjore Division, and that he would be communicated with in due course. But, immediately upon this letter, an order was received by him from the Superintendent of Post Offices, East Tanjore Division, removing him from service as Branch Postmaster, Kilayur, under the powers vested in him by the Schedule of Administrative powers of the officers of the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department He preferred an appeal to the Postmaster-General Madras Circle. It appears that that appeal was rejected and orders rejecting the appeal received by the petitioner after filing of this petition under Article 226.
3. The petitioner attacks the order removing! him from service as illegal and without jurisdiction. He claims that no charge was framed against him and no enquiry held. He claims further that he had been employed in the Postal Department as a postman of the Head Post Office, Tiruchirapalli, between 1930 and 1943 and that he had an unblemished record of service. It may be mentioned here that the order removing the petitioner purports to have been made on account of unsatisfactory work, during the period of his employment as Branch Postmaster, Kilayur.
The petitioner complains that during his service as Branch Postmaster there having been no occasion when his work had been found fault with, this charge of unsatisfactory work, no particulars of which were ever given to him and opportunity afforded to refute that charge, is wholly baseless. He also complains that the departmental rule relying upon which the order of removal was passed is violative of Article 311(2) of the Constitution and the principles of natural justice.
4. In the counter affidavit of the respondent, (the Superintendent of Post Offices, Nagapattinam, the stand has been taken, that the Post Office in question is only an extra-departmental Branch Post Office, the Postmaster of which is only a part time servant. The respondent disclaims all knowledge of the previous service of the petitioner as postman in Tiruchirapalli Circle between 1930 and 1943. It is stated that during the period he was employed as Branch Postmaster, Kilayur, there had been several occasions when his work was found Jo be very unsatisfactory in the years 1953-54, and 1955 and he had in fact been duly warned.
A final warning is said to have been issued to him that he would be summarily removed from service in case of complaint in future. It is claimed that there was an enquiry into the alleged nonpayment of the money order and that the petitioner was questioned in that regard and his statement recorded on 11-10-1955. Pending further enquiry, the petitioner wad 'kept out of employment'; probably the expression is used as synonymous with "kept under suspension'.
It is stated that the petitioner asked for no further enquiry at that stage. In the course of the enquiry, however, irregularities in the discharge of his duties came to notice. No action was thereupon taken in respect of the allegation of non-delivery of the money order, but the power available to the departmental officers under Schedule I-B-2(a)(iii) of the Schedule of Administrative powers was relied Upon in removing the petitioner from service.
5. The other contentions set up in the counter do not require to be mentioned. It would be sufficient to state that the respondent purports to maintain that the petitioner being only extra-departmental branch postmaster, he is excluded from the operation of the Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules. It was also reiterated that the petitioner is only a temporary part-time Government servant and is not entitled to the Constitutional protection of Article 311(2) of the Constitution. The petitioner has been removed in accordance with the rules and no justiciable right of the petitioner has been contravened by any of the orders of the authorities.
6. In the supplemental counter affidavit filed on behalf of the respondent, the matter has been somewhat elaborated. It is stated therein that the branch post office at Kilayur is an extra-departmental post office and the person in charge of such branch post offices are not members of a civil service or holders of civil posts within the meaning of Article 311(1). In explaining more fully the status of such branch post offices, a historical account has been placed before us.
It is shortly that this system of extra-departmental post offices was introduced as long back as 1867 or even earlier and that from the annual reports on the operation of post offices in India for the year 1867-1868, the following position emerges. This report refers to the fact that new posit offices which were opened were not permanently sanctioned and that a large number of these new offices were on a very inexpensive footing, many of them being in charge of village school masters who received small allowances for discharging postal dudes. In the annual report on the operation of the post offices, 1880-1881, it is stated:
"Considerable success has attended the efforts made to increase the number of post offices by the employment of cheap agencies, a system under which school masters, shopkeepers and others are entrusted with postal work for the conduct of which a small monthly allowance is given." In another part of the same annual report, the following finds place:
"Efforts were directed towards the multiplication of post offices by the employment of cheap agencies. Under this system, school masters, shopkeepers. Government pensioners and others are entrusted with post work, for the conduct of which a small monthly allowance is given. This is an economical method of extending postal facilities to places which are too poor to support an independent post office." In the report for 1881-1882, it was noticed:
"Much has specially been done in the direction of entrusting school masters with postal work. The Postmaster-General of Bengal states that 'It is quite impossible to satisfy all the applicants who would like to have school master post offices in their villages'."
7. Along with the supplemental counter affidavit, an extract from a publication which appears to be known as "The Post Office of India and its Story by Georffroy Clarks, I. C. S. has been filed. The relevant portions thereof are extracted below;
"The real business of the department, however, is performed by post offices, and these are divided into head, sub and branch post offices. The head office is the account and controlling office of one Or more districts. The sub-office is under the control of a head office for account purposes. It does all kinds of postal work and is opened where there is a sufficiency of correspondence to justify its existence. The branch office is only intended for villages and places where there is no need of a sub office.............In small places a branch is put in charge of school master, a shopkeeper or any other local resident who has sufficient education to keep the very simple accounts required, and by this means the post office is able to give the advantage of its great organisation to villages which could never support a departmental office. A still cheaper-agency is used for the outlying hamlets. ............These are visited periodically by the village or rural postman, who is a kind of perambulating branch office. ......."
8. On the basis of these early records it is claimed by the respondent that the scheme as envisaged above is being continued even today and has been extended to serve a large number of villages. It is stated that in Madras Circle alone there are about 7354 permanent and 1480 temporary Agency axtra departmental post offices. It is stated also that in the Manual of Appointment and allowances of officers of the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department, these extra-departmental agents have been specifically excluded from the operation of Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules. On the basis of these features, the contention is put forward that persons in charge of these post offices, or more correctly, extra-departmental agents do not hold any civil post so as to attract the provisions of Article 311(1) of the Constitution.
9. The matter in controversy is apparent from what has been stated above. While the petitioner claims that he is the holder of a civil post, the respondent asserts that it is a mere contract of agency which has been entered into between the Government in the postal department on one hand, and the petitioner, on the other, that the petitioner is not a member of a civil service and does not hold a civil post. It is claimed that this contract of agency could be, terminated at any time and that while the petitioner could or could not agitate a claim in damages for breach of contract, it is not open to him to demand the specific protection under Article 311.
10. In order to understand more clearly the exact relationship between the petitioner and the Government in the postal department, a reference has to be made to the departmental Manual. Part I of this Manual deals with the classification and status of the services in Ch. I. Under R. 2, of this Chapter four classes of services in the Indian Post and Telegraph Department are specified. Rule 3 gives further details of the status of the members of such services. Rule 4 reads;
"The following staff are wholly excluded from the operation of Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules by the substantive part of Rule 3 there of........ (vi) extra-departmental agents."
Part IV of this Manual relates to services excluded from the operation of Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules. Rule 144 of this Part states that extra-departmental agents employed in the Department are in receipt of fixed rates of pay and Rule 145 refers to the allowances which extra-departmental special and branch post masters are entitled to. In the annexure to the Chapter, the following finds place:
"The monthly allowance of extra-departmental sub-postmasters ....... should he fixed at the discretion of the Head of the Circle concerned with reference to the actual requirement in each office and the availability of the services of a suitable
extra-departmental sub-postmaster (viz., a retired postal official, or a retired postal, railway or canal signaller or telegraphist.") The other rules in this Annexure deal with the basic allowances to be granted to these extra-departmental branch post masters and agents to which no specific reference is called for.
11. In Vol. III of the Posts and Telegraphs Manual setting out the Schedule of Administrative powers of the officers, Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department, a separate Schedule 1-B is provided to deal with the rules relating to appointments, penalties arid appeals or employees excluded from the operation of the Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules. These rules have been framed by the Director General in the case of such employees, among whom are extra-departmental agents.
Generally speaking, the appointing, punishing and appellate authorities in respect of extra-departmental post masters are to be the same as those for departmental postmasters. In the case, however, of extra-departmental agents, It. 2 provides for the imposition of the following penalties, viz., (1) recovery from allowance of the whole or any part of pecuniary loss caused to Government by negligence of breach of rules; (2) removal or dismissal from service for some specific offence such as any participation in fraud, etc., and (3) removal from service for unsatisfactory work or doubtful character.
Rule 3, which provides for procedure relating to the imposition of these penalties specifically states that it is only in the case of the first two penalties referred to above that the employee should be given an adequate opportunity of making any representation that he might desire to make and for such representation, if any, to be taken into consideration before the order is passed. This rule excludes removal from service for unsatisfactory work as a penalty in respect of which an opportunity is required to be given to the extra-departmental agent.
12. It is upon these rules and the conditions under which the petitioner was appointed as an extra departmental agent, that the respondent relies in seeking to make out that the petitioner is not entitled to the protection of Article 311.
13. Under Article 311(1) no person, who is a member of a civil service of the Union or of an All India service or the Civil Service of a State, or holds a civil post under the Union or a State, shall be dismissed or removed by an authority subordinate to that by which he was appointed. Article 311(2) provides that no such person as aforesaid shall be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank until he has been given a reasonable opportunity of showing cause against the action proposed to be taken in regard to him.
In order, therefore, that a person can invoke the protection of this Article, it has firstly to be established that he is either in the Civil Service of the Union or the State or holds a civil post under the Union or the State. Neither expression "civil service" nor "civil post" has been defined in the Constitution. In that context civil post could only mean a civil post not included in any civil service. We have to decide whether the petitioner was a member of a civil service or at least whether he held a civil post not included in any civil service.
14. Before proceeding to do so, we may refer to what appears to be an outstanding feature in the set up of post offices of the kind concerned in this petition. It is to our minds fully established that in a place where postal facilities do not exist and the Government in the postal department desire to extend such facilities, a post office is not set up at the outset. The setting up of a post office in such places depends upon whether a suitable person is to be in charge of postal duties is available.
Such post offices are not entrusted with all the functions which one finds associated with the regular post office. More often than not, receipt and distribution of mail and the receipt and issue of money orders are the sole items of work entrusted to such offices. That appears to be for the reason that the volume of postal traffic, if it might be so called, arising in that locality is not sufficient for the maintenance of a permanent office, and the Government may, if conditions are not suitable, withdraw these facilities from that locality, and leave it to he served by the main regular post office of the region.
In the matter of the selection of the person to be in charge of such simple functions as are to be discharged, the department generally picks out a school-master or a shopkeeper or other local resident with enough literacy to enable him to discharge such duties. Such a person may he a retired official of small status. He may even be a working school-master or a landlord. This system is intended not to occupy the whole time of the individual concerned. What appears to be a striking aspect of this system is that the setting up of a post office or the extension of postal facilities to a locality is dependent upon the availability of a suitable person in that locality.
After all, if it was the intention of the Government to set up a regular post office or man it with Its permanent or temporary employees recruited in the usual manner, it would not be very difficult. But the main purpose underlying this system seems to be that the operation of such a local unit should be restricted considerably and any local resident who is suitable enough to handle these duties should perform them without any detriment to his other and normal avocations. As the learned Advocate General put it, it is the man that makes the post office, not that the post office calls for the appointment of an individual to be in charge of it.
15. It is exceedingly difficult to accept the contention that the appointment of the petitioner to be in charge of a branch office of this nature immediately makes him the member of a service. A service as ordinarily understood is composed of a certain number of persons employed on certain regular terms either for a specific period or till the person reaches what is called the superannuation age. A member of such a service is liable to serve the Government, within limits, anywhere he might be posted; he is also entitled to certain privileges and protection.
Normally speaking also, a service constituted as such by the Government would call for the sanction of a definite number of posts, a fixity of tenure and a definiteness about the emoluments and other privileges. If the connotation of the expression "civil service under the Union or the State" carries with it the aliove implications, in fact, our attention has not been drawn to any service that could be so called, which is not attended by such features, it is not difficult to see that the branch post master or the extra departmental agent such as the petitioner cannot be regarded us belonging to a service. The extra departmental branch post masters do not constitute any recognised civil service.
16. We have found upon the records placed before us by the department that the setting up of a branch post office or its withdrawal is a matter which lies entirely within the discretion of the departmental officers, chiefly the Superintendent of post offices of the area. It is significant also that the remuneration or other allowance to be granted to a person placed in charge of such a branch post office is also ieft entirely to the discretion of that officer, except that certain maxima have been prescribed.
If the Department finds that the postal work in that locality is not of sufficient volume to justify the retention of the brach post office, the department is at liberty to cease the postal operations-connected therewith anc! obviously the branch post master or the extra departmental agent loses the allowance which he was being granted for the discharge of duties connected' with that branch post office.
We do not understand the petitioner to contend that in such an event he would he entitled to demand that he should be continued as the branch post master of another branch post office. In fact, one of the special qualifications of a person in the position of the petitioner is that he should be a resident of the locality where this branch post office is brought into existence.
17. An even more significant feature to which a passing reference was made by the learned Advocate General in the course of his arguments was this. It appears that these branch post masters or extra departmental agents are competent to avail themselves of leave after putting their own "nominees, agents or servants incharge of the post office. This point has been referred to in Ch. Venkataswaniy v. Superintendent of Post Offices, (S) .
This would be an extraordinary feature if the post to which the branch postmaster had been appointed was a civil post or was included in any civil service under the Government. In addition, according to the rules governing the appointment of such persons as the petitioner, it seems to be the overriding consideration that the persons appointed to these posts should have sources of income apart from the allowances granted for the postal work and should also be persons resident in the locality where their postal services are required.
18. The Orissa decision that we have referred to above dealt with a similar case of extra departmental branch postmaster. The learned Judges came to the conclusion that from the very nature of Ms employment and conditions of service, an extra departmental branch postmaster cannot be held to be a government servant much less as holding a civil post under the Union Government. The learned Judges considered the entire set of departmental rules dealing with branch post offices and the appointment of branch postmasters as extra departmental agents and tame to the above conclusion. We are in respectful agreement therewith,
19. On behalf of the petitioner. Brojo Gopal Sarkar v. Gommr. of Police, was relied on. That was a case where a
special constable was appointed under Section 12 of the Calcutta Suburban Police Act. A policeman so appointed wag not entitled to any remuneration and had in fact to pay for his own uniform. But it was nevertheless held that he was the holder of a civil post within the meaning of Article 311 of the Constitution. We are not able to see how this decision helps the petitioner.
The feature that was relied upon in that case centered upon Section 13 of the Calcutta Suburban Act which laid down:
"Every special police officer so appointed shall have the same powers, privileges and protection and shall be liable to perform the same duties and shall be amenable to the same penalties and be subordinate to the same authorities as the ordinary officers of police;"
Notwithstanding that no remuneration was attached to that post, the conferment of the same powers, privileges and protection which are available to the ordinary police officer obviously brought him within the scope of Article 311 of the Constitution.
20. Karuppa Udayar v. Slate of Madras, 1956-2 Mad LJ 15: (AIR 1956 Mad 460) dealt with the case of a village karnam which post was held to be a civil post under the State of Madras within She meaning of Article 311(1). The matter was not discussed, but the court took the view that a village officer such as the village karnam, whether he is a hereditary officer or a non-hereditary officer, is a civil servant who holds the post under the State. It is obvious that in the case o a Karnam, there is a regular post of the office of karnam attached to practically every village and when a person is appointed to such a post, it should not require, such argument to conclude that he is the holder of a civil post. The present case we are concerned with is however easily distinguishable from that decision because it is not the case of the petitioner that he was appointed to a post which was in existence. In fact, it was his selection to perform certain postal duties that brought the post, if it can be so called, into existence.
21. In Deenabandhu Sahu v. Jadumoni Mangaraj, AIR 1954 SC 411, the question arose whether the assistance of an extra departmental agent in a branch post office taken by a candidate in canvassing for him in an election amounted to a corrupt practice within the meaning of the Representation of the People Act. The point for decision of the Supreme Court was whether these persons were in the service of the Government and belonged to any of the classes set out in Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act. Though the judgment of the Supreme Court does not set out the details, the conclusion readied was expressed in these terms; "With reference to the last of the findings', it is possible to urge with some force that extra departmental agents and presidents of Chowkidari 'Unions are not, having regard to their functions, government servants and that accordingly there was no contravention of Section 123(8)." This authority is clearly against the petitioner's contentions.
22. The petitioner Is not entitled to the protection guaranteed by Article 311 of the Constitution to civil servants. He was not a member of a civil service. Nor did he hold any civil post. He was not a civil servant. In fact, he was not a servant at all. The relationship between the Government and the petitioner was not that of an employer and an employee. Even the petitioner's time was not at the disposal of the Government. The relations between the postal department of the Government and the petitioner were wholly contractual.
He was only an agent for the discharge of specified functions of the postal department. That contract was terminated. Whether that termination was wrongful does not really arise for consideration in these proceedings. Article 311 cannot apply to termination of such contracts. It is true that the petitioner was not given a full opportunity to show cause against the termination of the contract of agency. But, in dealing with the case of an alleged breach of contract, there is no scope for invoking any principles of natural justice.
If the rules framed by the department are viewed as embodying the conditions of the contract, that is, as embodying some of the terms of the contract of agency, the position was that the agency could be terminated in such cases as the petitioner's without any need to give an opportunity to show cause against such, termination. In any case, as we have said, there is no scope for attacking the validity of the termination of the contract on the ground that it was opposed to principles of natural justice.
23. We hold that the petitioner is not entitled to the constitutional protection of Article 311. Nor is he otherwise entitled to challenge the validity of the order. The rule nisi is discharged and the petition is dismissed. No order as to costs.