1. These two writ petitions have been filed under Art. 226 of the Constitution by two different sets of workmen, the first by persons who are the members of the Krishnarajendra Mills Workers' Union, and the second, by the workmen of Krishnarajendra Mills Karmika Sangha. The prayer made in both these writ petitions is for a writ of certiorari to quash the settlement arrived at between respondents 2 to 5 with the assistance of the conciliation officer who is respondent 1.
2. In Writ Petition No. 456 of 1967, there is a specific prayer for issuing a direction to respondent 2 to pay wages and dearness allowance to the workmen in accordance with the settlement dated 1 July, 1963 which, according to the petitioners, is still in force. There is also a prayer for a writ of mandamus restraining the conciliation officer from giving effect to the said settlement on the ground that the same was illegal and void.
3. The circumstances under which these two writ petitions have been filed are briefly as follows.
4. The krishnarajendra Mills, Ltd., Mysore, is a textile mill working in Mysore. The two petitioners and respondents 3 to 5 in Writ Petition No. 456 of 1967 are the different unions of workmen. Of these five unions, the Krishnarajendra Mills Labour Association (respondent 3) and Krishnarajendra Mills Staff Association (respondent 5) in Writ Petition No. 456 of 1967 are the recognized unions. There were a number of disputes between the workmen and the management of the mills as regards the implementation of the recommendations of the central wage board for the cotton textile industry. These disputes were referred to the industrial tribunal in Industrial Dispute No. 12 of 1961 and that tribunal passed an award. The labour as also the management were aggrieved by the award. The respondent-mill and respondent 3, labour association, filed Writ Petitions Nos. 90 and 212 of 1963 before this Court challenging the award on various points. During the pendency of these wire petitions, the parties came to a settlement and filed a memorandum of compromise before the Court and the Court quashed the award passed by the industrial tribunal and substituted the compromise in its place. This settlement was to be in force for a period of four years commencing from 1 July, 1963. On 20 September, 1966, respondent 2, the mills, addressed a letter to respondent 1, the conciliation officer, requesting him to initiate conciliation proceedings as regards the dearness allowance payable to the workers since the management felt that the linking of dearness allowance with the cost of living index had imposed an unbearable burden on them. The conciliation officer brought about a settlement under S. 12(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act on 30 September, 1966 as per Ex. B. According to the terms of this settlement, it was agreed that the dearness allowance payable to the staff members and to the workmen was to be paid at those rates for the months of September, October, November and December 1966. It was further stipulated that from January 1967 onwards, payment of dearness allowance was to be on the basis of the previous system envisaged in the agreement, dated 1 July, 1963, It is thereafter that the settlement impugned in these writ petitions came into existence on 16 January, 1967 through the good offices of respondent 1. The dearness allowance payable to the workers under this settlement is fixed at a flat rate of Rs. 90 per month for a period of two years from 1 January, 1967. There are other details which it is unnecessary to mention for the purpose of these writ petitions.
5. It is contended by the writ petitioners that this settlement of 16 January, 1967 was illegal and void, firstly, on the ground that no industrial dispute could have been raised during the period when the prior settlement was in operation and secondly, on the ground that no notice as required by S. 19(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act (hereinafter called the Act) had been given terminating the earlier settlement. Two other grounds which have been taken by the writ petitioner in Writ Petition No. 456 of 1967 may also be mentioned. The first is that the impugned settlement is contrary to S. 9A of the Act as no notice of the change in the rates of dearness allowance was given. The second is that the settlement arrived at between the parties with the good offices of the conciliation officer was not in law a settlement under S. 12(3) of the Act. It is also contended that the period stipulated in the agreement of 1 July, 1963 was binding between to that settlement could raise any industrial dispute during the pendency of its operation.
6. Sri Rangaswami Ayyangar, the learned counsel for respondent 2, has raised a preliminary objection. His submission is that the writ petitions for writs of certiorari and mandamus are not tenable, firstly, because the impugned settlement is an administrative act of the conciliation officer and secondly, because no wire of the kind prayed for can be issued against a mill or any of the labour unions which are parties to these writ petitions. In support of his contention, he has drawn our attention to three decisions, viz, Royal Calcutta Golf Club Mazdoor Union v. State of West Bengal and others [1957 - I L.L.J. 218], Employees in the Caltex (India), Ltd. v. Commissioner of Labour [1959 - I L.L.J. 520] and Workmen of Standard Furniture Company, Ltd., Chalakudi v. District Labour Officer and Conciliation Officer and others [1966 - I L.L.J. 236]. What has been laid down in these decisions is that no writ of certiorari can be issued against a conciliation officer acting under S. 12 of the Act; his functions thereunder are neither judicial nor quasi-judicial in character and that the fact that such officer has signed the agreement does not make it an order or decision susceptible to correction by the High Court. Reference was also made to a decision of this Court in Suryanarayana (H.) v. Hindustan Machine Tools [1967 - I L.L.J. 49]. This decision summarizes the legal position and we, therefore, reproduce the relevant headnote :
'A writ of certiorari can be issued to correct a judicial or quasi-judicial order ... It is now well-settled that before a writ of certiorari could be issued, the Court must be satisfied that the authority which has made the impugned order had a duty to act judicially in making the order.'
7. These decisions support the preliminary objection raised by the learned advocate for respondent 2. Sri Subba Rao, however, contends that the impugned settlement which has been brought about through the conciliator is in the nature of a quasi-judicial act and it is, therefore, within the competence of this Court to strike down the settlement if the other requirements of law are not satisfied. In order to examine this contention, it is necessary to refer to the first three Sub-sections of S. 12 of the Act, which deal with the duties of conciliation officers. Those provisions read :
'12. (1) Where an industrial dispute exists or is apprehended, the conciliation officer may, or where the dispute relates to a public utility service and a notice under S. 22 has been given, shall hold conciliation proceedings in the prescribed manner.
(2) The conciliation officer shall, for the purpose of bringing about a settlement of the dispute, without delay investigate the dispute and all matters affecting the merits and the right settlement thereof and may do all such things as he thinks fit for the purpose of inducing the parties to come to a fair and amiable settlement of the dispute.
(3) If a settlement of the dispute or of any of the matters in dispute is arrived at in the course of the conciliation proceedings, the conciliation officer shall send a report thereof to the appropriate Government together with a memorandum of the settlement signed by the parties to the dispute.'
8. The entire argument of the learned advocate is based on what is contained in Sub-section (2) of this section. It is submitted that since it is the duty of the conciliation officer to consider whether the settlement arrived at is fair and amicable, his function would be quasi-judicial in nature and would not at all be administrative, as contended by the learned advocates for the respondents. Analysing Sub-section (2), we find that the first duty of the conciliation officer for the purpose of bringing about a settlement is to act expeditiously without loss of time. This indeed is not an act entirely within his discretion and is purely administrative in character. When he decides to act, he has to find out what the dispute between the parties is. This has to be done by ascertaining from the parties to the dispute what their contentions are. The next function that he has to discharge relates to the further ascertainment of the merits and the right settlement. The last important duty that he has to discharge is that of inducing the parties to come to a fair and amicable settlement of the dispute. It is well-established that an authority discharging the quasi-judicial function has, besides finding out what the subject-matter of the dispute is, to hear the parties, consider the evidence placed before him, arrive at a decision and record his reason in support of such decision. In the present case, there is no doubt that there is dispute between the two contending parties. The vital point for consideration is whether at all any legal obligation is cast on the conciliator to hear both the parties and record evidence in support of their mutual contentions. The hearing, if any, is for the purpose of ascertaining what are the points of dispute between the parties and for the purpose of knowing what are the matters which affect the rights and merits of the parties. On his own, there is no decision on the merits of the dispute which the conciliation officer is required to arrive at. Patently his task is one of discussion, of advice and of persuasion so that the matters in dispute are clarified to the parties themselves and by thrashing out the various points of dispute in their presence, they are enabled to come to a settlement which is fair and amicable. Sri Subba Rao's contention, however, is that the words 'as he thinks fit' occurring in Sub-section (2) should go with the last portion of the expression 'fair and amicable settlement of the dispute.' We are unable to agree with such a construction. Obviously, the words 'as he thinks fit' necessarily go with the previous clause 'may do all such things.' In other words, the words 'as he thinks fit' which vest a discretion in him, regulate the manner in which he should conduct himself in bringing about a fair and amicable settlement between the parties. It was then urged that when the dearness allowance was Rs. 110 per month in the months of September to December 1966, a settlement reducing the same to Rs. 90 would neither be fair nor amicable. In considering what is fair and what is amicable, we have necessarily to take into account the various factors under which the disputes are raised and the circumstances under which the parties take the assistance of the conciliator in arriving at a settlement. Exhibit C which embodies the terms of the impugned settlement refers to the previous history of disputes between the parties. It also refers to the fact that the mills had been losing heavily during the last few years and that the total loss from 1961-62 to 1965-66 was to the tune of Rs. 53,11,632. Mention is made of other textile mills in Bombay, Ahmedabad and Coimbatore having already been closed and of the apprehension of the closure of the other mills. It is stated that there was large accumulation of cloth stocks causing great financial strain on the company and there was vehement demand at the annual general meeting of the company held on 5 November, 1966 for Closing down the mills and taking steps for the liquidation of the company. If against this background the two parties agreed to a partial reduction of their dearness allowance, it cannot be said that it was a settlement which no reasonable person could have acceded to. If the Labour unions which are parities to the settlement consider after taking all factors into consideration that half a bread is better than no loaf, it would be difficult for this Court particularly sitting on the writ side to say that the settlement was either unfair or not amicable.
9. This brings us to the important contention which both the petitioners have pressed upon our attention with sufficient vehemence. Their contention is that it is not open to the employer and the employees to enter into a settlement when a settlement or an award is in operation and when no notice as required under Sub-section (2) or Sub-section (6) of S. 19 has been issued. Since S. 19 itself makes a distinction between an award and a settlement, it is necessary for us before considering the provisions relied upon by both the parties to determine whether the settlement which is said to have been in operation, is in reality a settlement or an award. It is common ground that when disputes arose between the parties regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the central wage board for the cotton textile industry, the dispute was referred to the industrial tribunal by the State Government and the industrial tribunal passed an award in Industrial Dispute No. 12 of 1961. It is also common ground that both the parties were dissatisfied with the award and therefore approached this Court by filing two independent writ petitions. During the pendency of the writ petitions, the parties arrived at a settlement and filed the same with a memo, before the Court praying for a particular order in the disposal of the two writ petitions. Exhibit A is the certified copy of the order passed by this Court in the two writ petitions (Writ Petitions Nos. 90 and 212 of 1963) on 29 July, 1963. We reproduce the following portion of the order which has a bearing on the point requiring our decision :
'Memorandum of compromise entered into by both the parties and counsel wherein it is submitted
1. Writ Petition No. 90 of 1963 and Writ Petition No. 212 of 1963 arise out of the same award dated 15 December, 1962 passed by the industrial tribunal in Mysore, Bangalore in Industrial Dispute No. 12 of 1961. Writ Petition No. 90 of 1963 has been filed by the employers and Writ Petition No. 212 of 1963 has been filed by the workmen. A common order may, therefore, be passed covering both the writ petitions.
2. The parties to Industrial Dispute No. 12 of 1961 on the file of the industrial tribunal, Bangalore, have by negotiations settled the disputes and have signed a memorandum of settlement on 1 July, 1963, a true copy of which is annexure A to this memorandum.
3. The award, dated 15 December, 1962, passed by respondent 2 in Industrial Dispute No. 12 of 1961 may, therefore, be quashed and substituted by an award in terms of the memorandum of settlement (annexure A).
4. Parties will bear their own costs of the writ petitions.'
10. These petitions along with the compromise petition coming on for hearing this day, Hombe Gowda, J., Made the following :