1. This Letters Patent Appeal is directed against the order of a learned Single Judge of this Court holding that the demand made on the appellant by the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner is in accordance with law and is not assailable in writ proceedings. The order or the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner calling upon the appellant to pay damages was, however, set aside by the learned single Judge on the ground that the appellant firm was not guilty of any default in the payment of the contribution to the fund. On these conclusions, the petition filed by the appellant under Article 226 was allowed in part, it is the first part of the order by means of which the appellant was refused the prayer for quashing the demand on the appellant-firm for payment of the Employees' Provident Fund which has been assailed in the present appeal.
Here it may be mentioned that the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner, Punjab, had called upon the appellant's firm under paragraph 38 of the Employees' Provident Funds Scheme, 1952, (hereinafter called the scheme), to deposit the amount of employers' and employees' share of contributions and administrative charges in respect of their factory for the period June to October, 1955. On account of delayed remittance of those dues, damages to the extent of 15 per cent were imposed. The appellant is, it may be stated, carrying on the business of manufacturing brass utensils at Jagadhri.
2. Shri C. B. Aggarwal, the learned counsel for the appellant, has taken us through the relevant provisions of the Employees' Provident Funds Act [hereinafter called the Act) and has contended that the learned Single Judge is wrong in holding that brass utensils fall within the scope of the expression 'electrical mechanical or general engineering products' within the contemplation of schedule 1 of the Act, Here, it would be helpful to reproduce the definition of the relevant terms to which our attention has bean drawn. The words 'factory' and 'industry' have Deen defined in Section 2 (g) and (i) of the Act as follows:--
'2. (g) 'factory' means any premises including the precincts thereof, in any part of which a manufacturing process is being carried on or is ordinarily so carried on, whether with the aid of power or without the aid of power;
(i) 'industry' means any industry specified in Schedule I, and includes any other industry added to the Schedule by notification under Section 4.'
Schedule 1 so far as relevant for our purposes is in the following terms:--
*Any industry engaged in the manufacturing ***of any of the following, namely:--
Electrical, mechanical or general engineering products,
Iron and steel,
Textiles (made wholly or in part of cotton or wool or jute or silk, whether natural or artificial).
Explanation:-- in this Schedule, without prejudice to the ordinary meaning of the expressions used therein,--
(a) the expression 'Electrical, mechanical or general engineering product' includes-
(i) machinery any equipment for the generation, transmission, distribution or measurement of the electrical energy and motors including cables and wires.
(2) telephones, telegraph and wireless communication apparatus,
(3) electric lamps (not including glass bulbs),
(4) electric fans and electrical domestic appliances,
(5) storage and dry batteries,
(6) radio receivers and sound reproducing instruments,
(7) machinery used in industry (including textile machinery) other than electrical machinery and machine tools,
(8) boilers and prime movers, intruding internal combustion engines, marines engines and locomotives.
(9) machine tools that is to say, metal and wood-working machinery,
(10) grinding wheels,
(12) automobiles and tractors,
(13) bolts, nuts and rivets, (14) power-driven pumps,
(16) hurricane lanterns,
(17) sewing and knitting machines,
(18) mathematical and scientific instruments,
(19) products of metal rolling and re-rolling.
(20) wires, pipes, tubes and fittings.
(21) ferrous and non-ferrous castings,
(22) safes, vaults and furniture made of iron or steel alloys,
(23) cutlery and surgical instruments
(24) drums and containers,
(25) parts and accessories of products specified in items 1 to 24.'
It would be helpful at this stage also to reproduce para 33 of the scheme;--
'38. Mode of payment of contributions, (1) The employer shall, before paying the member his wages in respect of any period or part of period for which contributions are payable, deduct the employee's contribution from his wages which together with his own contribution as well as an administrative charge of such percentage of the total employer's and employees' contributions as may be fixed by the Central Government, he shall within fifteen days of the close of every month pay to the Fund by separate Bank drafts or cheques on account of contributions and administrative charge;
Provided that if payment is made by a cheque on an outstation bank, collection charges in respect of both the contributions and the administrative charge at such rate as the Board may determine in this behalf shall be included in the amount for which the cheque is drawn in respect of the administrative charge.
Provided further that where there is no branch of the Reserve Bank or the Imperial Bank of India at the station where the factory (or other establishment) is situated, the employer shall pay to the Fund the amount mentioned above by means of Reserve Bank of India (Government Drafts at par) separately on account of contributions and administrative charge.
2. The employer shall forward to the Commissioner, within fifteen days of the close of the month, a monthly consolidated statement, in such form as the Commissioner may specify, showing recoveries made from the wages of each employee and the amount contributed by the employer in respect of each such employee.'
This scheme subject to Sections 16 and 17 of the Act applies to all factories and other establishments to which the Act is applicable. There are, however, certain exceptions provided in the proviso to paragraph 1 (3) of the scheme. The question thus arises whether the appellant's establishment is an industry as contemplated by the first schedule reproduced above.
3. The learned Single Judge has observed in his Judgment that the petition was contested by the respondent on two points namely;--
1. Whether the manufacture of brass utensils is covered by the terms of the Act and
2. Whether the petitioner's firm is liable to pay damages.
On the second point, as I have already mentioned, the order is in favour of the petitioner-appellant and it is only the first point which now concerns us. On this point, the learned Single Judge took the view that the brass utensils could be considered to be containers and in any case they fell within the category of articles manufactured by electrical or mechanical process.
The learned Judge found support for his view from a decision of Falshaw, J. (as he then was) in Nadir Ali Knar v. Union of India, AIR 1958 Punj 177, where it is held that musical instruments, whether made of metal or otherwise, fall within the scope of. the expression 'electrical, mechanical or general engineering products.' The ratio of a decision by Graver, J. In Hindustan Electrical Co. Ltd. v. Regional Provident Fund Commr., Punjab, AIR 1959 Punj 27, was also considered by the learned Single Judge to lend support to his view. In this case, stoves were held to fall within the expression 'electrical, mechanical and general engineering products,' which expression was considered to have been used in a very wide sense which could not be cut down on account of certain specific articles having been mentioned in the explanation.
4. Shri Aggarwal, the learned counsel for the appellant has criticised the reasoning of the learned Single Judge by submitting that the utensils can by no means be considered to be containers; nor can they be considered to have been, manufactured by electrical or mechanical process. If the reasoning of the learned Single Judge were to be considered to be correct, then according to the appellant's counsel, it would have been wholly unnecessary for the Legislature to have taken pains to include item Nos. 1 to 24 which have been specifically mentioned in Clause (a) or the explanation added by Act XXXVII of 1953 to this schedule.
The counsel has referred us to a decision of the Allahabad Nigh Court by Mehrotra, J. In Great Eastern Elec-troplaters Ltd. v. Regional Provident Fund Commissioner U. P., AIR 1956 All 495, where it is held that 'electrical product' cannot mean anything produced through electrical process for such a wide meaning is not possible to give to the words 'electrical, mechanical and general engineering products.' The words 'electrical and mechanical' have, according to this authority, not been used in the schedule only in contradistinction with the hand-made products but they have to be given a narrower meaning; and from the nature of the articles mentioned in the amended schedule, the words 'electrical and mechanical products' do not cover all products made by mechanical or electrical process but they are confined to products which are utilised for purposes of producing electricity or implements and other apparatus and machinery or goods. A torch, according to this authority, does not fall within the scope of this expression.
5. The learned Deputy Advocate-General has in reply placed reliance to begin with on Section 19A of the Act and it is contended that in case of doubt, whether an establishment, which is a factory, is engaged in any industry specified in schedule 1, it is the Central Government which has been empowered to remove such doubt and that such order of the Central Government is final. It is contended that in view of this provision this Court should not interfere on writ side but leave the aggrieved party to take appropriate steps for getting the doubt removed by the Central Government. On the merits, reference has been made to a Bench decision of the Bombay High Court in Nagpur Glass Works Ltd. v. Regional Provident Fund Commissioner, Bombay, (S) AIR 1957 Bom 152, and reliance has been placed on the following passage :
'Thus, the expression 'Electrical, mechanical or general engineering product' means engineering products relating to or connected with electricity, or engineering products acting or worked or produced by a machine or mechanism, or products produced by a craftsman employing a certain design or invention. Burners and metal lamps will thus fall within the expression inasmuch as they are engineering products and could be produced by a machine or mechanism and could also be produced by a craftsman employing a certain design or invention.'
A little lower down in this judgment another passage has also been relied upon where it is stated that the fact that the products cover a very wide range shows that their specification in the explanation in the schedule is by way of illustration only.
6. On behalf of the appellant, Shri Aggarwal has contended that this authority, if properly scrutinised and understood supports his contention because the glass which was the subject-matter of the controversy there was truly an engineering product and, therefore, it properly fell, within the expression 'electrical, mechanical or general engineering products.' According to the appellant the word 'engineering' furnishes the real clue to the ascertainment of the meaning of this expression,
7. After considering the arguments addressed at the bar and devoting my most anxious thought to the respective contentions of the counsel for the parties, I am inclined to think that the appeal has merit and should prevail. It appears to me that in using the expression 'electrical, mechanical or general engineering products' the law-giver was actuated by a definite purpose and design.
As is well known the words connoting more than one Idea when employed in a statutory instrument are intended to be construed in connection with, and their meaning is ascertained by reference to, the words and phrases with which they are associated. When two or more such words are grouped together they are in the absence of a clear and definite indication to the contrary, presumed to have been intended to be construed consistently and understood in the same general sense. This is really another aspect of the rule that words are to be construed in the light and background of the entire statutory instrument, its subject-matter and legislative intent though operating in a narrower sphere. I should not be understood to suggest the rule just stated by me to be a fixed rule of construction of universal application. Far from it. It is merely a guide to the legislative intent affording a suggestion to the judicial mind that the legislator was thinking of a particular class of objects by grouping together certain words which were intended not to embrace other ob-jects.
Construing the expression 'electrical, mechanical or general engineering products' in the light of what has just been stated, I am inclined to hold that the legislative emphasis is intended to be more prominent on the words 'engineering products' which represent the core of the entry and the words 'electrical', 'mechanical' and 'general' have to be construed as qualifying the words 'engineering products'. It is true that in the explanation the expression 'electrical, mechanical or general engineering products' appears to have been given a somewhat wider connotation by including about 25 items but looking at these items individually they seem to bring out with some prominence the engineering aspect of the product.
I must confess, however, my inability to understand the precise significance or the purpose of excluding glass bulbs from item No. 3 (electric lamps) but with the exception of this exclusion, the remaining items do seem to illustrate the general legislative intent as to the meaning, scope and effect of the expression 'electrical, mechanical and general engineering products.' Entry No. 24 in Clause (a) of the explanation consisting of 'drums and containers' construed in the light of the foregoing observations do not seem to have been intended to cover brass utensils with which we are concerned. Grouping together of drums and containers is not without significance. If these two words, associated as they are in the entry, are to be construed consistently and if they are intended to give to each other colour and content which I tnink the draftsman should be presumed to have intended, brass utensils of the kind with which we are concerned can hardly have been intended to be covered by this entry.
8. I am not unmindful of the fact that in a givencase the manufacture of brass utensils might well be covered by the expression 'electrical, mechanical and generalengineering products,' but that would be a question of evidence, and, as at present advised, I should think that itwould be for the department to make out such a casefor fixing the liability on the industry concerned. I amalso alive to the fact that the legislation with which weare concerned in the instant case has labour welfare forits object and the legislative purpose should not be unduly cut down or curtailed by the Courts, but, at the sametime, it must not be forgotten, that, when the legislaturedraws a line between various industries for the purpose ofdetermining the field of operation of such welfare legislation then the legislative intent, as discernible from thelanguage employed by the law-giver which is the dominantor controlling factor must be upheld and it is not opento the Courts to strain the language for either extendingor restricting its scope.
Looking at the definitions of the words 'factory' and 'Industry' and construing them in the light of the entries contained in explanation (a) in schedule 1, it appears to me that the kind of industry with which we are concerned in the instant case was not intended to be covered by the term industry as contemplated in this Act. The brass utensils in question are in the circumstances neither containers nor do they fall within the category of engineering products, whether electrical, mechanical or general, it would thus appear that the teamed Single judge was not justified in holding that the brass utensils in question fall within the category of containers or that they were manufactured by electrical or mechanical process and, therefore, covered by schedule 1 of the Act.
9. This appeal thus succeeds and allowing the same I modify the order of the learned Single judge and allowing the writ petition quash in its entirety the Impugned order of the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner holding it to be outside the Employees' Provident Funds Act. There would, however, be no order as to costs of this appeal.
10. I agree.