S.C. Dhavan, J.
1. This is an application under Section 118 C. P. G. filed by the Union of India against the decision of the Additional District Judge, Moradar bad dismissing their appeal against an order of the Additional District Magistrate, Moradabad functioning as Commissioner under the Payment of Wages Act by which he directed the Union of India to pay certain sum claimed as wages by a workman Babu Ram. It raises a question of general importance regarding the scope of the powers of the Commissioners in an inquiry under Section 15(1) of the Act and also the meaning and purpose of the rule requiring a strict interpretation of statutes ousting the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts.
2. The facts are these : Babu Ram was in the employ of the Northern Railway which is run by the Union of India. On 18th April 1946 he was served with an order removing him from service. He preferred appeals to the competent authorities which were rejected. Finally, on 20th August 1951 he filed a suit for declaration that the order removing him from service was illegal. This suit was decreed on 20th August 1952 and an appeal by the Railway dismissed on 5th of August 1953. A second appeal was filed in this Court, but while it was pending, Babu Ram applied under Section 15(1) of the Payment of Wages Act claiming wages for the entire period after his removal, alleging that the Railway had been holding his dues in abeyance and had unnecessarily delayed payment. He prayed for a direction to the Railway to make the payment. The Railway contested this claim on the ground, inter alia, that the application was timer-barred.
The Commissioner framed an issue on the question of limitation but without giving any finding on it, he allowed Babu Ram's application and held that he was entitled to a total sum of Rs. 14,678/6/-. He directed the Railway to pay this amount 'subject to the decision of the Hon'ble High Court in the second appeal pending before that court.' (It may be mentioned that the second appeal of the Railway was dismissed by this Court on 11th of January 1955 and a special appeal was also refected.) On appeal by the Railway under Section 17, the Additional District Judge, Moradabad held that Babu Ram had sufficient cause for not making his application within the prescribed period of six months and condoned the delay. On merits he upheld the decision of the Commissioner but slightly reduced the claim from Rs. 14,678/6/- to Rs. 13,626/-. Aggrieved by this decision the Union of India have come to this Court under Section 115 C. P. C.
3. Mr. Jagdish Swarup, learned counsel for the Railway stated at the outset that it would not be Possible for him, in proceedings under Sec 115 C.P.C., to assail the decision of the appellate court on merits; but he contended that the decision to condone the delay in filing the claimwas vitiated by a material irregularity in procedure, Learned counsel conceded that the Commissioner had the power under Section 15(1) to condone the delay but he relied on the proviso which enjoins that the delay should be condoned only if the application 'satisfies the Authority that he had sufficient Cause for not making the application within such period'. Mr. Jagdish Swamp pointed out that the applicant had filed no affidavit before the commissioner nor placed any material before him to enable that Officer to judge whether the applicant had sufficient Cause for the delay. Learned counsel contended that it had condoned the delay without satisfying itself that the employee had sufficient cause for not making his application within the prescribed period. This was a material irregularity which had resulted in injustice to the Railway and called for interference by this Court in the exercise of its revisional jurisdiction under Section 115 C. P. C.
4. Mr. Radha Krishna, learned counsel for the employee who argued this case with his usual thoroughness, contended that there was no delay in making the application, as Babu Ram could not have claimed any wages after a competent authority had passed an Order removing him from service, and had to go to the Civil court to obtain a declaration that this order was illegal before he could claim any wages. He could not file his application even after his suit had been decreed because the Railway had kept the matter sub judice by filing appeal after appeal, the dispute being finally decided by the dismissal of the special appeal by this Court on 24th February 1958. Alternatively, Mr. Radha Krishna contended that even if there had been any delay, it had been condoned by the appellate court after hearing the Parties who were given a full opportunity to present their respective cases for and against condonation. No irregularity in procedure Had been committed by the learned Additional District Judge. The procedure prescribed by this Court for the condonation of delay under SECTION 5 of the Limitation Act did not apply to a condonation under Section 15(2) of the Payment of Wages Act; That Act did not enjoin that delay could be condoned only on application supported by an affidavit.
5. The first question before me is whether there has been any delay in making the claim under the Act. Babu Ram's application was filed nearly six years after his removal. If he could have obtained relief under the Payment of Wages Act without going to the Civil Court his application was filed beyond time. I have heard learned counsel at some length on this point. Mr. Radha Krishna argued that Babu Ram could not have filed his claim for wages under Section 15(1) of the Act before obtaining a decree from the Civil Court that the order removing him from service was illegal, and he relied on several decisions of the Bombay High Court. I shall examine these decisions presently. I propose first to examine the provisions of the Payment of Wages Act itself, Section 15(2) provides in effect that where 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 the Commissioner for Workmen's Compensation for a direction in accordance with Sub-section (3). The latter provision authorises the Commissioner, after hearing the applicant and the employer and giving them an opportunity of being heard and after such further inquiry (if any) as may be necessary, to direct the refund to the employed person all the amount deducted from his wages or payment of the delayed wages, together with the payment of such compensation as the Authority may think fit not exceeding ten times the amount deducted in the former case and exceeding ten rupees in the latter.
In a nutshell, the combined effect of these two sub-sections is this. Any employee can go to the Commissioner for Compensation with claim that the payment of wages due to him has been delayed and ask him to direct the employer to pay. Mr. Radha Krishna contended that the Commissioner for Compensation has no jurisdiction to direct payment of wages where the employee has been dismissed or removed from service by a competent authority. The pre-condition for the exercise of the Commissioner's jurisdiction, according to learned counsel is that he is admittedly in the service of the employer and the wages should be due to him though there is delay in payment. Learned counsel pointed out that the purpose of the Payment of Wages Act is, according to its preamble, 'to regulate the payment of wages to certain classes of persons employed in industry' and not to decide disputed questions such as whether the removal of the employee was wrongful or not.
6. I am afraid that this contention is negatived by the other provisions of the Act. Section 2, which may be called the definition section, defines wages as 'all remuneration (whether by way of salary, allowances or otherwise) expressed in terms of money or capable of being so, which would, if the terms of employment, express or implied, were fulfilled, be payable to a person employed in respect of his employment or of work done in such employment .....'' The vital words are. 'wages means ...... remuneration ....... which would, if the terms of employment . were fulfilled be payable to a person employed ...........' Thisdefinition shows that an employee may claim, under this Act, not only wages for work actually done but also wages which he would have earned if he had not been illegally prevented by the employer from working in accordance with the terms of his contract. It would include a case where the employer tries to escape his liability for payment of wages by falsely alleging that the employee is no longer in his service; and also a case where he alleges termination of employment on the basis of an order of removal which is illegal
7. This interpretation, is supported by the language of Section 22(c) which rung thus :
'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............
(c) has been adjudged, in any proceeding under Section 15 not to be owed to the plaintiff'.
This provision shows that the Commissioner for Compensation has the power to decide that no wages are due to the employee. This would include a case where the employer alleges that nowages are due because the claimant never wasor has ceased to be his employee.
8. Mr. Radha Krishna contended that the Payment of Wages Act does not give the Commissioner any power to award damages to an employee who approaches him with a grievance that his services have been wrongfully terminated. I agree. But 'there is a difference between a claim for damages for wrongful dismissal and one for wages in which the employee contends that the order of removal is illegal and consequently, in law, he was never removed and is entitled to his wages. If the order of removal is passed by an authority which, on the face of it, had no power to pass it, the case is not one of wrongful dismissal but of an order without jurisdiction which is of no effect. In the former case the Commissioner has no power to award damages, but in the latter, he can, after inquiry, hold that the employee continued to be in service and is entitled to wages which he would have earned if he had not been illegally prevented from working.
8A. I shall now consider the authorities cited by Mr. Radha Krishna. In A. R. Sarin v. B. C. Patil : AIR1951Bom423 , Chagla, C. J. and Tendolkar, J. examined the jurisdiction, of the Authority under the Act and observed:
'The mere denial of the factum of employment cannot oust the jurisdiction of the Authority. If the employer denies or disputes the fact that the servant was employed by him, It will be for the Authority to decide that question, and it is only after the question of employment has been decided that the question would arise as to what are the terms of the contract and what is the liability of the matter under the terms with regard to wages.'
9. But after making this observation, the learned Judges continued
'but that jurisdiction does not extend to determining the question as to whether the contract has terminated as alleged by the employer or the contract is still subsisting as alleged by the servant,''
10. With profound respect for the learned Judges, the second observation is inconsistent with the first. They took the view that, on a denial by the employer of the factum of employment, the Commissioner has the jurisdiction to determine the truth of this denial and decide whether the servant is in fact employed by him, but if the employer alleges that the employee has been removed from service, the Authority cannot inquire into the legality of the order of removal. But I do not see any distinction between a case in which the factum of employment is disputed by the employer on the allegation that the relationship of master and servant never commenced, and another in which it is disputed on the allegation that this relationship has ended. In both cases the Commissioner is called upon to consider whether the servant was in fact employed during the period for which he claims wages.
I find it difficult to believe that the legislature intended that the factum of employment can be decided by the Authority at the instance of the employer who alleges that he never employed the claimant, but not at the instance of the employee who contends that he was never removed. I see no reason for this discrimination against the employee for whose benefit the Act was passed. In my view, if the Commissioner for Compensation has the jurisdiction to inquire into the factum of employment he must have the power to decide whether this employment ever commenced or ever terminated.
11. In K. P. Mushran v. B. C. Patil : AIR1952Bom235 , Chagla, C. J. and Bhagwati, J. held that the expression 'wages' means that there should be a subsisting contract of employment and that the relationship of master and servant should exist and there should be mutual rights and obligations of the parties to the contract existing. However, they approved of the principle laid down in the earlier case : AIR1951Bom423 , in these words
'It is true that We pointed out in : AIR1951Bom423 that delay in payment of wages can only mean delay in payment of wages which are admitted. But we have explained later on in the judgment as to what is the meaning of 'wages which are admitted'. When an employer refuses to pay wages rightly or wrongly, contending that the respondent is not his employee and that he had dismissed him and therefore nothing is due to him then, according to that decision, the Authority has no jurisdiction to determine whether the refusal of the petitioner to pay wages was justified Or was valid in law. Therefore, it is only in a case where the employer has put an end to the contract of employment, has dismissed his employee, and the employee is complaining of a wrongful dismissal and claiming damages from his master for wrongful dismissal, that, according to us in that decision, the jurisdiction of the Authority was ousted to determine questions with regard to the wrongful dismissal.'
It is clear, therefore, that the principle enunciated in this judgment is confined to cases of wrongful dismissal that is to say, a dismissal which is within the power of the employer but in breach of contract, but not where the employee claims that he was never dismissed but continues to remain in service and is entitled to his full wages.
12. In Anthony Sabastin Almeda v. R. M. Taylor : (1957)ILLJ452Bom Chagla, C. J. and Dixit, J. observed
'It could never have been the object o the legislature that the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act should try and decide complicated questions which should ordinarily normally be heard by a Civil Court.''
But they also observed that the Authority is competent to decide 'what is contract in the sense of construing the contract in order to determine the liability of the employer to pay wages.' They further observed
'But when the very basis of the relationship is in dispute and in controversy, the legislature did not intend that a court of summary jurisdiction should decide that important question. Where the Authority has been called upon to decide not only the factum of the subsequent contract but also its validity these are questions which do not fall within the ambit of the jurisdiction of the Authority'.
But the learned Judges also confirmed the principle laid down in the earlier case : AIR1951Bom423 that if the employer denies the fact that the servant was employed by him, the Authority can decide this question.
13. In C.S. Lal v. Shaikh Badshah : (1956)IILLJ457Bom , the court held that the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act has the jurisdiction to decide, In a claim made by certain employees who had provisionally opted for Pakistan in 1947 but revoked their choice, whether the employees had ceased to be in the service of the Railway or whether they were re-employed after they had made their final decision to opt for India. The Authority had held that their service had been temporarily suspended and was resumed as soon as they showed their willingness to opt for service under the Indian Railways. This decision supports the view that the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act can decide, in proceedings under Section 15(2) of that Act, whether the relationship of employer and employee subsisted during the period for which wages are claimed.
14. In Viswanath Tukaram v. General Manager, Central Railway : (1957)IILLJ250Bom , a Full Bench of the Bombay High Court considered the nature and ambit of the jurisdiction of the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act and, after a review of the Previous decisions, laid down the following principles :
'(1) The Authority has no jurisdiction to decide whether the services of an employee have been rightly or wrongly terminated or whether the dismissal is lawful or unlawful; (2) the primary function of the Authority is to determine what the wages of the employee are and whether there has been a delay in the payment of those wages or a deduction from those wages; (3) in order to determine the wages it may be necessary to determine what the terms of the contract were under which the employee was employed and under which he was claiming his wages; (4) in order to determine what the terms of the contract were, and what were the wages due under the contract, it might become necessary for the Authority to determine whether in the first place there was an employment or not and (5) when there is a dispute as to which is the contract that governs the relationship of the parties and if two rival contracts are in tile field, then the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act has no jurisdiction to decide which of the contracts regulate the rights of the parties.'
The decision in the case of : AIR1951Bom423 was confirmed and relied upon.
15. These decisions indicate that the Bombay High Court have taken the view that the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act may determine the question whether a relationship of employer and employee existed and that the employer cannot oust the jurisdiction of the Authority by a mere denial of this relationship; but the Authority has no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the legality of the employer's decision removing the employee or terminating his contract of service. With profound respect, as explained by me above, these two views are inconsistent. If there is a power to decide the question of existence of the relationship of master and servant, it is immaterial whether the dispute relates to the commencement of the employment Or its termination. Whether the claimant alleges that he was employed and the employer denies this allegation or the employer alleges that he terminated the claimant's services and the latter denies this fact, the result is the same; the relationship of master and servant during the relevant period is in dispute and can be determined by the Authority.
16. In : (1957)ILLJ452Bom the Bombay High Court thought that 'it could never have been the object of the legislature that the Authority constituted under the Payment of Wages Act should try and decide complicated questions which should ordinarily and normally be heard by a Civil Court'. With deep respect, it appears to me that this was precisely the intention. One must bear in mind the principle on which this rule of strict interpretation of statutes ousting the jurisdiction of civil courts is based. It is simply a corollary of the rule of the law which enjoins that there shall be equal justice for all citizens under the ordinary law of the land. Any encroachment On the judicial power by executive tribunals is rightly viewed by the courts as art inroad into the rule of the law itself and statutes investing executive authorities with the power to decide disputes are strictly interpreted.
17. But there is no real equality between the employer and the employee in a dispute over payment of wages to the employee. The employer has a long purse and a staying capacity while the employee has neither. In India, litigation is protracted and also expensive on account of a heavy court-fee. While in theory justice in the law courts is available to every poor employee whose wages have been illegally deducted or withheld by the employer, in practice, to adopt Mc-Cardie J.'s dictum, it is available like the Asoka Hotel--if one can afford it. But under the Payment of Wages Act the employee has an expeditious remedy for which he pays no court-fee. In such circumstances, to insist that complicated questions of law in a dispute over wages between the employer and employee must be decided by the Civil Courts is to convert the principle of strict interpretation of statutes ousting the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts into a weapon of oppression against the employee in his fight against a Leviathan.
18. Our Constitution has created, as indicated by the Chapter called Directive Principles of State Policy, a welfare State. Article 37 enjoins that these principles are fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply them in making laws. This would include the interpretation of existing laws. The avoidance of industrial disputes and their peaceful settlement is one of the paramount duties of the modern welfare state which is implied under Articles 38 39, and 43. History has proved that discontent among industrial workers can be explosive enough to disrupt the state. The Industrial Disputes Act has made a deep inroad into the doctrine of freedom of contract, and provides for compulsory settlement of industrial disputes between employers and workmen which involve questions complicated enough to be entrusted to retired High Court Judges. The Payment of Wages Act is a law providing for thesettlement of a particular type of disputes between employers and employees in industry--namely claims for wages. If any dispute of this nature involves complicated questions of law, this need not cause any nervous anxiety to the law courts.
19. The Act ensures that the dispute shall be decided by a Judicial Officer. Section 15(1) enjoins that the Commissioner for Workmen's Compensation must be a judge of a civil court or a stipendiary magistrate. Section 18 provides that the Authority appointed under Section 15 shall have all the powers of a Civil Court under the C. P. C. for the purpose of taking evidence and of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and compelling the production of documents, and that even such Authority shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for all the purposes of Section 195 and of Ch. XXXV Cr. P. C. Section 17 provides for an appeal against the decision of the Authority to the District Court (or the court of Small Causes in a Presidency town). Thus the legislature has ensured that the Authority must either be a judicial officer or a stipendiary magistrate and that the dispute cannot be entrusted to any executive officer with no legal training. Any errors made by the Authority can be corrected on appeal by the District Court which must be presumed to have powers co-extensive with those of the trial court. These provisions have no meaning if the legislature wanted to reserve complicated questions for decision by the ordinary civil courts.
In my view, the purpose of the Act is to provide a cheap and expeditious forum for the employee where every dispute concerning the wages claimed by him could be resolved and not to leave him to an expensive and protracted litigation in the civil courts. Therefore, to restrict the scope of the jurisdiction of the Authority would defeat the purpose of the Act. The rule requiring a strict interpretation of statutes ousting the jurisdiction of the courts must be used as a good servant of the rule of the law, but not converted into a shibboleth when it serves no useful purpose or its application undermines the social philosophy of the modern welfare state.
20. For these reasons I am inclined to the view, with respect for the decisions of Bombay High Court, that if, in an application by an employee under Section 15(2) of the Payment of Wages Act for a direction to the employer to pay his wages, the employer denies the very factum of employment, it is immaterial whether he alleges that the claimant was never his employee or ceased to be one as the result of an order removing him from service. In either case the Authority has the jurisdiction to decide whether the relationship of master and servant came into existence or continued to exist even after the order of removal. In deciding this question that Authority can construe the terms of the contract or decide the legality of the order purporting to remove the claimant from service, as the case may be. This power flows from the jurisdiction to determine if any wages are due to the employee. The crucial test for the jurisdiction to determine any question is whether the claimant asks for his wages or damages for wrongful dismissal. If the former, the Authority can decide whether any wages are due or would be due to him if the terms of contract were fulfilled. But if the employee was removed from service by an order of a competent authority after observing the prescribed procedure (if any), the removal is effective though wrongful, and the claiming employee can only ask for damages. In such a case the Authority has no power to hear the dispute, as under the Act it can only award wages.
21. In this, case the employee claimed his wages under Section 15(2) of the Act on the ground that he continued to be in the service of the Railway in spite of the alleged order of removal. He could have filed his claim without obtaining a decree from the civil court declaring the order of removal illegal. He need not have filed a suit at all, for the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act had the power to adjudicate upon the legality of the order of removal. That being the position in law, his claim must be held to have been filed after the limitation of six months prescribed by that section had expired.
22. Ultimately, Mr. Radha Krishna had to concede that, in any view of the matter the claim was filed beyond limitation. He conceded that after he had obtained a decree from the Civil Court declaring his removal to be illegal, he was in a position to make an application under Section 15(2) and limitation commenced from the date of the decree.
23. This brings me to the next question--namely, whether the decision of the appellate court condoning the delay is vitiated by any material irregularity. After hearing learned counsel I am of the view that it is not. Counsel for the Railway vehemently argued that the learned judge had no jurisdiction to condone the delay unless there was before him an application supported by an affidavit explaining the causes of delay. I do not agree. Mr. Jagdish Swarup's argument is based on the analogy of the procedure prescribed by this Court for hearing applications under Section 5 of the Limitation Act. Chapter IX Rule 12(1) (XIV) of the High Court Rules enjoins that every application under Section 5 of the Limitation Act must be supported by an affidavit. But neither the Payment of Wages Act nor the rules under it prescribe any procedure corresponding to our rules governing applications under Section 5 of the Limitation Act. Mr. Jagdish Swamp conceded that no such procedure was prescribed.
The second proviso to Section 15(2) merely requires that the applicant should satisfy the Authority that he has sufficient cause for not making the application within the prescribed period. It is true that the compensation Commissioner did not formally decide the issue of limitation after framing it. But the appellate court, after giving a full opportunity to the parties to state their cases for and against condonation, condoned the delay. Mr. Jagdish Swarup conceded that an appeal is, a continuation of the original proceedings and the powers of the appellate authority are co-extensive with that of the Compensation. Commissioner. That being so, I am unable to hold that there has been any violation of procedure prescribed by law or of the principles of natural justice.
24. Furthermore, no injustice has been caused to the Railway. After the order of removal hadkeen declared illegal the Railway had not continued the enquiry against Babu Ram. The charges against him must be presumed to have been dropped. He continued to be an employee of the Railway and is entitled to his wages.
25. It is true that he could, have filed his application earlier, but he Was obviously under a misapprehension that his claim would not be entertained by the Authority under the Payment of Wages Act as long as the order of removal was in force. The Railway too were under a similar impression. In their written statement before the Authority the Railway contended that the claim for wages was premature as the Railway had filed a second appeal against the decree declaring the order of removal to be illegal. If the Railway with all the legal advice at their command, were under a misapprehension of the law, a petty employee may foe excused if he was under a similar impression. The Railway failed to convince the learned Judge in appeal, after a full hearing, that this was not a fit case for condonation of delay. I am not inclined to interfere with the discretion of the Judge.
In Har Prasad v. Bhagwati Prasad Ram Swarup, : AIR1933All924 , this Court held that the High Court is not bound to interfere in the exercise of its power under Section 115 C. P. C., if substantial justice has been done. In an earlier case, Muhammad Bakar v. Bahal Singh, ILR 13 All 277, a Full Bench of this Court held that the revisional powers under Section 25 of the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act are only exercisable where it appears that some substantial injustice to a party has directly resulted from a material misapplication or misapprehensionof law or from a material error in procedure. The principle would apply a fortiori to the exercise of revisional powers under Section 115, C. P. C. which are more restricted.
26. No case has been made out for interference with the decision of the learned Additional District Judge. The application fails and is rejected with costs. The stay order passed by this Court is discharged.