O.H. Mootham, C.J. and C.B. Agarwala, J.
1. This is a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution which has been directed by Mr. Justice Mehrotra to be laid before a Bench.
2. On 26 May 1952, Sri Ram Krishnan, the second respondent (herein referred to as the employee), entered into the service of F & C. Osier (India) Ltd. the petitioner (herein referred to as the company), as an accounts clerk upon terms and subject to the conditions of an agreement executed by both parties on that date. Under the terms of this agreement the employee's services could be terminated at any time on one month's notice and were also terminable forthwith if. in the opinion of the company, he was incompetent or negligent in the performance of his duties. On 2 December 1952, the company purporting to act under the agreement terminated the employee's services forthwith but paid him salary up to the end of that month. The employee's case was taken up by the Manpur Mechanical and Technical Workers Union who (?) moved the conciliation officer to constitute a board to settle the dispute which the union contended had arisen with regard to the contemplated non-employment of the employee. A conciliation board was in due course constituted, but as neither of the parties nominated a member, the board in fact consisted of the conciliation officer sitting alone. What exactly happened when the dispute came before the conciliation board is a matter of dispute. The company's case is that as it had not served achargesheet upon the employee prior to the date upon which it company had, by the agreement dated 24 January 1953, condoned his past faults. This was denied by the company, and the interpretation of the agreement was therefore an issue before the Tribunal. That issue certainly involved a question of law of sub-stance, and this Court has held that if the Tribunal had jurisdiction to hear the appeal it had also the jurisdiction to decide any question raised in the appeal: Upper Ganges Electric Employees' Union v. Upper Ganges Valley Electric Supply Company, Ltd. [writ petition No. 55 of 1955, decided on 8 December 1955]. The second submission is a twofold one, namely, that the decision of the Tribunal was invalid because (a) the Tribunal had misconstrued the agreement and (b) that it had misdirected itself in holding that there was no evidence upon which it could be held that the employee was responsible for the mistakes referred to in the so-called charge-sheet.
3. It is, we think, apparent from the decision of the Labour Appellate Tribunal that it did not have before it a correct copy of the agreement recorded by the conciliation officer, for it has placed considerable reliance upon the sentence, 'This finally resolves the dispute,' which it has treated as part of the agreement whereas a reference to the original documents shows that this sentence did not form part of 'the agreement but was an addition made after the parties had signed the agreement by the conciliation officer himself.
4. It is not however necessary in the view we take to express an opinion whether the Tribunal correctly construed this agreement, for in our judgment the alternative ground upon which the Tribunal reached its decision cannot successfully be challenged on the ground put forward by the company.
5. The complaint against the employee was that he did not understand the principles of accounting and that the accounts he prepared contained numerous mistakes. It seems that the company's branch at Kanpur (where the employee was employed) received objections from its head office with regard to the accounts which it submitted and that at the enquiry before the adjudicator these objections were filed on behalf of the company. No questions were however put to the employee with regard to these objections and he was not in fact cross-examined at all as it appears that the company relied in proof of its case on the admissions which it contended had been made by the employee in the explanation which he had submitted to the company on 30 January 1953.
6. Now the allegations of the company were four, and they were these:
(1) You do not seem to understand simple accounting principles, e.g., it is noted that payments against cash vouchers have been made debiting bills revenue items although corresponding bills were put through the purchase journal through which the respective heads of accounts have already been debited. Such entries are obviously a double debit.
(2) It has been noted that entries and figures are continuously placed in the wrong column and under wrong headings.
(3) It is noted that month after month mistakes continue to occur in the sundry debtors and creditors and creditors' balances.
(4) Month after month, the submission of our accounts to head office is considerably delayed throwing out of schedule not only the work in this office but also that in our head office.
7. The explanation of the employee is, as is the chargesheet, a somewhat vaguely worded document. The employee admits in answer to the first of these charges that instances of double debit occurred, but this he attributes to a change in the system of accounting introduced in the Kanpur office. What he says is:
The departmental items to which the respective items are redebited in the purchase journal were given credit in the cash payment sheet instead of giving credit to sundry creditors. This mistake would have been avoided if both debit and credit columns were incorporated in one and the same sheet. This, having been explained to me, was not repeated again. No errors in accounting happened when this office was having a decent amount of imprest (?) cash but arose when the company authorized operation of bank account by the local branch manager. This new change was also partly responsible for the double debit.
8. With regard to the second charge the employee's reply is that he can give no answer in the absence of specific instances and at regards the third and fourth charges he places terminated his services, it was advised by the conciliation officer that the termination of his services was irregular and that in these circumstances the company agreed to take hack the employee into its service on the understanding that it was open to the company again to terminate the employee's services on the same grounds upon which they had sought to terminate them earlier but after furnishing him with a chargesheet and considering his explanation. This is denied by the employee and all that we know for certain is that on 24 January 1953 an agreement was reached between the parties which was recorded by the conciliation officer as follows:--
Term of agreement.--'The management agree to take Sri Ram Krishnan back on the job with continuity of services with immediate effect. He will be paid all his wages for the intervening period. His services will be considered unbroken. He should report for duty by 23 January 1953.
Then followed the signatures of the parties and beneath the signatures the conciliation officer wrote, 'This finally resolves the dispute.'
9. On 29 January 1953, the employee rejoined the service of the company and on the same day he was served with a notice requiring him to show cause before 5 p.m. on the following day, 30 January, why his services should not be terminated with immediate effect on account of his general incompetence and inability to maintain the accounts of the company's office in a satisfactory manner. The notice then gave in general terms four instances of the alleged incompetence. The employee submitted his explanation on the following day, but this was not accepted by the company, and on 31 .January he was dismissed from service.
10. That was not the end of the matter as apparently at the request of the union, the Government of Uttar Pradesh thereafter referred to an adjudicator the following issue:--
Whether the employers have wrongfully and/or unjustifiably terminated the service of Sri Ram Krishnan with effect from 31 January 1953, If, so, to what relief is he entitled?
The adjudicator gave his decision on 7 August 1953. He accepted the company's statement as to the circumstances in which the terms of agreement embodied in the order of the conciliation officer were arrived at end he held that the termination of the employee's services on 31 January 1953 was valid.
11. From this order the employee appealed to the Labour Appellate Tribunal. That Tribunal, by its order dated 26 April 1955, held that as the appeal involved a substantial question of law it had jurisdiction, and it allowed the appeal on two grounds. In the first place, it was of opinion that the terms of agreement embodied in the order of the conciliation officer must be interpreted as a condonation by the company of the previous faults of the appellant and, that the company accordingly could not terminate the employee's services for those same faults after he had been reinstated and, secondly, because it was of opinion that on the facts there were no materials upon the record upon which it could hold that the allegations of incompetence and negligence had been established.
12. In this petition the company challenges the order of the Labour Appellate Tribunal, its contentions being that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal as no substantial question of law arose and alternatively that the Tribunal's order is vitiated by errors of law apparent on the face of the record. It was also suggested in the course of argument that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to' intervene in a dispute which related exclusively to the provisions of the contract between the parties. That submission, in our opinion is wholly without force, for there is ample authority for the proposition that an industrial tribunal may investigate disputes about an employee's discharge and direct his reinstatement in circumstances in which no Court bound by the ordinary law could intervene : see Western India Automobile Association v. Industrial Tribunal, Bombay 1949 F.C.R. 321. State of Madras v. C.P. Sarathy A.I.R. 1953 S.C. 53 J.K. Iron and Steel Co. Ltd. v. Iron and Steel Mazdoor Union S.C. Civil appeals Nos. 22, 22A and 301 of 1955 decided on 23 December 1955.
13. As regards the first submission we are of opinion that the Labour Appellate Tribunal was right in holding that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The most important of the employee's contentions was that the the entire responsibility on an assistant clerk, Sri Pandey. He sums up his explanation in the sentence.
The double debit entry arose out of the two-form systems of this office and the delay in the submission of accounts of monthly price sheet was always due to the delay in effecting reconciliation of that, part of the accounts that were maintained by Mr. Pandey.
We think therefore that although the employee's explanation does contain an admission of partial responsibility in respect of the errors referred in the first charge the tribunal was right in its view that there is no admission of liability in respect of the matters referred to in the remaining charges, and there is therefore in respect of those charges no evidence against the employee. The latter may have been wholly unjustified in throwing the blame on another clerk, but that has not been proved. The truth appears to be that the incompetence of the employee was in the eyes of the. company so apparent that if was considered unnecessary to take any adequate stops to prove such incompetence before the arbitrator.
14. In our opinion there is no such material error of law apparent on the face of the record as would justify this Court in quashing' the decision of the Labour Appellate Tribunal. We would therefore dismiss the petition with costs.