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Patna Electric Supply Co., Ltd., Patna Vs. Bali Rai and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial
CourtSupreme Court of India
Decided On
Judge
Reported inAIR1958SC204; (1958)ILLJ257SC; [1958]1SCR871
ActsIndustrial Disputes Act - Sections 33; Industrial Disputes (Appellate) Tribunal Act, 1950 - Sections 7
AppellantPatna Electric Supply Co., Ltd., Patna
RespondentBali Rai and anr.
Excerpt:
.....to dismiss the employees/respondents on the ground of misconduct - the court ruled that the labour appellate tribunal had erred in entertaining the appeal in view of the finding of the industrial tribunal that the application filed under section 33 of the industrial disputes act, 1947 was bona fide - - the discharge of the respondents was a discharge simpliciter in exercise of the rights of the employer under clause 14(a) of the standing orders and was not a punitive discharge under clause 17(b)(viii) thereof and if it was merely a discharge simpliciter, then, no objection could be taken to the same and the appellant would be well within its rights to do so, provided, however, bath it was not arbitrary or capricious but was bona fide. once the industrial tribunal was of opinion..........of the industrial tribunal granting the appellant's application under s. 33 of the act before the labour appellate tribunal of india, calcutta. a preliminary objection was taken on behalf of the appellant before the labour appellate tribunal that no substantial question of law was involved and as such the appeal was not maintainable. the labour appellate tribunal was of the opinion that the appellant had alleged misconduct against the respondents and could not be allowed to adopt the expedient of terminating their services by giving notice for the requisite period or payment of salary in lieu of notice and that the industrial tribunal, therefore, ought not to have entertained the application for amendment of the prayer of the original application in which the appellant wanted to dismiss.....
Judgment:

Bhagwati, J.

1. This appeal with special leave arises out of an application made by the appellant to the Industrial Tribunal, Bihar under s. 33 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act'), seeking permission to discharge the respondents from its employ.

2. The respondents were in the employ of the appellant and were staying in a two storeyed house in the city of Patna which had been rented by the appellant for housing its workmen. On November 20, 1952, an occurrence took place in the said house wherein the respondents were involved. Written reports of the said occurrence were sent on November 21, 1952, to the appellant's Chief Engineer and the respondents were placed under suspension the same day. An industrial dispute was then pending between the parties i.e., the appellant and its workmen before the Industrial Tribunal, Bihar, and the appellant therefore made an application to the said Tribunal under s. 33 of the Act for permission to dismiss the respondents on the ground of misconduct as per clause 17(b)(viii) of the Appellant's Standing Orders. On November 27, 1952, the respondents also made an application before the said Tribunal under s. 33A of the Act inter alia on the ground that their suspension by the appellant as aforesaid was a breach of s. 33 of the Act.

3. On December 6, 1952, the appellant made an application before the said Tribunal stating that on a reconsideration of the facts of the case of the respondents the original prayer for permission to dismiss the respondents was not being pressed, and for the ends of justice it would be sufficient if the appellant was granted permission to discharge the respondents under clause 14(a) of the Standing Orders instead of the original prayer for dismissal under clause 17(b)(viii) thereof. This application was resisted by the respondents. The Industrial Tribunal, however, entertained the same and after hearing the parties duly made its award on May 14, 1953, dismissing the respondents' application under s. 33A of the Act and granting the appellant permission to discharge the respondents from its employ with effect from the date of the order on payment to the respondents of one month's pay in lieu of notice within 15 days therefrom.

4. The respondents carried an appeal against the said order of the Industrial Tribunal granting the appellant's application under s. 33 of the Act before the Labour Appellate Tribunal of India, Calcutta. A preliminary objection was taken on behalf of the appellant before the Labour Appellate Tribunal that no substantial question of law was involved and as such the appeal was not maintainable. The Labour Appellate Tribunal was of the opinion that the appellant had alleged misconduct against the respondents and could not be allowed to adopt the expedient of terminating their services by giving notice for the requisite period or payment of salary in lieu of notice and that the Industrial Tribunal, therefore, ought not to have entertained the application for amendment of the prayer of the original application in which the appellant wanted to dismiss the respondents for misconduct. This according to the Labour Appellate Tribunal was a substantial question of law and it therefore entertained the appeal. The Labour Appellate Tribunal thereafter considered whether the appellant had made out a case under clause 17(b)(viii) of the Standing Orders and came to the conclusion that the respondents had not been guilty of any misconduct within the meaning of that clause and that therefore the order made by the Industrial Tribunal granting permission to the appellant to terminate the services of the respondents was liable to set aside. In so far, however, as after obtaining the permission from the Industrial Tribunal the appellant had given notice of discharge to the respondents, the Labour Appellate Tribunal expressed its inability to give the respondents any substantial relief either in the shape of reinstatement or compensation.

5. The appellant has come up in appeal before us against this order of the Labour Appellate Tribunal.

6. Shri H.N. Sanyal, appearing for the appellant, has urged in the fore-front the contention that no appeal from the order of the Industrial Tribunal lay to the Labour Appellate Tribunal under s. 7 of the Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950. He contended that the said order was not a 'decision' within the meaning of that expression in s. 7 and even assuming that it was so, the appeal neither involved any substantial question of law nor was it a decision in respect of any of the matters specified in sub-s. (1)(b) of that section. The answer of Shri P.K. Chatterjee on behalf of the respondents was that the action of the appellant in the matter of the termination of the services of the respondents was punitive in character, that the discharge of the respondents for which permission was sought by the appellant was a punitive discharge, that such discharge was by reason of the alleged misconduct of the respondents falling within clause 17(b)(viii) of the Standing orders and not within clause 14(a) thereof and that the substantial question of law which arose in the appeal was whether the appellant could be allowed to adopt the expedient of terminating the services of the respondents, without going through the procedure of submitting a charge-sheet to the respondents and holding a proper enquiry in the matter of those charges, by merely giving notice for the requisite period or payment of salary in lieu of notice and thus resorting to clause 14(a) of the Standing Orders instead of clause 17(b)(viii) of the same. The other answer made by Shri P.K. Chatterjee was that having regard to the definition of the term 'retrenchment' to be found in s. 2(oo) of the Act the discharge of the respondents by the appellant really amounted to retrenchment and retrenchment being one of the matters specified in sub-s. (1)(b) of s. 7 of the Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950, the respondents had a right of appeal to the Labour Appellate Tribunal.

7. It is necessary, therefore, to appreciate what was sought to be done by the appellant when it made the application before the Industrial Tribunal on December 6, 1952. This application has been described by the Labour Appellate Tribunal as an application for amendment of the original application which had been filed by the appellant on November 21, 1952, for permission to dismiss the respondents from its employ as per clause 17(b)(viii) of the Standing Orders. It must be noted, however, that what the appellant purported to do by its application of December 6, 1952, was, in effect, to substitute another application asking for the permission to discharge the respondents from its employ under clause 14(a) of the Standing Orders, thus abandoning the relief which it had prayed for in the original application. The application dated December 6, 1952, was thus, in substance, a new application made by the appellant to the Individual Tribunal, no doubt relying upon the facts and circumstances which were set out in the original application but asking for the permission of the Industrial Tribunal to discharge the respondents from its employ under clause 14(a) of the Standing Orders instead of dismissing them from its employ under clause 17(b)(viii) thereof. We do not see how it was not competent to the Industrial Tribunal to allow the appellant to do so. If the appellant had been actuated by any oblique motives and wanted to evade the consequences of its not having held a proper enquiry after submitting a charge-sheet to the respondents one could have understood the criticism made by the Labour Appellate Tribunal in regard to the same. The Industrial Tribunal, however, expressly recorded the finding that the application for leave to discharge the respondents from its employ was bona fide and what the appellant did by making the application dated December 6, 1952, was actuated by an honest motive of exercising its rights to discharge the respondents under clause 14(a) of the Standing Orders instead of visiting upon the respondents the penalty of dismissing them from its employ under clause 17(b)(viii) thereof. The discharge of the respondents was a discharge simpliciter in exercise of the rights of the employer under clause 14(a) of the Standing Orders and was not a punitive discharge under clause 17(b)(viii) thereof and if it was merely a discharge simpliciter, then, no objection could be taken to the same and the appellant would be well within its rights to do so, provided, however, bath it was not arbitrary or capricious but was bona fide. The only question relevant to be considered by the Industrial Tribunal would be that in taking the step which it did the appellant was not guilty of any unfair labour practice or victimization. If the Industrial Tribunal did not come to a conclusion adverse to the appellant on these counts, it would have no jurisdiction to refuse the permission asked for by the appellant. Once the Industrial Tribunal was of opinion that the application dated December 6, 1952, and the discharge of the respondents for which the permission of the Industrial Tribunal was sought were in the honest exercise of the appellant's rights, no question of law, much less a substantial question of law could arise in the appeal filed by the respondents against the decision of the Industrial Tribunal and the Labour Appellate Tribunal was clearly in error when it entertained the appeal.

8. In view of the above finding, we do not propose to deal with the contention that the order passed by the Industrial Tribunal under s. 33 of the Act is not a 'decision' within the meaning of that term in s. 7 of the Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950.

9. The argument that the discharge of the respondents though patently it was a discharge simpliciter was, in substance, retrenchment within the meaning of the definition contained in s. 2(oo) of the Act is equally untenable, for the simple reason that the term 'retrenchment' was for the first time defined in the manner in which it has been done by an Ordinance promulgated in October 1953 which was followed by Act 43 of 1953 which was published in the Gazette of India on December 23, 1953. The Industrial Tribunal made its order granting the permission under s. 33 of the Act on May 14, 1953, so that, this definition of the term 'retrenchment' could not apply to the facts of the present case. If, therefore, at the relevant period the discharge simpliciter could not be deemed to be retrenchment of the respondents by the appellant, the decision of the Industrial Tribunal could not be said to be one in respect of any of the matters specified in sub-s. (1)(b) of s. 7 of the Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950. In that view also no appeal could lie from the decision of the Industrial Tribunal to the Labour Appellate Tribunal.

10. It must be observed that neither of these two points was taken by the respondents either in the proceedings before the Industrial Tribunal or the Labour Appellate Tribunal nor was either of them mentioned in the statement of case filed by the respondents in this Court. They were taken for the first time in the arguments advanced before us by Shri P.K. Chatterjee. We have, however, dealt with the same because we thought that we should not deprive the respondents of the benefit of any argument which could possibly be advanced in their favour.

11. We are, therefore, of opinion that no appeal lay from the decision of the Industrial Tribunal to the Labour Appellate Tribunal, that the Labour Appellate Tribunal had no jurisdiction to interfere with the order made by the Industrial Tribunal granting the appellant permission to discharge the respondents under s. 33 of the Act and that the decision of the Labour Appellate Tribunal is liable to be set aside.

12. We accordingly allow the appeal, set aside the decision of the Labour Appellate Tribunal and restore the order made by the Industrial Tribunal, Bihar, on date May 14, 1953. The appellant will be entitled to its costs of this appeal from the respondents.

13. Appeal allowed.


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