1. The relations between the Patiala Cement Works and its employees were not satisfactory. A conciliation Board was appointed but it failed to resolve the disputes. Accordingly, on 5-11-1951, H.H. the Rajpramukh of the State of Pepsu issued a Notification under Section 10(1)(c) Industrial Disputes Act (14 of 1947) referring to the Industrial Tribunal the disputed points.
By a subsequent Notification dated 10-1-1952, the number of matters referred to arbitration was increased. Later it seems to have been discovered that these Notifications were defective inasmuch as, although the points referred were common to all the workmen, the parties to the dispute were stated to be the Management: of the Bhupendra Cement Works and 'certain workers'. Accordingly on the 23-8-1952 another Notification was issued superseding the earlier Notifications and referring to the Tribunal an industrial dispute 'between the workmen and the Management of the Bhupendra Cement Works.'
2. In the meanwhile, on 12-8-1952, it must now be accepted as a fact in view of the findings of the Industrial Tribunal and the Appellate Tribunal, that some of the workers, including Mahnga Ram, Janak Raj Soni, Harchand Singh and Daulat Singh, stopped work for a short time after they had commenced it. In the charge sheets that were delivered to these persons by the Management immediately they were not charged with having struck work themselves but were accused of having incited others to strike and of having done some acts subversive of discipline.
Nevertheless, in' the application made against each worker separately to the Industrial Tribunal it was alleged that there had been a strike for half an hour which was illegal in view of Section 23(b) Industrial Disputes Act. It was further alleged that the workers had been guilty of inciting others to strike and of acts subversive of discipline within the meaning of Standing Order 16(iii) and (ix). Other allegations were also made and it was prayed under Section 33 Industrial Disputes Act that leave be given to discharge the workman whose conduct was complained of.
3. Although the Management presented an application against each workman separately, the workmen submitted a joint reply through their General Secretary. They pleaded that there had been no strike and no inflammatory speeches but that, in accordance with a resolution passed by the workers at a meeting held on 11-8-1952, the workmen while going to work had shouted slogans to the effect that the disputes should be settled urgently and that the tribunal should give an early decision. They denied that there had been any slogans against the Government or the Management or that any meeting was held on 12-8-1952, and though they admitted that there had been a delay of 15 or 20 minutes in going to work, they denied that this was the result of any concerted action.
4. The Tribunal disposed of all the applications by one judgment and held that, althongh there was some demonstration on the premises of the Works on 12-8-1952, that did not amount to a strike within the meaning of Section 2(q) Industrial Disputes Act since there was no concerted action with a view to securing a stoppage of work. It was also held that the shouting of slogans although directed against the Management should not have been taken seriously by the Management since the resentment was against the defective Notification for which the Management was not responsible.
The Industrial Tribunal felt that in the interest of peace it was desirable that good relations between the Management and the workmen should be restored and that this could not be done if the workers were allowed to be dismissed. It accordingly refused to grant permission to dismiss the workers.
5. The Cement Works appealed but they filed only one appeal impleading all the workmen as opposite parties. The Appellate Tribunal noted the circumstances in which only one appeal was filed and proceeded to dispose of it. The Appellate Tribunal held that the cessation of work even for a short time was a strike within the meaning of Section 2(q) Industrial Disputes Act. It considered that the matter was a serious one and that the conduct of the workmen was subversive of discipline. It further held that the strike was an illegal one in view of the fact that adjudication proceedings were pending. It accordingly allowed the appeal and granted the Management leave to discharge the workmen.
6. There were originally five workmen involved. Of these four moved this Court under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution to quash the order of the Appellate Tribunal. They are numbered Civil Misc Applications (O. J.) Nos. 81 (by Mahanga Ram), 83 (by Janak Raj Soni), 85 (Harchand Singh) and 88 (Daulat Singh).
7. The learned Counsel for the Petitioners contended:
(1) That the findings arrived at by the Industrial Court with regard to the strike and to alleged acts sub-versive of discipline were findings of fact and the Labour Appellate Tribunal was incompetent to entertain the appeal, since no question of law was involved:
(2) That, in any case, a separate appeal should have been filed in each case and, since this was not done, the Appellate Court could not modify the order of the Industrial Tribunal in the various cases:
(3) That there is no proof that there was a 'strike within the meaning of Section 2(q), Industrial Disputes Act:
(4) That, even if there was a strike, it was not illegal under Section 23(b), Industrial Disputes Act, since on 12-8-1952, there was in law no dispute, ponding before a Tribunal to which any of the Petitioners were parties :
(5) That the so-called Standing Orders of the Company had no legal force on 12-8-1952:
(6) That the Appellate Tribunal should not have interfered with the exercise of discretion by the Industrial Tribunal for which good reasons were given: and
(7) Section 33 was inapplicable to the case.
8. On the other hand, the learned Advocate on behalf of opposite party No. 2, the Patiala Cement Works contended;
(1) That this Court will not exercise its writ jurisdiction unless the order complained of is without jurisdiction:
(2) That if the subordinate court has committed an error even on a point of law this Court will not transform itself into a Court of appeal to correct that error:
(3) That the decision of the Industrial Tribunal as to whether there had or there had not been a strike was based upon a misinterpretation of the law and consequently the Appellate Tribunal had jurisdiction to entertain the appeal:
(4) That, once the Appellate Tribunal acquired jurisdiction, it could go into questions of fact:
(5) That, in the circumstances of the case, which were all present to the mind of the members of the Appellate Tribunal, one appeal was sufficient:
(6) That the industrial Tribunal having itself held that there was no work done for a short time during work hours, this was sufficient proof of the factum of a strike:
(7) That in any case, the strike was illegal under the Standing Orders of the Company:
(8) That the validity of the Standing Orders cannot be challenged in these petitions since it was not challenged before the Industrial Tribunal or the Appellate Tribunal:
(9) That, even if the Standing Orders were not binding as Standing Orders, they were binding as part of the contract of service with the workmen concerned:
(10) That the exercise of discretion was based principally on a wrong decision as to the legality of the strike and when the Appellate Tribunal set aside that decision it was within its powers to go into the question of discretion:
(11) That Section 33 applied to the case: and
(12) That the petitions should be rejected because there had been undue delay in the presentation of them.
9. Along with the above applications we have also heard Civil Miscellaneous Applications (O.J.) Nos. 82 (Mahnga Ram), 84 (Janak Raj Soni), 87 (Vishwanath Bali) and 89 (Daulat Singh). They relate to different incidents but the points of law that arise are the same. The facts relating to them are alleged to be that on 14-10-1952, the workmen charged collected some others in front of the main office building and instigated them to commit acts of violence. They further shouted slogans, abused the Company's Officers and created disturbances disrupting work in the main office.
Again on 20-10-1952, they are again said to have collected at the factory gate and stopped workmen going on duty at 7-0 A. M. shouted hostile slogans and indulged in disorderly conduct. In these cases six workmen were involved but the Company did not proceed against two at the appellate stage. The charges were all under the 'Standing Orders', In these cases also six separate applications were made by the Company but the workmen filed a joint reply and thereafter all the proceedings, including the appeal, were joint. Daulat Singh, and Vishwanath Bali were involved in the incident of the 20th October only.
10. The reply of the workmen was that the charges were entirely false and without foundation and had been levied against them merely to harass them so that they may not press their real claims in the disputes before Tribunal.
11. With regard to the alleged incident of 14-10-1952, the workmen alleged that one Mr. Tandon, an official of Company, desired the workers constituting the 'anti-material gang' to do his private work o carrying fodder from a village to his house. The workers did not agree to do this piece of forced labour but the officer kept on insisting and the members of the gang complained when they met the Secretary after working hours on the 14th October. The Secretary announced that a meeting would be held to consider the matter and the incident has been given this shape in order to save Mr. Tandon.
12. As regards the alleged incident of 20-10-1952, it was stated that the office Secretary of the Workers Associations, Gurdial Singh was arrested the preceding night. This caused resentment among the workers who, when they arrived at the factory gates at 6.40 A.M., assembled together and asked the Vice-President and the General Secretary as to the circumstances of the arrest and what it was proposed to do about the matter. The office-bearers advised the workers to remain calm and leave the matter to their office-bearers. It was said that the decision would be taken at 4.0 P.M. that day.
13. The Management had produced the file of its inquiry before the Industrial Tribunal. No arguments were advanced by either party before that Tribunal but the Judge considered the matter himself on the pleadings and on the evidence contained in the file of the enquiry by the Management. He held that only a one sided version was recorded in the departmental proceedings and that it did not satisfactorily prove the holding of the meetings as alleged.
In the alternative he held that, even if a meeting was held, it was outside working hours and outside the factory premises and it could not, therefore, be said to be a misconduct within the meaning of Standing Order 16. Finally he held that the Management should have ignored a demonstration of labourers over the arrest of their Secretary held outside the factory premises and out of working hours and he consequently refused leave to dismiss the workers.
14. Again the Management filed only one appeal impleading all the workers and it was entertained against them all by the' Appellate Tribunal, which held that the evidence led before the Managerial committee of enquiry, not having been rebutted, was sufficient to justify the finding that the incidents alleged by the Management were proved. It then proceeded to hold that the incidents alleged were acts subversive of discipline within the meaning of the Standing Orders, although they did not take place during working hours or inside the premises. It accordingly allowed the appeal.
15. The workmen then moved this Court to issue writs quashing the orders of the Appellate Tribunal. Their learned counsel contended that the Appellate Tribunal had no jurisdiction to go into questions of fact and that, since it had done so it had acted in excess of jurisdiction. In the absence of a finding on the facts the question of law did not arise. Further the appellate Tribunal erred in considering the so-called Standing Orders which were not applicable.
16. On the other hand the learned Counsel for opposite party No. 2 contended that the decision of the Industrial Tribunal on the question of fact was perverse and was based on facts not proved by the evidence on the record. There was thus an error of law which gave the Appellate Tribunal jurisdiction and it was perfectly justified in considering the whole matter. It was also urged that the Standing Orders were applicable and that, in any case, no plea as to their non-applicability having been taken either before the Industrial Tribunal or the Appellate Tribunal it should not be allowed to be taken now.
17. One other petition was heard at the same time: this is Civil Miscellaneous Application (O. J.) No. 86 of 1955 filed by Malik Ham Khanna. He was charged with having committed a disturbance at a Cinema Show staged by the Management for the benefit of the workers on 1-5-1952 (May Day).
Both Tribunals have found that the worker was guilty of the conduct complained of. The Industrial Tribunal held that, although the conduct was undesirable, it could not be said to be subversive of discipline within the meaning of the Standing Orders. On the other hand, the Appellate Tribunal held that the Standing Orders applied to this case.
18. The only point involved in this petition is whether the Standing Orders are applicable and, if so, whether, the conduct of Malik Ram Khanna falls within the scope of Standing Order 16 (ix).
19. The first point to be determined is whether the applications should be rejected in limine because of the delay that occurred in filing them. The order of the Appellate Tribunal was passed in each of the cases on 17-3-1955, and the applications for the issue of writs were filed on 12-9-1955. It was contended that this was such a long delay that the Court ought to refuse to exercise its extraordinary powers in view of the laches that have occurred.
On the other hand, it has been contended, on the basis of facts stated in a counter affidavit filed by the applicants, that there has been no undue de-lay because an authority having jurisdiction, under the proviso to Section 15(1), Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, to modify or reject the award of the Appellate Tribunal -- the appropriate government --was moved in the matter on 29-3-1955, and the representation of the workmen concerned was not rejected by that government till 16-4-1955. Thereafter the order dismissing the applicants was passed by the Manager, Bhupendra Cement Works, on 23-4-1955.
Against this order also an appeal was filed to the General Manager on the 28th April and he dismissed it on 3-5-1955, the order being received on 7-5-1955. Legal opinion was then consulted and some doubt was expressed as to whether the Supreme Court should be moved or the High Court of Pepsu or this Court. Eventually lawyers advised in the middle of June, 1955, that this Court should be moved but the Court had already closed for the Summer Vacation on 9-5-1955 and was not to re-open till the 9th July.
The application and the affidavit were prepared on 7-7-1955 but again, owing to some doubts as to the legal position, the presentation of the application was delayed, and eventually copies of the applications were served upon the Standing Counsel as required by the Rules of this Court on 20-8-1955, and the applications were filed on the 12th September.
20. In this case no doubt there were some questions of difficulty and doubt which required a considered legal opinion. The Industrial Tribunal sat within the jurisdiction of the Pepsu High Court and the Manager who passed the order of dismissal resided without the jurisdiction of the same Court. On the other hand the Appellate Tribunal whose order it was sought to quash sat and gave its judgment at Lucknow within the jurisdiction of this Court and indeed the jurisdiction of this Court has not been challenged in these proceedings.
Nevertheless a necessary consequence of the issue of a writ of certiorari quashing the order of the Appellate Tribunal would be that the order of the Manager, Bhupendra Cement Works, would be deprived of authority and would become bad but it was an existing order and a difficulty might well have been felt by the applicants' legal adviser in deciding which Court was to be moved.
Further it was possible to apply to the Supreme Court for special leave to appeal and the advantages and disadvantages of that course had also to be considered. Having regard to these considerations and the dates which have been given above there has been no such delay as to justify the rejection of the applications merely on that ground.
21. Another contention of the learned counsel for the respondent No. 2 was that there was alternative remedy open in the shape of an appeal to the Supreme Court by special leave under Section 136. Thai procedure cannot be said to be an alternative procedure since such an appeal does not lie as of right and it is entirely discretionary with the Supreme Court to grant or to refuse leave. There is only a possibility of such an appeal being permitted and that is not an effective remedy and docs not deprive the applicants of their rights to apply for the issue of a writ, if the other circumstances justify it.
22. There was also some dispute as to whether Section 33, Industrial Disputes Act has any application to the cases in respect of which C. M. Applications (O. J.) Nos. 81, 83, 85, 86 and 88 of 1955 have been made. It is contended that at the time when the acts complained of were committed there was in law no-industrial dispute to which the applicant were parties pending before any Industrial Tribunal.
The argument as to whether such an industrial dispute was pending and, if there was no such dispute, what is its effect will call for consideration at a later stage. At this stage it is sufficient to say that what Section 33 forbids is the discharge, dismissal or punishment of any workmen concerned in the dispute during the pendency of proceedings before a Tribunal in respect of a dispute without the express permission in writing of the Tribunal.
There is no doubt that when it was proposed to dismiss the workmen concerned there was a dispute pending between them and the management before an Industrial Tribunal. The management could, therefore, not proceed to discharge or dismiss any of the workmen without the special permission of the Tribunal, The Tribunal consequently had jurisdiction in the matter.
23. The next point to be considered is what are the limits of the jurisdiction of this Court in the exercise of its powers under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution. Those Articles are very wide in their scope but the very plenitude of the power conferred by them requires a cautious exercise of it. High Courts have laid down for themselves rules for their guidance in the exercise of these powers. These rules have also been adumbrated by the Supreme Court and are derived from the English law to which the power of issuing what are known as prerogative writs owes its origin.
24. The law in the matter is so well settled that it is only necessary to refer to the latest decision of the Supreme Court in -- 'Hari Vishnu Kamath v. Ahmad Ishaque', AIR 1955 SC 233 (A). In this case the principles are expounded, if we may say so, with great lucidity in the judgment of Venkatarama Ayyar J. His Lordship after citing numerous authorities proceeds, at p. 243 of the report:
'On these authorities the following propositions may be taken as established:
(1) 'Certiorari' will be issued for correcting errors of jurisdiction, as when an inferior Court or Tribunal acts without Jurisdiction or in excess of it, or fails to exercise it.
(2) 'Certiorari' will also be issued when the Court or Tribunal acts illegally in the exercise of its undoubted jurisdiction, as when it decides without giving an opportunity to the parties to be heard, or violates the principles of natural justice.
(3) The Court issuing a writ of 'ccrtiorari sets in exercise of a supervisory and not appellate jurisdiction.
One consequence of tin's is that the Court will not review findings of facts reached by the inferior Court or Tribunal even if they be erroneous. This is on the principle that a Court which has jurisdiction over a subject-matter has jurisdiction to decide wrong as well as right, and when the Legislature does not choose to confer a right of appeal against that decision, it would be defeating its purpose and policy, if a superior Court were to re-hear the case on the evidence and substitute its own findings in 'certiorari'. These propositions are well settled and are not in dispute.'
25. His Lordship then proceeds to consider the question whether a writ can be issued when the decision of the inferior Court or Tribunal is erroneous in law and, after considering various authorities, he states the law thus:
'It may, therefore, be taken as settled that a writ of 'certiorarf could be issued to. correct an error of law. But it is essential that it should be something more than a mere error; it must be one which must be manifest on the face of the record. The real difficulty with reference to, this matter, how-ever is not so much in the statement of the principle as in its application to the facts of a particular case.
When does an error cease to be mere error, and became an error apparent on the face of the records' Learned Counsel on either side were unable to suggest any clear-cut rule by which the boundary between the two classes of errors could be demarcated.
'Mr. Pathak for the first respondent contendedon the strength of certain observations of ChaglaC. J. in -- Batuk K. Vyas v. Surat Borough Municipality', AIR 1953 Bom 133 (B), that no error couldbe said to be apparent on the face of the record ifit was not self-evident, and if it required an examination or argument to establish it. This test mightafford a satisfactory basis for decision in the majority of cases. '
But there must be cases in which even this test might break down, because judicial opinions also differ, and an error that might be considered by one Judge as self-evident might not be so considered by another. The fact is that what is an error apparent on the face of the record cannot be defined precisely or exhaustively, there being an element of indefinite-ness inherent in its very nature, and it must be left to be determined judicially on the facts of each case.'
26. This brings us to a consideration of the question whether the Appellate Tribunal acted without jurisdiction in entertaining the appeals from the decision of the Industrial Tribunal. The objection of the applicants is two-fold:
(1) That separate appeals should have been. filed in the case of each workman and in the absence of such appeals the very basis upon which the jurisdiction of the Appellate Tribunal rested is wanting; and
(2) That the findings of the Industrial Tribunal in all the cases are findings of fact and there could' be no appeal to the Appellate Tribunal against them.
27. It is true that the management commenced proceedings against each applicant separately but the opposite parties namely the workmen did not file a written statement in each case separately: they filed a joint written statement in one case only. The Industrial Tribunal thereafter proceeded to dispose of that case as including the cases of all the workmen. In delivering judgment the Tribunal in one case said:
'The management no doubt presented six different applications against the representatives of the labour but the points involved in the allegations made against them are similar in nature and arise out of the same two alleged transactions. They are therefore, proposed to be disposed of by means of this order'
and it concluded its order by stating:
'Announced to Messrs. A. Mohan and Kale for the management and Messrs. Janak Raj and Daulat Singh for labour.'
In the other case the Industrial Tribunal said:
'Five separate applications were presented by the management against the five workers named above. The allegations against them were identical as also the nature of the departmental enquiry. Even the findings arrived at by the management were the same; and in consequence of all this, the labour through their General Secretary, submitted a joint reply.'
There was no order that the judgment should be attached to each case -- though as a matter of form to complete the record this has been done by the officer in charge of the record -- vide the rejoinder affidavit and annexure I attached to it.
28. It thus appears that after the joint written statement had been filed by the workmen, 'the Tribunal treated the case as one consolidated case and proceeded accordingly. In these circumstances the management filed one appeal in which all the workmen were impleaded as respondents. The Labour I Appellate Tribunal took notice of' this and did not 'require separate appeals to be filed. We consider that in the circumstances separate appeals were not required.
29. Coming now to the second point, namely that all the findings were findings of fact and consequently the Labour Appellate Tribunal had no authority to entertain an appeal in any case, this requires close examination. This is really a matter during a discussion of which the merits of all the applications will have to be considered.
The jurisdiction of the Appellate Tribunal is de-rived from Section 7(1), Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act. Clause (b) of that sub-section permits appeals without any limitations in the numerous matters therein enumerated. The appeals in the cases of the workmen who have filed the present applications did not relate to any of these matters. The appeals could, therefore, only be entertained, if at all, under Clause (a) of the sub-section which is as follows:
'The appeal involves any substantial question of law.'
The sine qua non of the Appellate Tribunal's jurisdiction was thus the existence of a substantial question of law. In each of the appeals it was contended by the workmen that the appeals were incompetent since no question of law was involved but the Tribunal overruled this plea and held that questions of law were involved.
30. The fact that the Appellate Tribunal considered that it had jurisdiction, even if it depended upon a decision of facts is not conclusive in the matter. The Appellate Tribunal is a tribunal of limited jurisdiction and it cannot clutch at jurisdiction either by a wrong interpretation of the law or by a wrong, decision on facts. The following remarks of Lord Justice Farwell in -- 'The King v. The Assessment Committee of the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch', (1910) 2 KB 859 (at p. 880) (C) are very pertinent to this question:
'No Tribunal of inferior jurisdiction can by its own decision finally decide on the question of the existence or extent of such jurisdiction such question is always subject to review by the High Court, which does not permit the inferior tribunal either to usurp a jurisdiction which it does not possess, whether at all or to the extent claimed, or to refuse to exercise a jurisdiction which it has and ought to exercise.
Subjection in this respect to the High Court is a necessary and inseparable incident to all tribunals of limited jurisdiction; for the existence of the limit necessitates an authority to determine and enforce it: it is a contradiction in terms to create a tribunal with limited jurisdiction and unlimited power to determine such limit at its own will and pleasure... such a tribunal would be autocratic, not limited., and it is immaterial whether the decision of the inferior tribunal on the question of the existence or non-existence of its own jurisdiction is founded on law or fact;'
31. An examination of the facts of each case indicates that in the appeals to which C. M. Applications (O. J.) Nos. 82, 84, 87 and 89 relate a question of law would only arise if certain facts were found to have been established. In these cases the management alleged that Janak Raj Soni and others collected some workmen at 4-0 P.M. on 14-10-1952, in front of the main office building abused the Company's officers, instigated the workers to violence and shouted hostile slogans which disrupted the work in the main office. It was alleged that the same persons stopped workers going to work at 7.0 A.M. on 20-10-1952, for some time and indulged in disorderly behaviour by shouting hostile slogans. These allegations were denied by the Workmen.
32. No evidence was produced before the Industrial Tribunal; indeed the case was not even argued before that Tribunal by either party. The management, however, did produce before the Tribunal the record of the proceedings of the departmental enquiry at which the statements of witnesses were recorded. The Tribunal considered this evidence. It found that in respect of neither of the incidents was any witness from the side of the labour examined and that only a one-sided version was recorded in the form of the evidence of the management's own witnesses only the trusted servants of the management being examined.
It was, therefore, held that no regular meeting as alleged by the management took place either on the 14th or on the 20th October, 1952. It was also held that it was not proved that there was any shouting of slogans on the factory premises or during working hours, although there was a demonstration by workers outside the factory premises and outside working hours over the arrest of their Office Secretary.
Finally the Tribunal held that the incidents even if proved did not amount to misconduct within the meaning of Standing Order 16(ix) and that consequently the permission sought by the management to dismiss the workers could not be granted. The Industrial Tribunal further held that even if the facts alleged were proved, the penalty of dismissal was too severe and should be permitted.
33. It is clear that the first conclusion arrived at by the Tribunal was one of fact, namely that the holding of meetings of the kind alleged by the management, i.e. ones at which violence was preached and slogans adverse to the management were shouted was not proved.
This conclusion was reached principally because it was considered that the evidence recorded at the departmental enquiry consisted purely of the trusted servants of the management, or in other words that it was tainted evidence. The Industrial Tribunal as a Court of facts had full jurisdiction to weigh evidence and to reject it as being insufficient.
34. On the findings arrived at the question of law -- namely whether the acts alleged by the management amounted to a breach of Standing Order 16(ix) -- did not arise at all, and no appeal could lie to the Appellate Tribunal under Section 7(i)(a), Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act.
35. Further a wide discretion has been vested by Section 33, Industrial Disputes Act in the Tribunal to grant or refuse permission to the management to impose a punishment during the pendency of the dispute. This discretion can only be interfered with in a case in which the authority vested with discretion acts not upon judicial principles but arbitrarily and capriciously.
In the cases of the workmen concerned the question of the exercise of discretion would also arise only if the facts alleged by the management were proved. If these facts were not established, the Industrial Tribunal was bound to reject the application of the management and there was no question of the exercise of any discretion.
36. In the eases under discussion the Appellate Tribunal took jurisdiction to itself by interfering with findings of fact, presumably on the basis of the contention that the findings were perverse. There is no rule of law which requires the evidence of one party to be accepted unless it is rebutted by evidence led by the other party, and yet substantially that is the only ground on which the Appellate Tribunal has reversed the decision of the Industrial Tribunal on a question of fact.
The judgment of the Appellate Tribunal shows that the objection that no member of the labour force was examined at the departmental enquiry was correct but that the Appellate Tribunal did not consider this to be a good reason for rejecting the evidence of the witnesses which the management examined since that evidence was natural evidence.
The Appellate Tribunal then appraised afresh the evidence existing on the record of the departmental enquiry and held that the facts alleged by the management were proved. The Appellate Tribunal docs not say a single word about the legitimate criticism of the Industrial Tribunal that not a single member of the labour force who might have been present at either of the alleged meetings was examined during the departmental, enquiry in spite of the fact that there were dissensions among the workers themselves.
37. We may also point out that in the case of these persons it was not even alleged in the application for leave to dismiss them that anything had happened on 14-10-1952, and all that was said was that the persons proceeded against had addressed a meeting at the Factory Gate. Obviously, therefore, the witnesses produced at the departmental enquiry deposed to something that was not even alleged and clearly the objection of the Industrial Tribunal as to their partisan character is justified. The Appellate Tribunal thus clearly erred in entertaining the appeal on a question of fact.
38. Reliance was placed by the learned counsel for the opposite party No. 2 on -- 'Narendra Kumar Sen v. All India Industrial Disputes (Labour Appellate) Tribunal', AIR 1953 Bom 325 (D) for the proposition that the Appellate Tribunal in hearing an appeal is entitled to go into facts and assess the evidence itself, That case is, however, very different to the present case.
The appeal before the Appellate Tribunal was filed under the provisions of Section 7(b), Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, since it related to the wages and bonus payable to divisional heads. It was not an appeal under Section 7(a), i.e. only on a point of the law. In respect of such an appeal ft was held that the Appellate Tribunal was bound to examine questions of fact on the materials on the record.
39. In the present case it is clear, and indeed it is admitted, that the appeal to the Appellate Tribunal did not relate to any of the matters mentioned in Section 7(b) but was an appeal solely under Section 7(a) and that, therefore, it could only be entertained by the Appellate Tribunal if it involved a substantial question of law. To such a case the remarks of the same learned Judges in -- 'Eugene Fernandes v. The Labour Appellate Tribunal of India', AIR 1954 Bom 342 (E) are more appropriate. Chagla C. J. in his judgment in that case thus states the law at p. 344:
'Admittedly proceedings were pending before the Industrial Tribunal, and admittedly the petitioner was concerned in such dispute. The Legislature, therefore, provided that if the employer wanted to alter the status quo, he had to get the express permission either of the conciliation officer, Board or Tribunal, as the case may be. It is also clear that by Section 33 a wide discretion was conferred upon the conciliation officer, Board or Tribunal, as the case may be, to grant the permission.
Therefore, when the Industrial Tribunal refused to grant permission, it exercised a discretion conferred upon it by Section 33; and the very narrow question that arises for our determination is that, when a court upon which discretion is conferred exercises that discretion, under what circumstances is an Appellate Tribunal entitled to interfere on the ground that a substantial question of law arises with regard to the exercise of that discretion.
'Wo should have thought that the principles with regard to this matter are fairly well-settled, when a law confers upon a Court a discretion, it does not mean that the discretion can be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously by that Court. The discretion must be exercised judicially; and if the Court fails to exercise the discretion judicially, then undoubtedly the higher court can interfere on the ground that a principle of law was involved.
It may also be that if the Court exercising discretion lails to apply established principles of law, then the higher court can correct the exercise ot the discretion. It may also be that the Court exercising the discretion may wrongly apply well established principles of law, in which case it may also be conceded that the higher court would have a right to interfere with the exercise of that discretion.
But if the discretion has been judicially exercised, then it is not competent to the higher court to interfere with the exercise of that discretion on the ground that if the discretion had been conferred upon the higher court, the higher court would have exercised it differently. Interference with the exercise of discretion vested in a Court, except on the grounds which we have just mentioned can never be a question of law, much less a substantial question of law.'
40. Further the Industrial Tribunal gave good reason for the exercise of its discretion in refusing to grant permission to dismiss the workmen. The object of vesting wide powers in the Industrial Tribunal in such matters is to allow the Tribunal to see to it that feelings are not exacerbated during the pendency of proceedings for a settlement.
41. It the Industrial Tribunal which had all the evidence before it, considered that, in any case, the offence was of such a trivial nature that the penalty proposed was too severe it cannot be said to have erred in the exercise of its discretion, particularly when it is remembered that the persons sought to be punished were important office-bearers and their dismissal might be regarded as victimisation of the Workmen's Union which would prevent the restoration of a peaceful atmosphere. The Appellate Tribunal has given no adequate reasons for interfering with the discretion of the Industrial Tribunal.
42. It was also contended that in arriving at its decision on questions of fact the Industrial Tribunal took into consideration extraneous facts not derived from any evidence on the record, inasmuch as it stated that it had ascertained on a visit to the works that there were factions among the workers. It was, therefore, contended that in view of the remarks of the Supreme Court in -- 'Dhiraj Lal Girdhari Lal v. Commr of: Income-tax Bombay, AIR 1955 SC 271 at p. 275 (F) an error of law was committed. In that ease it was no doubt stated:
'When a Court of fact acts on material, partly relevant and partly irrelevant, it is impossible to say, to what extent the mind of the Court was affected by the irrelevant material used by it in arriving at its finding. Such a finding is vitiated because of the use of inadmissible material and thereby an issue of law arises.'
43. If the rules of evidence laid down in the Indian Evidence Act were applicable to enquiries by an Industrial Tribunal, the objection taken would be a valid one but it appears that that Act does not govern such proceedings. Section 11, Industrial Disputes Act provides that tribunals shall 'follow such procedure as may be prescribed.'
The only rules made are those made by the Central (now Union) Government under Section 38 of the Act. They authorise the tribunal to administer an oath or to call for or admit evidence but they do not provide for the application of the Indian Evidence Act as such. In respect of procedure also only some provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure are made applicable by Section 11 and some others by the rules. Rule 20 provides that the Tribunal
'may for the purposes of any investigation, enquiry or adjudication ........ enter any building, factory, workshop or other place or premises whatsoever and ...... interrogate any persons therein in respect of anything situated therein or any matter relevant to the subject-matter of the investigation, enquiry or adjudication.'
Thus it was permissible for the Tribunal to proceed to the works and make an investigation or to interrogate persons with regard to pertinent matters. If it has. done so it has not acted in an illegal manner nor can it be said that it has used 'irrelevant material.'
44. It will be noticed that no' objection was taken on this ground before the Appellate Tribunal to the finding of the Industrial Tribunal. Indeed if any such objection is entertained, then it must be held that there was no evidence at all before the Tribunal upon which it could be said that the allegations of the management could be substantiated. ,
The only evidence consists of statements recorded by the management in the course of the departmental enquiry. There is nothing to indicate that the officer who recorded these statements had any authority to administer an oath or that the persona whose statements are relied upon are dead or could not be produced-before the Tribunal for other sufficient cause.
The result of the enquiries made by the Industrial Tribunal are no more irrelevant than such evidence. This contention of the opposite party must therefore, be overruled and it must be held that the Appellate Tribunal acted without jurisdiction in the matter to which Civil Misc. Applns. (O. J.) Nos. 82, 84, 87 and 89 of 1955 relate.
45. With regard to the matter to which Civil Misc. Applns. (O. J.) Nos. 81, 83, 85 and 88 of 1955 relate the questions that arose before the Appellate Tribunal were
(1) Whether, on the facts found by the Industrial Tribunal it could be said that there had been a strike by workmen; and
(2) Whether there had been a 'sort of meeting at which virulent attacks were made on the Government and the management and whether these acts, if they occurred, could be considered to be acts subversive of discipline within the meaning of the Standing Orders.
The Industrial Tribunal found:
(1) That on 12-8-1952, a sort of demonstration took place in the premises of the factory;
(2) That work was stopped for about 15 to 2(5 minutes;
(3) That the object behind the cessation of work' was not to cause a strike; and
(4) That certain slogans were shouted.
46. The Tribunal held that the stoppage of work was not a strike within the meaning of Section 2(q), Industrial Disputes Act and that the shouting of slogans was not an act subversive of discipline within the meaning of Standing Order I6(ix). Finally the Industrial Tribunal says;
'In the hope of restoring amicable relations between labour and the management, I am not inclined to accept the management's request for the discharge of the workers complained against because the failings alleged against them are of a very minor and technical nature. This is also so, because the workers have already been punished for the actual period of absence of 12-8-1952; and any further action would smack of victimisation on the part of the management. This in my opinion will not be conducive to industrial peace.'
47. The finding that the cessation of work did not amount to a strike, although to a certain extent based upon facts was a question of law. Further whether on the facts proved, acts subversive of discipline within the meaning of Standing Order 16(ix) were committed or not was also a question of law. The Appellate Tribunal consequently had jurisdiction to entertain the appeal and there was no error of jurisdiction committed by it.
The question, however, still remains whether it exercised its jurisdiction illegally and whether such an error of law has been committed by it as to be apparent on the face of the record. Further it has to be determined whether it was justified in interfering with the discretion exercised by the Industrial Tribunal in refusing to grant permission to dismiss the workmen concerned.
48. There can be no doubt that the cessation of work even for 15 or 20 minutes by the workers in combination is a strike within the scope of Section 2(q), Industrial Disputes Act, vide -- 'Dhirubha Devisingh Gohil v. State of Bombay', AIR 1955 SC 47 (G). The combination is clearly established by the workers' own assertion that a demonstration had been decided upon at a meeting of workers held on the previous day.
It does not follow however, that in this case there was an illegal strike within the meaning of Section 23, Industrial Disputes Act. In the cases with which we are concerned, the appropriate Government had originally referred a dispute between the management of the Bhupendra Cement Works and 'certain workers.' The Industrial Tribunal (District and Sessions Judge of Kandaghat) was directed to give his award within 2 months.
Later after the expiry of two months on 9-1-1952, a larger number of disputes were referred to the same Tribunal but the parties to the dispute were described in the same manner and the time for making the adjudication was not extended. The Appellate Tribunal has itself held that the reference was defective and that the . Tribunal could not proceed with the adjudication.
This must be so because, in view of the words used to describe the opposite party 'certain workmen' it could not be predicated of any particular workman that he was a party to the proceedings. The consequence was that one of the parties to the dispute was unknown. It is true that a reference may be in a general term, vide -- 'Anderson Wright Ltd. v. Moran and Co.', AIR 1955 SC 53 (H) but the general term must cover all members of a known class, for instance 'all workmen employed by the Cement Works.' Each workman need not be named and the other party is known.
In the present case, however, the description is not in general terms but is in uncertain terms so that the opposite party is not known. It follows that there was no proper reference and that there were, in law, no proceedings pending on this reference before any Tribunal. Although the Appellate Tribunal held that owing to defective Notifications proceedings were delayed -- they had to be commenced expeditiously (vide Section 15, Industrial Disputes Act) --and the report should have been submitted within six months of the commencement of the proceedings (vide Section 14) -- it did not proceed to consider the consequences of this and thereby committed an error of law in the exercise of its jurisdiction.
This error is apparent on the face of the record. The Tribunal has itself held that the earlier Notifications were defective, It ought, therefore, to have held that there were no proceedings pending before any tribunal till 23-8-1952, when a proper Notification was issued. The strike was not, therefore, illegal within the meaning of Section 23(b), Industrial Disputes Act.
49. Neither of the two lower Tribunals has considered the question whether there was any strike within the meaning of the Standing Orders, which do not define 'strike' The technical meaning attached to the word by the decision of the Supreme Court in AIR 1955 SC 47 (G) dealing with the interpretation of the word as defined in Section 2(q) of the Act will not be applicable to the word as used in the Standing Orders and the considerations taken into account by the Industrial Tribunal in holding that there was no strike because the workers never combined with the intention of ceasing work but only with the intention of making a demonstration might well provide the correct criterion for holding that there was no strike in the common sense of the word.
For instance if it appears to the workmen work-ing in the boiler room that the boiler has become over-heated and might burst and, after a consultation, they decide to stop work till the boiler can be restored to a normal state their action might technically be a strike as defined in Section 2(q) of the Act but it would not be a strike as understood in the ordinary sense of the word.
Further in this case all that the workmen are alleged to have clone is to lift their tokens and punch their cards. By doing this they technically commenced their duties but in fact they had not started work: there was thus no real cessation of work but only a delayed start of work. Thus the workmen cannot be guilty of having taken part in a strike which called for punishment.
50. Coming now to other question as to whether they can be held to be guilty of conduct subversive of discipline within the meaning of Standing Order 16(ix) and as such liable to be dismissed under Standing Order 17 it was first of all urged that the Standing Orders were inapplicable to the present case.
51. The Industrial Employment Standing Orders Act of 1946 was initially applicable to 'all the provinces of India.' At that time Patiala was not a province of India and consequently the Act was not applicable to it. Nevertheless, Standing Orders for the Patiala Cement Company Ltd., were framed and were approved by the Labour Commissioner of Patiala -- vide Annexure III to the Rejoinder affidavit and the Annexure 'A' to the affidavit filed on behalf of opposite party No. 2 on 9-3-1956. It is not known under what law this was done.
After the enforcement of the new Constitution the Act was made applicable to the whole of India. Thereafter these very Standing Orders were published in the Pepsu Government Gazette on 13-1-1952, as 'draft rules' and objections were invited within six months by the Pepsu Labour Commissioner. Eventually they were certified on 30-10-1952 by the 'Regional Labour Commissioner (Central) and Certifying Officer, Rajasthan Region, Ajmer.' They could not, therefore, come into force in any case before 29-11-1952 under Ss. 6 and 7 of the Act.
It was, therefore urged that even if these Standing Orders were considered as being properly certified, though -- it is pleaded that Central Officer had no authority to certify them, -- they were not applicable on the date on which the offence is said to have been committed. It is unnecessary to set out at length the various pleas taken by opposite party No. 2 with regard to these Standing Orders because we consider that his contention that the plea that the Standing Orders were not applicable, not having been taken before either of the inferior Tribunals, could not be raised in these applications must be upheld.
52. In -- 'Rex. v. Williams', (1914) 1 KB 608 (I) an application was made for an order of certiorari on the ground that one of the Justices of Peace hearing the case was debarred from doing so. It was held that unless a plea of want of jurisdiction was taken before the Justices or it was averred in the affidavit filed with the petition that the aggrieved party was not aware of the existence of the disqualification at the time the case was heard, the High Court would not in the exercise of its discretion issue the order.
53. This case and other cases were considered by this Court in -- 'J. K. Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., Kanpur v. Labour Appellate Tribunal of India', AIR 1953 All 624 (J). In that case the first Notification allowed 40 days time for making the award. Later this time was extended and the award was given during the extended period. At the hearing of the application for the issue of certiorari it was contended that the award was bad because it was given at a time when Adjudicator had become functus officio, since the Notification extending time was bad in law and did not revive the jurisdiction of the Adjudicator.
No plea to this effect was taken by the petitioner before the Adjudicator or before the Labour Appellate Tribunal. The Court held on the merits that the Adjudicator had jurisdiction to make the award which was good and valid. It then proceeded to consider a 'preliminary objection' that it was not open to the petitioner to raise the plea as to the jurisdiction of the Adjudicator when no such plea had been taken before the Appellate Tribunal. Our brother Raghubar Dayal J. after reviewing the authorities held:
'In view of the above we are of opinion that the writ of certiorari which is in the discretion of the Court to issue under Article 226 of the Constitution, should not be issued ordinarily in cases where the applicant had failed to urge the grounds on which he claimed a writ of certiorari before the other tribunals where he could have properly urged the grounds, unless he could show that he was unaware of these grounds when the matter was before the other Tribunals.'
54. Even, however, if the plea were open to the applicants it is not a plea of jurisdiction and it cannot be said that the Appellate Tribunal committed an error of law apparent on the face of the record in applying the Standing Orders. In 1949, the Industrial Employment Standing Orders Act was not applicable to the State of Patiala. It does not, however, follow that no law on the subject existed in Patiala.
When the Labour Commissioner of Patiala approved of certain Standing Orders it must be presumed that he acted according to law and it would require an investigation some of materials for which are not on the record, to decide whether till new Standing Orders were framed and approved the old Standing Orders already approved by the Patiala Labour Commissioner continued to have binding effect. We must, therefore, proceed on the basis that the Appellate Tribunal has not committed any error of law apparent on the face o the record.
55. The order of the Appellate Tribunal cannot however, be maintained because in this case also it has gone into matters of fact and has given no reasons for not accepting the conclusions at which the Industrial Tribunal arrived on question of fact. In this case the Appellate Tribunal has exceeded its-jurisdiction to hear the appeal on question of law.
56. The Industrial Tribunal found that 'a sort of demonstration took place in the premises of the Works on 12-8-1952; and that certain slogans were shouted.' It also found that the workmen dispersed and resumed work of their own accord 'after shouting a few meaningless slogans' and that 'their purpose was only to show a sort of displeasure for the prolongation of the proceedings before the Tribunal consequent upon a defective Notification of the Government.' In the result the Industrial Tribunal did not see fit in the exercise of its discretion, to accord permission to dismiss the workmen. The relevant passage has already been quoted,
57. The Appellate Tribunal somehow or other assumed that the workers indulged in acts of rowdyism of which it took a serious view -- The judgment of the Appellate Tribunal does not indicate on what materials it came to this conclusion or why it felt it necessary to differ from the finding of the Industrial Tribunal that meaningless slogans were shouted and the incident was of a minor and technical nature.
58. In this connection it may be noted that the charge sheet served on the workmen proceeded against, on the basis of which the departmental enquiry was made did not mention any rowdyism. All the workmen were charged with 'you stopped them from going on their respective jobs for half an hour and exhorted and instigated them to be ready for further action like this. This action of yours inside the Factory premises amounts to act subversive of discipline which is misconduct. ....'
59. No doubt in the application for permission to dismiss the workmen it is mentioned that they also shouted hostile slogans and made a virulent attack on the Government and the Company.
In view, however, of the charge sheet served by the management on the workmen concerned, the Industrial Tribunal could legitimately come to the conclusion that the offence alleged to have been committed was of a minor and technical character, and the Appellate Tribunal could only proceed to give its decision on the points of law involved after accepting the findings of the Industrial Tribunal. In so far as it proceeded on the assumption of a different set of facts it acted without jurisdiction.
60. Further it gives no reasons for interfering with the exercise of discretion by the Industrial Tribunal. In these circumstances it must be held that order of the Appellate Tribunal was in excess of jurisdiction and it must be quashed.
61. There remains one more petition, namely Civ. Misc. Appln. (O, J.) No. 86 of 1955. In this case the question raised before the Appellate Tribunal was a pure question of law since the Industrial Tribunal itself found that Malik Ram was one of the ring leaders in the May day disturbances at which there was hooliganism and rowdyism. It also found that his conduct was objectionable but it did not permit action against him only because the incident took place outside the factory premises and out of working hours.
The Appellate Tribunal had, therefore, jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. The only question that has to be determined is whether it committed an error of law apparent on the face of the record. The Appellate Tribunal has found as a matter of law that a worker may be guilty of acts subversive of discipline even if those acts are done outside the premises of the factory and out of working hours. In this it has not committed any error of law at all.
It must be clear that if a responsible officer of the Company is attacked while performing his duty or as a consequence of the performance of duties entrusted to him for the occasion, even though it may be outside the factory premises and after working hours, the reason for the attack upon him is the performance by him of his duties in a manner not liked by the assailant.
Thus if the manager has occasion to. punish a workman and the workman waits outside the factory premises and assaults the manager in the presence of a large number of workers when he is going home after the factory has closed the assault is an act subversive of discipline because it was done in revenge for an order legitimately passed by the manager in the performance of his duties. The Labour Appellate Tribunal has relied upon authority in support of the proposition of law which it lays down.
62. Further although the cinema show was a social function, the Chief Engineer was there on behalf of the Company to see that the show passed off successfully. He was present, therefore, not in his private capacity but as a representative of the Company. Again the objection of the workers was as to the manner in which the club, which was a recreation club for the officers and workers of the Company, was being used.
The treatment accorded to the Chief Engineer by the workmen under the leadership of Sri Malik Ram Khanna, therefore, had relation to duties of the officer concerned and the Appellate Tribunal was justified in holding that the conduct complained of was subversive of discipline.
63. The Industrial Tribunal itself disapproved of the conduct of Sri Malik Ram Khanna and the sole reason for its refusal to accord permission to dismiss him was that the acts complained of were done outside factory premises and out of working hours. When the Appellate Tribunal corrected this error of law committed by the Industrial Tribunal, it had full authority also to alter the order of that Tribunal. Thus there can be no interference with the order of the Appellate Tribunal in this case.
64. The result is that in the exercise of our powers under Article 226 of the Constitution we quash the orders of the Appellate Tribunal dated 17-3-1955 against which Civil Misc. Applns. (O. J.) Nos. 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 88 and 89 of 1955 are directed. The applicants will receive their costs of each case from opposite party No. 2. We assess counsel's fee at Rs. 5l/- for each case. We dismiss Civil Misc. Appln. (O. J.) No. 86 of 1955 with costs.
65. We cannot close our judgment without expressing our appreciation of the assistance which we have derived from the arguments of the learned counsel, those from Lucknow as well as those from Bombay.