M.L. Chaturvedi, J.
1. This is a petition under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution and arises under the following circumstances.
2. The first respondent Sri Kundan Lal was an employee of the petitioner in the Central Railway. In 1953 he was working as the goods clerk in ward at Belanganj, Agra. On the 2nd June 1953 the 1st respondent received two bags of money containing a total sum of Rs. 4098/12/- and this amount was to be put in the iron safe.
According to the 1st respondent, he put the money in the safe at about 7-30 p. m. and he locked the safe after putting the money in it. The next morning, however, at 8-30 he found that the lock of the iron safe was already open and the cash was missing. Enquiries immediately started and on the 11th June 1953 the 1st respondent was put under suspension pending an officers' enquiry.
The enquiry was held and it appears that the report of the enquiry committee was that the 1st respondent was negligent in the discharge of his duties. On the 10th July 1953 a chargesheet was framed against the 1st respondent, which charged him with neglect of duty on his part, which had resulted in the loss to the Railway Administration. The neglect of duty was alleged to be that he failed to lock the safe after putting the cash in it.
3. In paragraph 11 of the affidavit, filed along with the petition, it is stated that the 1st respondent applied for permission to see the record of the proceedings before the enquiry committee and permission was granted to him to inspect the record. He also asked for three days' leave to prepare his reply, and the same was also granted to the 1st respondent.
In paragraph 9 of the counter-affidavit, the 1st respondent has only averred that the contents of paragraph 11 of the affidavit, filed along with the petition, were irrelevant. On the 16th July 1953 the 1st respondent filed his explanation. On the 21st August 1953 the Area Superintendent of Agra served the 1st respondent with a notice intimating to him that his reply was unsatisfactory and that he had failed to explain the charge.
He stated that penalty of removal from service was proposed to be inflicted upon him and he (1st respondent) was required to show cause within seven days why the said penalty be not inflicted. The 1st respondent then submitted his explanation to this notice on the 26th August 1953. He wanted to be heard in person and was examined at some length by the Officer on the 2nd September 1953.
The very next day an order was passed setting aside the suspension of the 1st respondent and he was permitted to resume his duties. It appears that, while making his statement before the Officer, the 1st respondent had made a very qualified sort of statement saying that, if the Officer after taking into consideration his explanation and other things still considered that the penalty of debiting the 1st respondent with the amount of loss was justified, the 1st respondent would he willing to accept the punishment in order to save him from punishment of removal from service.
4. On the 26th August 1954, the 1st respondent was served with a notice to show cause within three days of its receipt why the penalty of recovering from his pay the total amount of the loss at the rate of Rs. 25/- per month be not imposed upon him. The 1st respondent submitted his explanation on the 2nd September 1954 and it also appears that in this explanation he demanded copies of all the statements of witnesses against him.
This request was not accepted and, after considering the explanation submitted by the 1st respondent, it was decided to recover the amount from the 1st respondent's salary as proposed earlier.
5. The 1st respondent went up in appeal against that order, which was dismissed on the 19th October 1954. He then filed another appeal to the Chief Commercial Superintendent, which was dismissed on the 11th March 1955. The 1st respondent then approached the authority appointed under the Payment of Wages Act and filed an application on the 4th April 1955 before it, challenging the correctness and legality of the order directing deduction of Rs. 25/- per month from his salary.
His case was that he was not proved to have been negligent and the loss to the Railway Administration was not caused by any negligent act of his. This application was opposed on behalf of the petitioner, but on the 27th August 1955 the authority decided the matter against the petitioner and allowed the application filed by the 1st respondent. The present petition was filed on the 6th February 1956 praying for the issue of a writ of certiorari quashing the order dated the 27th August 1955.
6. The learned counsel for the petitioner has urged a number of points in support of the petition, and the learned counsel for the respondents has taken a preliminary objection to its hearing. The preliminary objection is that the-order dated the 27th August 1955 was appealable under Section 17 of the Payment of Wages Act, and the petitioner having failed to avail itself of this remedy, the present petition was not maintainable.
After hearing learned counsel for both the parties on this point, I do not think I would be justified in dismissing the petition on the ground that the petitioner did not go up in appeal against the impugned order. Section 17 permits an appeal against a direction made under Sub-section (3) or (4)of Section 15 of the Act, if the conditions mentioned in Clauses (a) to (c) of Sub-section (1) of Section 17 are satisfied. The clause bearing on this point is Clause (a), which is worded as follows:
'by the employer or other person responsible for the payment of wages under Section 3 if the total sum directed to be paid by way of wages and compensation exceeds Rs. 300/- ..........'
7. In his application made to the authority under Section 15 of the Payment of Wages Act the 1st respondent had claimed a refund of Rs. 150/-which amount had been deducted from his salary till the date that he filed the application. He also prayed for 'compensation amounting to Rs. 200/-and cost of the suit.'
The authority ordered the restoration of the deductions made and further directed that a sum of Rs. 200/- would be paid as costs by the petitioner to the 1st respondent. There was thus an order for the payment of a total sum of Rs. 350/-; but the question is whether the sum of Rs. 200/-was allowed as compensation or as costs of the proceedings.
It is very probable that the authority wanted to allow this amount as compensation, according to the prayer made in the application, but instead of using the word 'compensation' it used the word 'costs'. If the sum of Rs. 200/- was allowed as costs, no appeal would lie against the order, because the total sum directed to be paid by way of wages and compensation would be a sum less than Rs. 300/-. It is the use of this word 'costs' in the order of the authority that may have induced the petitioner not to file an appeal.
On the order, as it stood, it was not clear whether an appeal lay or not and, if under the circumstances the petitioner decided not to file an appeal, I do not think that the omission should lead to the dismissal of the writ petition.
Even if another remedy existed, which the petitioner did not avail itself of, that is not an absolute bar to the entertainment of a writ petition, and, considering the circumstances of the case, I do not feel inclined to dismiss the writ petition on the ground that the petitioner did not go up in appeal from the impugned order. The preliminary objection has thus to be overruled.
8. Coming now to the merits of the petition, the first contention of the learned counsel for the petitioner is that the petitioner was entitled to make the deductions from the salary of the 1st respondent under Clauses (c) and (h) of Sub-section (2) of Section 7 of the Payment of Wages Act. Section 7(1) of the Act says that the wages of an employed person shall be paid to him without deductions of any kind except those authorised by or under the Payment of Wages Act.
Sub-section (2) then enumerates the kinds of deductions which may be made from the wages of an employed person, and it also provides that those deductions must be made only in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Clause (c) of Sub-section (2) permits deductions from wages on account of damage to or loss of goods expressly entrusted to the employed person for custody and for loss of money for which he is required to account, in case such damage or loss is directly attributable to his neglect or default.
9. The contention of the learned counsel for the petitioner is that the loss in the instant case was directly attributable to the neglect of the 1st respondent inasmuch as he had failed to lock the safe after putting the cash in it. That is also the finding arrived at by the Railway authorities. The authority under the Payment of Wages Act (hereinafter referred to as the City Magistrate) appears to be of a different view; but he has not given any clear finding on the point,
The Railway Administration was putting the burden of proof on the 1st respondent to prove that he had locked the safe, and I am inclined to agree with the view taken by the Railway Administration as I think that, on the proved facts of the case, a presumption of negligence' would arise, and it was for the 1st respondent to rebut that presumption.
The proved facts of the case are that the 1st respondent was handed over the money and he put it in the iron safe. The keys of the safe remained with him all through and, when he returned the next morning, the safe was found to be unlocked. It was within the special knowledge of the 1st respondent whether he had locked the safe or not, and that being the position, I think it was for him to prove that he had locked the safe.
He did produce a ward and watch officer to prove it; but this man was also practically in the same position as the petitioner. Nothing turns on the doors of the room not being broken open as the keys used to remain with peons and the peons could open or close the room, in which the safe was kept, any time they liked.
10. But whatever doubt there may be as regards the case falling under Clause (c), I think it is clear that it comes under Clause (h) of Sub-section (2) of Section 7 of the Payment of Wages Act, which is worded as follows:
'deductions required to be made by order of a court or other authority competent to make such order.'
The question in the case is whether the deductions had been ordered by any authority competent to pass the order. The learned counsel for the'1st respondent urged that every employer may be competent to pass an order for deductions of wages and he would certainly be so competent if he obtains an agreement from the employee agreeing to deductions being made by the employer.
It was further argued that, if this interpretation is put on the clause, the entire object of Section 7 would be defeated. I do not agree with the contention, because the clause requires that the order should be passed by an authority and, secondly, that the authority should be competent to make the order. Every employer would not come within the meaning of the word 'authority'.
It is only a person having some special powers conferred upon him, who could be called an authority. Even if an ordinary employer has obtained an agreement from the employee, which makes It legal for him to make deductions, the employer would not be an authority within the meaning of the word and would not be able to get the benefit of Clause (h) of Sub-section (2) of Section 7 of the Act.
11. The next question is whether the officer, who directed these deductions, can be said to be an authority competent to make the order. The power to make such deductions is contained in the Railway Establishment Code which contains rules made by the Governor General in Council under Sub-section (2) of Section 241 of the Government of India Act, 1935.
These rules thus have the force of law. If they confer any power on a particular officer, the officer can appropriately be styled, as an 'authority' having the power to pass the order. Rule 1702 of the Establishment Code, Vol. I, enumerates the penalties which may be imposed upon Railway Servants, and penalty No. (6) is
'recovery from pay of the whole or part of any pecuniary loss caused to Government by negligence or breach of orders.'
The subsequent rules lay down the procedure and also the officers who are entitled to impose the punishment mentioned in Rule 1702. We are concerned only with penalty No. (6), mentioned above. The relevant rule as regards this penalty is Rule 1712 and it says that before an order imposing a penalty specified in items (2) to (6) of Rule 1702 is passed against a railway servant, he shall be informed of the definite offences or failures on account of which it is proposed to impose the penalty, and he should be called upon to show cause why that or any lesser penalty should not be imposed.
He should also be given three days' time in which to submit his explanation and be allowed reasonable facilities for the preparation of his defence.
12. It is not disputed that the order for the deduction of salary was passed by an officer authorised to do so under the Railway Establishment Code. The argument that the learned counsel for the 1st respondent advanced is that the 1st respondent was not allowed reasonable facilities for the preparation of his defence.
The argument is based on the fact that the 1st respondent had asked for copies of all the statements of the officers who had deposed against him, and the petitioner had refused to supply those copies. This fact is borne out by the evidence on the record, but it is also proved by the averments made in paragraph 11 of the affidavit, filed along with the writ petition that the 1st respondent was permitted to see the file containing the statements of the witnesses, which were recorded by the committee of enquiry.
The 1st respondent wanted three days' leave to prepare his reply and that was also granted to him. This averment of fact has not been denied in the counter-affidavit, but an evasive reply has been given that the fact is not relevant. It thus appears that the 1st respondent, though he was not supplied with the copies, was permitted to inspect the record and, if he wanted to inspect a second time, there is no reason to suppose that he would not have been so permitted.
The Rules do not provide for supplying any copies of the statements and, in reply to the request made by the 1st respondent, the Railway authorities asked him to name the witnesses whose statements he wanted; but the 1st respondent did not seem to like that reply and said that he wanted the statements of all the witnesses.
Whatever evidence was against him was contained in the proceedings before the enquiry committee, and the 1st respondent had every opportunity to inspect that record and to prepare his defence. It, therefore, appears that an opportunity to prepare his defence was given to the 1st respondent by permitting him to inspect the record of the case.
13. It further appears that there was no evidence produced on behalf of the Railway Administration that the 1st respondent had not locked the iron safe after putting the money in it. The Railway authorities were of the view that it was for the 1st respondent to prove that he had locked the safe, because the keys remained with him and the safe was found open next morning.
The crucial fact in the case was as to whether the safe had been locked by the 1st respondent and there being no evidence that it was not locked by the 1st respondent, the supplying of any number of copies to him would not have made any difference to the case. The other facts were all admitted on which the presumption was raised.
14. For the above reasons, I think sufficient opportunity was given to the . 1st respondent to prepare his defence, and the order passed by the Railway authorities for the deduction of the amount from his salary was fully justified.
15. Considerable argument has been made on the point whether it was open to the City Magistrate to disturb the findings of fact arrived at by the officers of the Railway Administration, On a reading of the provisions of Clause (c) and (h) of Sub-section (2) of Section 7, I have come to the conclusion that the Magistrate had a right to consider whether the case had been proved under Clause (c) or not, but he had no right to set aside an order which was covered by Clause (h); provided the rules applicable to the case had been followed.
The order contemplated in Clause (h) is an order by a Court or other authority, and the mere passing of an order of deduction by a Court or other authority is sufficient for enabling the employer to make the deduction.
16. The learned counsel for the petitioner has argued that the 1st respondent had agreed in his statement recorded on the 2nd September 1S53 that he would be prepared for an order of deduction of the amount from his salary, and it is not open to him now to challenge the correctness of that order. I am not inclined to accept this argument, because the statement was hemmed in by so many conditions and was expressly made in order to avoid the higher penalty of removal.
Section 23 of the Payment of Wages Act lays down that any contract or agreement whereby an employed person relinquishes any right conferred by this Act shall be null and void in so far as it purports to deprive him of such right. In case the applicant had a right to file an application under Section 15 of the Payment of Wages Act, that right could not be taken away by any statement of the kind made by the 1st respondent in this case,
17. For the above reasons, this petition is allowed and the order passed by the City Magistrate of Agra, as the authority under the Payment of Wages Act, dated 27th August 1955, is quashed.
18. In the circumstances of the case, the parties will bear their own costs.