1. This is an appeal by the State against an order of the learned Magistrate of Delhi whereby he acquitted the four respondents of an offence punishable under Section 29 of the Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950.
2. The facts of the case are that there was a dispute between the employers and the employees of the Crown Flour Mills. This dispute was referred to the Industrial Tribunal and the award of the Tribunal was against the workmen. An appeal was taken to the Appellate Tribunal andwhile the appeal was pending a notice was sent by the management of the Flour Mills to 87 wort-men informing them that the mill was being closed down with effect from the morning of 12-3-1954 and that therefore the services of these 87 workmen were being terminated.
The management had not previously obtained the permission of the Appellate Tribunal before taking this step and so the four respondents were prosecuted for the offence punishable under Section 29 of the Act. It was alleged by the prosecution that they had deliberately dismissed the workmen 'while their appeal was pending before the Appellate Tribunal.
3. The learned trial Magistrate came to the conclusion that this was not a case of mala fide dismissal and that the Mill was closed down because owing to conditions over which the management had no control heavy losses were being sustained. He therefore acquitted the four accused persons.
4. It is quite clear that Section 29 of the Actmakes punishable a criminal offence. A criminal offence is only committed when an act which is forbidden by law is done voluntarily. English jurists give the name of mens rea to the violation which is the motive force behind the criminal act. If there is no mens rea no offence is committed although the act may prove detrimental to an individual or individuals. It is only voluntary acts which amount to offences. If a person is compelled by force of circumstances to perform an act forbidden by law he cannot be said to do it voluntarily and therefore he will not be held liable for the consequences of that act.
An involuntary act may give rise to a civil remedy by an aggrieved person but it will certainly not amount to an offence which is punished at the instance of the State. In the present case we find that the closing down of the Mill and the subsequent termination of the workmen's services were not voluntary acts. They were voluntary only to the extent that they were performed consciously.
The respondents were forced to close down the Mill because no other course was open to them. The workmen were demanding a bonus which was not warranted by the finances of the Mill. The award of the Tribunal was against them and the workmen took the matter up in appeal to the Appellate Tribunal, This happened in March 1954. In the year 1952-53 the Mill had suffered a loss of Rs. 51,645/- and in the following year (1953-54) had suffered an even greater loss of Rs. 89,372/10/-. These figures are evidenced by the balance-sheets produced by the respondents in the trial Court. The Delhi State derationed grains and so the supply of wheat to the Mill stopped abruptly on the 1st March 1954.
The Mill found itself in a state whereby to run each day would mean financial loss which would go on mounting as time passed. No employer when faced with such a situation can keep his mill open merely because the provisions of Section 22 of the Act require him not to alter the conditions of service or to dismiss any of his workmen without the permission of the Appellate Tribunal. The object of Section 22 is to safeguard the interests of the workmen and to keep them secure from any kind of victimisation by the employers while their dispute is pending before the Industrial Tribunal.
In the present case there can be no question of victimisation. For two successive years the respondents had suffered heavy losses in the running of the Mill. They found themselves unable to carry on the business because conditions suddenly altered by the derationing which came into force On the 1st March 1954. The Mill was not a charitable institution designed to make payments toworkmen when payments could not result in any profitable business.
5. In this view of the matter it cannot be said that the act of the respondents in closing down the Mill and terminating the services of the 87 workmen was a voluntary act which contravened the provisions of Section 22. That being so, the respondents cannot be said to have commuted any offence. I would therefore uphold the order of the learned trial Magistrate and dismiss the appeal.
6. I agree.