Air India Etc. Etc vs Nergesh Meerza & Ors. Etc. Etc on 28 August, 1981

In this case, Articles 14 and 16 of Constitution of India 1950 and Air India Employees Service Regulations, Regulations 46 and 47, Indian Airline Service Regulation, Regulation 12 were challenged​.

Different conditions of service of Air Hostesses employed by Air India in India  Retirement of Air Hostesses in the event of marriage taking place within four years of service-Whether unreasonable  or arbitrary.Retirement of Air Hostess-Provision in service rule, or on first pregnancy whichever occurs earlier-Whether unconstitutional.Retirement age of Air Hostess-Fixation of at 45 instead of 58.

The supreme Court struck down Air India Regulation as unconstitutional on the ground the conditions laid down there in unreasonable and arbitrary it’s violative of article-14 of the Constitution.

Having taken in service and utilize the service for 4 years and terminate the service if she became pregnant amounted to complying her not to have any children and this interfered with the ordinary course of human nature.

Facts of the case-

Regulations 46 and 47 of the Air India Employees Service Regulations were challenged. These Service Regulations had created a significant amount of disparity between the pay and promotional avenues of male and female in-flight cabin crew (in accordance with Air India’s designations, the male cabin crew shall be referred to as “Air Flight Pursers” [“AFPs”], and the female cabin crew as Air Hostesses [“AH”]). For instance, under Regulation 46, while the retirement age for Flight Pursers was 58, Air Hostesses were required to retire at 35, or on marriage (if they married within four years of joining the service), or on their first pregnancy, whichever occurred earlier. Under Regulation 47, this period could be extended, subject to the absolute discretion of the Managing Director.

Before the Supreme Court, the constitutional provisions at issue were Articles 14 (equality before law), 15(1) (non-discrimination on grounds of sex), and 16(2) (non-discrimination on grounds of sex in public employment). In order to have a clear understanding of the Court’s reasoning, it will be important to consider them separately.

Judgement –

The issue that came up for consideration before the Honourable Supreme Court of India was whether Regulation 46(i)(c) and Regulation 47 of the Air India Employees Service Regulations were discriminatory in nature and were unconstitutional. Regulation 46(i)(c) fixed the age of retirement for air hostesses working for Air India at 35 years. It also provided that the air hostesses would retire upon first pregnancy or on marriage within first four years of service, whichever is earlier. Regulation 47 provided that on being found medically fit, the retirement age of air hostesses could be extended by 10 more years at the option of the Managing Director. The retirement age of male cabin crew on the other hand was 58 years.

The Honourable Supreme Court of India struck down two service conditions applicable to Air India employees. First, the Court struck down the service condition which provided for termination of service of air hostesses on first pregnancy, holding it to be in violation of Article 14 (Right to equality) of the Constitution of India. Second, the Court struck down the provision which provided that the extension of service of an air hostess beyond 35, if found medically fit, would be at the discretion of the Managing Director. While striking the latter condition, the Court held that the real intention of the makers of this regulation has not been carried out because the Managing Director has been given uncontrolled, unguided and absolute discretion to extend or not to extend the period of retirement after an air hostess attained the age of 35 years. The Court held that the said regulation gave wide powers to the Managing Director which might result in discrimination.

However, with respect to the claim regarding the disparity in retirement age of the air hostesses and the male crew members, the Court rejected the claim as not being discriminatory. The Court observed that male and female members of the crew are distinct cadres with different conditions of service. Appreciating the fact that Air India had fixed the retirement age of air hostesses different from the male crew members taking into account the nature of work, prevailing conditions of service, the need to safeguard health of females, and other relevant factors, the Court negated the grievance that service conditions providing lower age of retirement to air hostesses is unfavourable or discriminatory.


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