1. The facts in this case are briefly these. On 28 December 1956 the respondent made an application to the Authority appointed under the Payment of Wages Act for recovering wages for the period August 1953 to December 1955, which according to him had not been paid to him by the petitioner. Under the first proviso to Sub-section (2) of S. 15 of the Act the application has to be made to the authority within one year from the date on which the payment of wages was due to be made. The second proviso permits an application to be made after the period of one year when the applicant satisfies the authority that he had sufficient cause for not making the application within such period. The authority refused to condone the delay in making the application for the period prior to December 1955. The authority directed the petitioners to pay to the respondent his wages for the month of December 1955, leave-wages and notice-pay. The respondent did not appeal against this order. On 2 January 1958 the respondent filed a suit in the Court of Small Causes, Bombay, for recovering the wages alleged to have been due to him for the period from 1 December 1954 to 30 November 1958. The applicants denied the respondent's claim. They also contended that the Small Causes Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit by reason of S. 22 of the Payment of Wages Act. This contention was accepted by the trial Judge and the suit was dismissed. An application was then made to a Bench of the Small Causes Court under S. 38 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act. Relying on the observation made in the Special Civil Application No. 879 of 1956, the Bench of that Court held that the suit filed by the respondent was maintainable. The decree passed by the trial Court dismissing the suit was therefore set aside and the suit was remanded to the trial Court. Thereafter the petitioners filed the present civil revision application, in which it has been contended that the view taken by the Bench of the Court of Small Causes is erroneous. This civil revision application came up for hearing before a Division Bench of this Court, which decided to prefer it to a Full Bench.
2. The question which arises for consideration by the Full Bench is as under :
'Whether a civil Court has jurisdiction to entertain a suit by an employee against his employer for recovery of wages, after the expiry of the period of limitation prescribed by Sub-Section (2) of S. 15 of the payment of Wages Act, 1936, for making an application to the authority appointed under this Act, or after the authority has refused to condone the delay in making such an application.
Sub-section (1) of S. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act states that the State Government may appoint one or more persons to be the authority or authorities to hear and decide for any special area all claims arising out of deductions from wages or delay in payment of wages to persons employed or paid in that area. Sub-section (2) of this section, in so far as it is material, provides :
'Where contrary to the provisions of this Act any deduction has been made from the wages of an employed person, or any payment of wages has been delayed such person . . . may apply to such authority for a direction under Sub-section (3) . . .
Provided that every such application shall be presented within one year from the date on which the deduction from the wages was made or from the date on which the payment of the wages was due to be made, as the case may be :
Provided further that any application may be admitted after the said period of one year when the applicant satisfied the authority that he had sufficient cause for one making the application within such period.' Sub-section (3) states that where any application under Sub-section (2) is entertained, the authority shall hear the applicant and the employer or other persons responsible for the payment of wages, or give them an opportunity of being heard, and after such further inquiry, if any, as may be necessary, may direct the refund to the employed person of the amount deducted or the payment of delayed wages. Sub-section (5) provides that any amount directed to be paid under this section may be recovered by the authority as an arrear of land revenue. This section therefore provides for the constitution of a special tribunal to hear and decide all claims arising out of deductions from wages or delay in payment of wages, as defined in the Act. The section also lays down that an application under this section must be made to the authority within one year from the date on which the deduction from the wages was made or from the date on which the wages were payable. The application may be made even after the expiry of one year, provided the employee satisfied the authority than he had sufficient cause for not making the application within such period.
Sub-section (1) of S. 17 provides for an appeal against an order made by the authority. Sub-section (2) of this section states that save as provided in Sub-section (1) any order dismissing either wholly or in part an application made under Sub-section (2) of S. 15 or a direction made under Sub-section (3) or Sub-section (4) of that section shall be final. This provision therefore gives finality to the order made by the authority under S. 15, unless it is set aside or modified in appeal under S. 17 Section 22 is in the following terms :
'22. No Court shall entertain any suit for the recovery of wages or of any deduction from wages in so far as the sum so claimed
(a) forms the subject of an application under S. 15 which has been presented by the plaintiff and which is pending before the authority appointed under that section or of an appeal under S. 15; or
(b) has formed the subject of a direction under S. 15 in favour of the plaintiff; or
(c) has been adjudged, in any proceeding under S. 15 not to be owed to the plaintiff; or
(d) could have been recovered by an application under S. 15.'
3. The marginal note to this section is 'Bar of suits.' This section therefore ousts the jurisdiction of a civil Court in respect of the matters specified therein. It cannot therefore be said that S. 15 provides a remedy in addition to that available under the ordinary law. Clause (a) bars a suit when the claim made under S. 15 is under investigation either before the authority or in appeal. Clause (b) does the same when the employee has succeeded in his application and has obtained a direction in his favour. In view of Clause (c) no suit can lie when in the proceeding under S. 15 it is found that so sum it due to the employee. Clause (d) bare a suit when the sum claimed could have been recovered by an application under S. 15. The question, which we have to determine, is in regard to the interpretation of this Clause (d).
4. In construing this clause it is necessary to hear in mind its phraseology. Omitting Cls. (a), (b) and (c), the section reads :
'No Court shall entertain any suit for the recovery of wages or of any deduction from wages, in so for as the sum so claimed . . . could have been recovered by an application under S. 15'
5. The significant words are 'sum so claimed could have been recovered by an application under S. 15.' The emphasis seem to be more on the mode of recovery specified in this clause, that is, by an application under S. 15 rather than on the time when the remedy is resorted to. If, therefore, the sum claimed, could be or could have been recovered by an application under S. 15, a suit for the recovery of the same will be barred. Under the first proviso to Sub-section (2) of S. 15, an application under this section must be made within one year from the date on which the wages became due for payment or the date on which they are alleged to have been wrongfully deducted. It has not been disputed before us that during this period of one year the jurisdiction of the civil Court is ousted. The same will be the position if the civil Court is ousted. The same will be the position if the employee makes the application after one year and shows satisfactory cause for the delay in making it. It is difficult to see why the position should be different merely because of laches or negligence on the part of the employees in either not making an application to the authority or making there being a sufficient cause for not making it in time. His failure to take advantage of the special remedy provided not affect the jurisdiction of the Court. It seems to us therefore that is it was possible for the employee to recover the amount by making an application for its recovery under S. 15 within the prescribed time before he institutes a suit, the Court will not be competent to entertain the suit. If the employees delays the making of the application until the period of limitation has expired, and if he is unable to show sufficient cause for the delay. It cannot be said that he could not have recovered the amount by an application under S. 15.
6. It has been urged that the word 'recovered' indicates that Clause (d) has reference to the stages of recovery refereed to in Sub-section (5) of S. 15, that is, when the amount directed to be paid under Sub-section (3) of S. 15 to be recovered as an arrear of land revenue. This argument does not seem to be correct. The question of recovering the amount as an arrear of land revenue can only arise after a direction has been made under Sub-section (3) of S. 15. Clause (b) in S. 22 bars a suit when such a direction has been made. Apart from that fact that Sub-section (5) does not provide for a separate application for realizing the amount directed to be paid, no suit can lie after such a direction has been made, whether the amount is not recovered. Clause (d) would therefore become redundant if the above view is accepted.
7. Having regard to the context the words sum so claimed could have been recovered by an application under S. 15,' in our opinion, mean 'could have made an application for recovery of the sum so claimed under S. 15.' The test for determining whether a suit can lie, therefore, is not only whether on the date of the suit an application can be made to the authority under S. 15, but also whether such an application could have been made before the institution of the suit. The jurisdiction of the civil Court to entertain a suit will not consequently depends upon the choice of the employees as to whether he should or should not apply to the authority. The civil court's jurisdiction will be ousted if the application could have been made to the authority before the suit is filed. If therefore, an employee does not apply to the authority for recovering his wages within one year or if he applies to the authority after one year but fails to satisfy the authority that he had sufficient cause for not making the apply within one year, he will not be able to maintain suit for the same purpose.
8. The view, which are taking seems to be in accordance with the intention of the legislature. The Act provides for the constitution of a special tribunal for deciding claims in regard to wages. The proceedings before the tribunal are cheap, because by reason of S. 15A the applicant is not liable to pay any court-fees. The limitation of one year has been prescribed for making applications under S. 15 so that claims in regard to wages may be made and decided expeditiously. If, however, for any good reason an employed if not able to make the application within one year, he may do so after the expiry of this period by satisfying the authority on this point. Having provided a cheap and expeditious remedy and having constituted a special tribunal for this purpose, the legislature intended that it should have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of matters, which it could entertain. Subject to appeal, finality has therefore been given to the decisions of the authority, while S. 22 deprives the civil Court of its jurisdiction to deal with such matters.
9. Sri Sukthankar has strongly relied on the following observations of Chagla C.J., in Special Civil Application No. 879 of 1956 decided on 3 September 1956 :-
'Now, as has been often pointed out the Payment of Wages Act was enacted in order to confer upon the workers certain important rights. A quick and expeditious remedy was provided for recovering wages and special tribunal was set up. But it would be entirely erroneous to suggest that any provisions under the Payment of Wages Act was in derogation of the ordinary rights of the employees. If an application could be made under S. 15 then undoubtedly a civil Court is debarred from entertaining a suit in respect of that cause of action. But in order that than application could be made under S. 15, not only must the application refer to the subject matter referred to in that section, but the application must be within the time also mentioned in that section. In other words, if an employee wished to avail himself of this expeditious remedy and wishes to go before the special tribunal, he must go within one year. But if he fails to do so, it does not follow that he is debarred from going to the civil Court within the period of limitation provided by the Limitation Act to recover his wages.'
10. With respect, it may be pointed out that S. 22 in terms takes away the remedy available to an employee under the ordinary law to the extent specified in the section. This section is, therefore, to the extent therein in derogation of the ordinary rights of employees to approach a civil Court. Clause (d) does not apply say, 'If an application could then be made under S. 15'. The words used are : 'The sum claimed . . . could have been recovered by an application under S. 15'. If therefore when a suit is filed the Court finds that at any time before the institution of the suit it was possible for the employee to make an application for the recovery of the wages claimed under S. 15, it will have no jurisdiction to entertain the suit. With respect, therefore, we do not agree with the above observations. They also appear to be obiter, as they were not necessary for the decision of the particular case, before the Division Bench.
11. In Bhagwat Rai v. Union of India I.L.R. 1953 Nag. 433, A Division Bench of the Nagpur High Court has taken the same view as we are inclined to take. It was held in that case that S. 22(d) of the Payment of Wages Act excludes the jurisdiction of a civil Court to entertain a claim, which could have been recovered by an application under S. 15 of the Act, that this exclusion is absolute and does not depend on the choice of the climate and that the jurisdiction of the civil Court is not revived by his omission to make an application under S. 15 within the time allowed by law.
12. The reply to the questions, formulated for consideration, will therefore be in the negative. The matter may now be placed before a Division Bench for further orders.