Avadh Behari Rohtagi, J.
1. These are two writ petitions of two different companies engaged in the sale of iron and steel. The Regional Provident Fund Commissioner (the Commissioner) is the respondent in both the cases. The facts are very much similar and the points raised are the same.
2. First I take up the facts of Civil Writ No. 635 of 1968. The Delhi Iron and Steel Stockists (CS) Association Private Ltd. are a company incorporated under the Companies Act. The case of the Commissioner is that the Employees' Provident Funds Act (the Act) applies to them since they are employing more than 20 persons in their establishment. The Commissioner called upon the company to appear before it and produce the relevant records. According to the Commissioner, the petitioner company did not appear on the dates fixed for this purpose. He, thereforee, passed an ex parte order.
3. On February 24, 1968 (annexure 'I') the Commissioner informed the company that since they had failed to attend the inquiry the amount due had been assessed on the basis of the material available with him under Section 7A of the Act. He called upon the company to pay a sum of Rs 31.000 on account of provident fund contribution and Rs. 1,020 on account of administrative changes for the period from May, 1962 to December, 1967.
4. The company did not pay. The Commissioner threatened to recover the amount through the agency of the revenue authorities. This threat was contained in the letter dated February 24, 1968, itself. On August 14, 1968, the company brought the present writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution for a writ of certiorari to quash the order dated February 24, 1968.
5. The facts in the case of Civil Writ Petition No. 343 are these. Delhi Iron Syndicate Pvt. Ltd. are a company incorporated under the Companies Act. They are also engaged in the sale of iron and steel. The Commissioner claims that they are an establishment governed by the Act. He asked the company to appear before him and produce records, according to the Commissioner the company did not appear. He, thereforee, made an ex parte order.
6. On Match 20, 1969 (annexure 'N') the Commissioner informed the company by a letter that since it had failed to attend on March 17, 1969, the inquiry was held in the absence of the company and the amount due had been assessed by him on the basis of the material available with him under Section 7A of the Act. By this letter he called upon the petitioner company to pay Rs. 6,300 on account of provident fund contribution and Rs. 190 on account of administrative charges for the period from December, 1963 to February, 1969. A similar threat of recovery by coercive method was contained in this letter at the end. This was that if the amount is not paid within a week the same shall be recovered through the revenue authorities without further notice. The petitioner brought this present writ petition on March 25, 1969, for a writ of certiorari to quash the order dated March 20, 1969.
7. In both these writ petitions the impugned orders have been challenged on a number of grounds, it is not necessary to refer to all of them. The two main grounds on which the counsel for the petitioner has challenged the impugned order are these. Firstly, he says that a reasonable opportunity to attend the proceedings under Section 7A was not granted to the companies. In the second place it is submitted that the impugned orders-order dated 24th March, 1968, in the first case and order dated March 22 1969, in the second -are non-speaking orders and, thereforee, void and illegal.
8. The advocates for the Commissioner submit that large number of opportunities were afforded to the companies to attend the proceedings under Section 7A and that the order determining the amount due from them under Section 7A was made in their absence as they failed to avail of the various opportunities. As regards the second ground the advocates contend that the impugned orders in both the cases are not orders passed under Section 7A but are mere communications asking the companies to pay the amount due from them. It is said that it is not obligatory on the Commissioner to communicate an order passed by him under Section 7A of the Act to a company or an establishment and it is enough for him to tell the company that so much amount is due from it and that they should pay the same. Nothing further, it is said, is required of the Commissioner in a case where a petitioner fails to attend the inquiry under Section 7A.
9. It is not necessary for me to examine the first ground. For the purpose of these petitions, I will assume that opportunities were afforded to the companies and they did not avail of them and that the Commissioner was entitled to pass an order ex parte as he did.
10. On the second submission of the petitioner's counsel I think he is entitled to succeed on the short ground that the impugned orders in these two cases do not tell the companies how the amounts of Rs. 35,020 in the first case and Rs. 6,490 in the second were arrived at by the Commissioner. The orders are laconic. All that is said is that the companies should pay Rs. 35,020 in one case and Rs. 6,490 in the other. How did the Commissioner arrive at these figures? We do not know. Nor has he specified the number of employees which he found in each establishment and their wages. All that he says is that on the basis of the material available with him he has made the enquiry and found the amounts claimed due from the companies. I do not think this is a sufficient compliance of the provisions of Ss. 7A and 8 of the Act.
11. At this stage it is necessary to state one more material fact. The companies receive goods from various manufacturers of steel and iron. The goods are sent by rail to them. After the wagon arrives at the railway station the goods have to be unloaded and transported to the godowns of the companies. For this purpose - and it is the agreed case of the parties-the labourers were employed and the companies had engaged a contractor Pyare Lal by name during the relevant period in both the cases. But the agreement ends there. The companies' case is that the labourers engaged by them through the; agency of the contractor are casual labourers. Casual labour, it is said, is outside the scope of Section 1(3) of the Act as held by the Supreme Court in Regional Provident Fund Inspector v. T.S. Hariharan. (1971) 39 F.J.R. 233 and, thereforee, the companies are not liable to make any contribution on account of casual labour. The Commissioner contends the contrary. His stand seems to be that these persons who are being employed at the siding for unloading the good is also formed part of regular labor force of the establishment and the companies must make contribution for them as well. This is one of the principal bones of contention between the parties as appears from the correspondence placed on the record.
12. Now, I think it is necessary for the Commissioner to tell the companies the basis of his demand. How many employees has he found as a fact in the employment of the companies; how much amount does he claim from them on account of each of the employees? What about the contention of the companies as regards casual labour? Did he accept or reject their contention? Furthermore, what is the material with the Commissioner on the basis of which he formed his judgment? Nothing is known, to a word, the basis of the calculation on the material before him must at least be disclosed. This is the basic minimum which a party is entitled to know who is called upon to pay Rs 35,020 in one case and Rs. 6,490 in the other. Since this has not been done, the impugned orders must go. The demands in both the cases must be set aside.
13. The advocates for the Commissioner submit that the impugned orders are not orders under Section 7A and the Commissioner is not obliged to communicate the basis by which he arrived at these amounts. The Commissioner, they say is entitled to keep this information to himself and not disclose it to the party concerned. I do not agree.
14. Section 7A reads:
7A. (1) The Central Provident Fund Commissioner, any Deputy Provident Fund Commissioner or any Regional Provident Fund Commissioner may, by order, determine the amount due from any employer under any provision of this Act, the Scheme or the Family Pension Scheme, as the case may be, and for this purpose may conduct such inquiry as he may deem necessary.
(2) The officer conducting the inquiry under Sub-section (1) shall, for the purposes of such inquiry, have the same powers as are vested in a Court under the Code of civil Procedure, 1908, for trying a suit in respect of the following matters, namely-
(a) enforcing the attendance of any person or examining him on oath;
(b) requiring the discovery and production of documents;
(c) receiving evidence on affidavit;
(d) issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses;
and any such inquiry shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228, and for the purpose of Section 196, of the Indian Penal Code.
(3) No order determining the amount due from any employer shall be made under Sub-section (1), unless the employer is given a reasonable opportunity of representing his case.
(4) An order made under this section shall be final and shall not be questioned in any Court of law.
15. Under this provision the Commissioner has to conduct an inquiry. He can call upon the parties to produce accounts. Sub-rule (3) says that no order shall be made under Sub-section (1) unless the employer has been given a reasonable opportunity of representing his case. A reasonable opportunity the Commissioner must give to the party. Sub-section (4) makes the order of the Commissioner final and beyond question in a Court of law.
16. The advocates for the Commissioner say that the Commissioner is not obliged to disclose the order which he makes under Section 7A. I cannot accept this submission. The least that the Commissioner can do is to inform the party that this is the basis on which he has arrived at his conclusion. It is true that he need not give detailed reasons as a Court of law is wont to do. But, briefly he must indicate how he has arrived at the amounts claimed from a party.
17. In Balasore Motor Association v. Regional Provident fund Commissioner (1969) 40 F.J.R. 595, an order was passed by the Commissioner in much the same terms as in these two cases A Division Bench of that Court held that the order in that form did not comply with the requirement of law. The Judges said (at p. 598):.No material is forthcoming from the impugned order as to how and on what basis a sum of Rs. 5,00 was estimated as the amount due from the management. Section 6 of the Act provides the rates of contribution and any determination under Section 7A of the Act has to be only on the basis of the calculations to be arrived at by adopting the rates indicated in Section 6 of the Act. The demand in this case, thereforee, seems to be not in compliance with the provisions of the statute and cannot be justified.
In the course of their judgment they said (at p. 598):
Power under Section 7A of the Act appears to be very wide, and, as a matter of fact, there is no provision for a forum where the demand under Section 7A can be questioned. Sub-section (4) of Section 7A makes the demand final, and in fact the jurisdiction of the Civil Court has also been barred. It is of paramount importance that where wide powers are vested in the statutory authority and further provision is not made to challenge such order, the exercise of that power should be made in a careful manner so that the result may not be arbitrary.
18. With these observations I respectfully agree.
19. That rules of natural justice govern and apply to the proceedings or administrative Tribunals is now clearly established. One of the principles of natural justice is that a party is entitled to know the reason for a decision taken against him. The decision cannot be oracular or delphic. In Madhya Pradesh Industries Ltd. v. Union of India 0044/1965 : 1SCR466 , Subba Rao, J., said:
The least a Tribunal can do is to disclose its mind. The compulsion of disclosure guarantees consideration. The condition to give reasons introduces clarity and excludes or at any rate minimises arbitrariness; it gives satisfaction to the party against whom the order is made; and it also enables an appellate or supervisory Court to keep the Tribunals within bounds. A reasoned order is a desirable condition of judicial disposal. When we insist upon reasons, we do not prescribe any particular form or the scale of reasons. The extent or nature of the reasons depend upon each case.
20. Natural justice is a term which summarises certain minimum standard of fairness upon the observance of which there can be insistence by the Courts of law in the present day pattern of administrative bodies and Tribunals. In Siemens Engineering and Mfg. Co. Union of India : AIR1976SC1785 , Bhagweti, J., gave a timely warning He said:
If Courts of law are to be replaced by administrative authorities and Tribunals, as indeed, in some kinds of cases, with the proliferation of Administrative Law, they may have to be so replaced, it is essential that administrative authorities and Tribunals should accord fair and proper hearing to the persons sought to be affected by their orders and give sufficiently clear and explicit reasons in support of the orders made by them. Then alone administrative authorities and Tribunals exercising quasi-judicial function will be able to justify their existence and carry credibility with the people by inspiring confidence in the adjudicatory proems. The rule requiring reasons to be given in support of an order is, like the principle of avid alie om portem, a basic principle of natural justice which must inform every quasi-judicial process and this rule must be observed in its proper spirit and mere pretence of compliance with it would rot satisfy the requirement of law
21. My conclusion, thereforee, is that the requirement that the order must give reasons has not been fulfillled in this case. The procedure adopted by the Commissioner did not match with what justice demanded.
22. I would, thereforee, hold that the impugned orders passed in these two cases are illegal. I would allow the writ petitions and quash the impugned orders. I would remand both cases to the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner to make a fresh inquiry in these matters after giving the companies a reasonable opportunity as required by Section 7A The petitioners will be entitled to urge all that they wish to urge before the Commissioner at the hearing.
23. The back guarantees given by the companies will stand discharged There will be no order as to costs.