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State Bank of Travancore Vs. General Secretary, Association of the State Bank of Travancore (Cnb Unit) Employees and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCompany
CourtKerala High Court
Decided On
Case NumberW.A. No. 78 of 1977
Judge
Reported in(1978)IILLJ305Ker
ActsBanking Regulation Act, 1949 - Sections 45(5)
AppellantState Bank of Travancore
RespondentGeneral Secretary, Association of the State Bank of Travancore (Cnb Unit) Employees and ors.
Appellant Advocate Joseph Vellappally, Adv.
Respondent Advocate M.P. Menon, Adv. for respondents Nos. 1 to 3 and; M. Pathross Mathai, Adv. for the respondent No. 4
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Cases ReferredState Bank of Travancore v. Elias Elias
Excerpt:
.....by one of us (myself). paragraph 1 of the decision noted :the only ground on which the reserve bank's decision in this regard is attacked, was that under the provisions of the banking regulation act, the reserve bank is to act quasi judicially and the requirements of the said process have not been satisfied in the instant case. 6. counsel for the appellant contended that assessment of experience under the relevant proviso to section 45(5)(i) could be done by the reserve bank both on a qualitative as well as on a quantitative basis and that, therefore, it was permissible to equate three years' experience in one bank with one year of experience in another, on the ground of the wider range and the superior quality of service, and the efficiency in functioning, of the latter. the learned..........had stressed the special position, aptitude and responsibilities of the reserve bank. in all india bank employees' association v. 'national industrial tribunal (bank disputes), (1962] 32 comp cas 414 (sc), it was stated that the reserve bank had intimate knowledge of the banking structure of the country as a whole and of the affairs of each bank in particular. in joseph kuruvilla vellukunnel v. reserve bank of india, [1962] 32 comp cas 515, the supreme court again stressed the privileged position of the reserve bank (see pages 525, 526). in all india reserve bank employees' association's case [1966] 36 comp cas 165 (sc), the court had occasion to refer to the reserve bank as the ' central bank ' and as the 'bankers' bank '. in the circumstances, we see nothing wrong in leaving the.....
Judgment:

Gopalan Nambtyar, C.J.

1. This appeal is by the State Bank of Travan-core and is directed against the decision of a learned single judge in O.P. No. 4037 of 1974 filed by respondents 1 to 3. The writ petition challenged the action of the appellants in effecting a fitment of the erstwhile employees of Cochin Nayar Bank (referred to as the ' transferor-bank ') in the service of the appellant-bank (referred to as the ' transferee-bank '). The two banks were amalgamated with effect from February 8, 1954. Section 45, Clause (4) of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, contemplates the preparation of a scheme for amalgamation. Ex. P-1 is a copy of such scheme prepared by the appellant. The material provisions of the scheme are practically repetitions of the provisions to be found in Section 45(5)(i) of the Banking Regulation Act. That section, in so far as it is material, may be noticed :

' 45. Power of Reserve Bank to apply to Central Government for suspension of business by a banking company and to prepare scheme of reconstitution or amalgamation,--...

(5) The scheme aforesaid may contain provisions for all or any of the following matters, namely :--...

(i) the continuance of the services of all the employees of the banking company (excepting such of them as not being workmen within the meaning of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (14 of 1947), are specifically mentioned in the scheme) in the banking company itself on its reconstruction or, as the case may be, in the transferee bank at the same remuneration and on the same terms and conditions of service, which they were getting or, as the case may be, by which they were being governed, immediately before the date of the order of moratorium :

Provided that the scheme shall contain a provision that-

(i) the banking company shall pay or grant not later than the expiry of the period of three years from the date on which the scheme is sanctioned by the Central Government, to the said employees the same remuneration and the same terms and conditions of service as are applicable to employees of corresponding rank or status of a comparable banking company to be determined for this purpose by the Reserve Bank (whose determination in this respect shall be final);

(ii) the transferee bank shall pay or grant not later than the expiry of the aforesaid period of three years, to the said employees the same remuneration and the same terms and conditions of service as |are applicable to the other employees of corresponding rank or status of the transferee bank subject to the qualifications and experience of the said employees being the same as or equivalent to those of such other employees of the transferee bank:

Provided further that if in any case under clause (ii) of the first proviso any doubt or difference arises as to whether the qualificati6n and experience of any of the said employees are the same as or equivalent to the qualifications and experience of the other employees of corresponding rank or status of the transferee bank, the doubt or difference shall be referred to the Reserve Bank whose decision thereon shall be final.'

2. The above provisions of the statute are incorporated in paras. 10 and 11 of Ex. P-1 scheme. The appellant-bank issued Ex. P-2 circular dated 22nd June, 1966, indicating the procedure for adjusting the employees of the transferor bank in the cadres and scales of pay applicable to the transferee bank with effect from March 1, 1966. Clause (1)(a) and (b) and the clauses marked I and II towards the end of the circular may be noticed:

' I. Non-officer staff, (a) All employees to be placed at the starting stage of the appropriate scale of pay applicable under the Desai Award to the cadre into which they are proposed by the Bank to be taken in and the area in which the respective employees were stationed immediately before the 1st March, 1966. The employees designated as litigating agent will be absorbed into the subordinate cadre as the civil agents of the Kottayam Orient Bank Ltd. and Bank of New India Ltd., were absorbed into the subordinate cadre.

(b) Thereafter, weightage for service to be given by equating the length of service in the respective cadres in the Cochin Nair Bank Ltd., to notional length of service in the State Bank of Travancore at the rate of 3 years of service in the Cochin Nair Bank Ltd as equal to 1 year's service in the State Bank of Travancore (Fractions of the period of the slab of 3 years to be treated as full if more than half or ignored if otherwise)......

I. The existing total emoluments immediately before the 1st March, 1966, shall not be reduced and should any shortfall occur, it shall be adjusted by granting an adjustment allowance which will be absorbed in future increment.

II. The existing basic pay immediately before 1st March, 1966, shall also be not reduced and if the basic pay of any employee arrived at on the above basis happens to be less than what the employee has been drawing immediately before the 1st March, 1966, he shall be placed at the stage on the appropriate Dcsai Award scale of pay which is equal to or just higher than his existing basic pay immediately before the 1st March, 1966.'

3. The proposal to equate three years' experience in the transferor bank with one year's experience in the transferee bank occasioned a reference to the Reserve Bank under the 2nd proviso to Section 45(5)(i) of the Act quoted supra, and a decision by the Reserve Bank upholding the action of the appellant. To quash the Reserve Bank's decision, O.P. No. 443 of 1967 was moved in this Court and was dismissed on July 15, 1969, by one of us (myself). Paragraph 1 of the decision noted :

' The only ground on which the Reserve Bank's decision in this regard is attacked, was that under the provisions of the Banking Regulation Act, the Reserve Bank is to act quasi judicially and the requirements of the said process have not been satisfied in the instant case. There was no attack that the Reserve Bank's action was mala fide or arbitrary or in any way discriminatory,'

4. An appeal was preferred--W.A. No. 921 of 1969--against the said decision and was disposed of on January 27, 1970, stating that counsel for the respondents submitted that the Reserve Bank will reconsider the matter after giving the appellants an opportunity to present their case and pass fresh orders in the form of a ' speaking ' order. It was recorded that the appellants were content with the assurance. The appeal was accordingly dismissed. Exhibit P-3 dated August 1, 1973, Ex. P-4 dated August 14, 1973 and Ex. P-5 dated October 10, 1973, are statements filed before the Reserve Bank by the persons concerned in the transferor and the transferee banks. The first of these was by an employee of the transferor bank. In para. 16 thereof, the contention was taken that the term ' experience ' can only mean length of service. In para. 18 adverting to the 2nd proviso to Section 45(5)(i) it was stated that the Reserve Bank's power was only to examine individual cases and not the general question as to whether experience in one bank can be equated with that in another bank. It was in the light of these representations that the Reserve Bank gave its decision Ex. P-6 which was impugned in the writ petition. In Ex. P-6 the Reserve Bank noted in para. 12 as follows :

' 12. On the second point whether it was in order for the transferee bank to equate three years' service of an employee of the transferor bank with one year's service in the transferee bank, the question which arises for consideration is whether, as provided for in para. (II) of the scheme the qualifications and experience of the employees of the transferor bank are the same as, or are equivalent to, those of such other employees of the transferee bank. In dealing with this matter, both the qualifications and experience of the employees are to be taken together and one cannot be considered to the exclusion of the other. The term ' experience ' would mean not merely its quanitative aspect (i. e., number of years of service) but also its qualitative aspect. If it was the intention that the term ' experience ' should be interpreted to mean only ' the number of years of service', the scheme would have incorporated the latter expression, in which case, the comparison would be confined to length of service of employees of the transferor bank with those of the transferee bank and the fitment would have been quite simple. While the representatives of the employees of the transferor bank have contended that the experience in the transferor bank is in no way inferior to that of an employee in the transferee bank, the transferee bank has denied this. In the assessment of experience of the employees of the transferor bank as compared with the experience of the employees of the transferee bank, account has to be taken not merely of the length of service but also factors such as the standard of efficiency in the transferor bank, the variety, quality, the volume of business transacted by it, etc. The transferor bank was, at the time of amalgamation, an unlicensed non-scheduled bank with 8 offices and deposits of Rs. 86.85 lakhs and was a very small unit as compared with the State Bank of Travancore with 95 branches and deposits of Rs. 2,082.76 lakhs. The nature of business and volume of operations of both the banks also differed considerably. Besides the ordinary banking business, the transferee bank has been (and is) conducting foreign exchange business and also handling Government treasury business. The experience gained by an employee of the transferee bank is, therefore, wide and varied and cannot be stated or deemed to be the same as the experience of an employee of the transferor bank with its limited operations.'

5. It was this decision that was sought to be quashed. The learned judge took the view that the relevant proviso to the section noticed earlier requires assessment of qualifications and experience of each employee individually and his fitment in the transferee bank on the basis of such assessment. As Ex. P-6 order and Ex. P-2 circular did not proceed on the basis of individual assessment it was held that there was no compliance with the statutory provision and that, therefore, the decision of the Reserve Bank was illegal and unsustainable.

6. Counsel for the appellant contended that assessment of experience under the relevant proviso to Section 45(5)(i) could be done by the Reserve Bank both on a qualitative as well as on a quantitative basis and that, therefore, it was permissible to equate three years' experience in one bank with one year of experience in another, on the ground of the wider range and the superior quality of service, and the efficiency in functioning, of the latter. This was the main controversy between the parties. The other contentions urged by the appellant, to note them briefly, were : That it was not open to the writ petitioners-respondents to urge the point that cases for fitment had to be examined individually and not en masse, or collectively, when they had not taken the point on the earlier occasion when O. P. No. 443 of 1967 was moved in this court, nor in their representations in answer to Ex. P-2 circular, nor, for that matter, till August, 1973, when alone a representation was made in writing to the Reserve Bank in pursuance of the directions in W.A. No. 921 of 1969 ; that on the terms and the scope of the relevant statutory provision, two views were possible, and the view taken by the Reserve Bank in regard to the scope of its power was certainly not amenable to correction under Article 226 of the Constitution ; that the statutory finality of the Reserve Bank's decision both under the provisions of the Act and the scheme framed thereunder would preclude interference; and finally, that a settlement dated July 31, 1968, shown at page 88 of the paper book had been effected between the State Bank of Travancore and the employees' union, which, although not legally binding, had been accepted and acted upon as eminently fair and reasonable, and that this would be a circumstance to decline interference in writ jurisdiction.

7. The learned Advocate General appearing for the writ petitioners-respondents strongly contended that experience is to be assessed only on a quantitative, and not on a qualitative basis, and that it would signify mere length of service and no more. Alternatively, he contended that if assessment of experience on a qualitative basis was permissible, such examination or assessment must be done individually with regard to the requirement of each case and not collectively or by way of any group assessment. We shall proceed to examine these rival contentions.

8. The learned Advocate-General contended that under Section 45(5)(i) it was obligatory on the transferee bank to guarantee to the employees of the transferor bank the terms and conditions of service as are applicable to other employees of corresponding rank or status of the transferee bank ; and that this guarantee of equality of terms and conditions of service was unfettered by any decision or discretion of the Reserve Bank. This does not appear to be an altogether correct statement of the position, as on the very terms of the provision, the guarantee of the terms and conditions of service is subject to qualifications and experience being found to be the same as, or equivalent to, the employees of the transferee bank; and this would attract the Reserve Bank's decision under the second proviso to Section 45(5)(i), in cases of doubt or difference. We shall then examine whether experience in the statutory provision signifies only a quantitative and not qualitative one. The learned Advocate-General particularly stressed that in service parlance and terminology, and in the history of the service rules, it is well understood that experience means only length of service, and there is no reason to understand the statutory provision in question in any different sense. Counsel for the appellant, on the other hand, contended that there is a difference between 'experience' and 'length of service' and that service terminology and service rules are generally careful to provide only for length of service and to avoid the more comprehensive phase of experience. He referred us to the provisions of arts. 233(2) and 217(2) of the Constitution, which had in terms provided for the length of service and avoided any reference to experience. We think that there is nothing in the context or the circumstances of the statutory provision here concerned, to limit the content of the term ' experience ', to mere quantitative assessment and not to assessment of the same on a qualitative basis. While it is true that for the purpose of recruitment to a pr6fession or to a technical institute or to an industrial concern, experience may generally connote length or duration of service in a profession or institution, we cannot altogether rule out the richness and the varigated nature of the experience in the matter of service in a bank. The quality of service, efficiency of organisation, and the range and volume of business transacted--all must contribute to the experience gained in a bank; and we are not prepared to say that these are not comprised in the term ' experience ' in the relevant provision of the Banking Regulation Act, Sufficient guidance is afforded by the statutory provision itself for this conclusion. Under the second proviso to Section 45(5)(i) the Reserve Bank is given the right of resolving any doubt or difference as to whether the qualifications and experience of one set of employees are the same as, or equivalent to, the qualifications and experience of another set of employees. The ' doubt or difference ' may pertain to qualifications as well as to experience. If experience meant only length or duration of service, we see little scope for any doubt or difference. That affords one indication that experience has to be understood on a qualitative basis. Besides, the section refers not merely to the sameness of experience but even to the equivalance of experience, which is left to the decision of the Reserve Bank. This is another indication that the equation of the length of experience in one bank with the requisite length of experience in another bank is permissible, and is contemplated by the relevant provision.

9. Next, we shall consider the argument that the assessment should be on an individual basis and not collectively with respect to a class of employees. Collective, or group assessment, as it is called, is familiar in integration of services and other service selections. Assessment individually with respect to the facts and circumstances of each case, is, we should think, impracti-ble, if not impossible, while dealing with a number of institutions and their multi-tiered staff; and, having regard to the expert body to whose decision the collective assessment is left, and its special status and position in the banking world, we see no ground to cavil at the conferment of a power of group assessment. As was noticed in the earlier writ petition O.P. No. 443 of 1967 at least three decisions of the Supreme Court had stressed the special position, aptitude and responsibilities of the Reserve Bank. In All India Bank Employees' Association v. 'National Industrial Tribunal (Bank Disputes), (1962] 32 Comp Cas 414 (SC), it was stated that the Reserve Bank had intimate knowledge of the Banking structure of the country as a whole and of the affairs of each bank in particular. In Joseph Kuruvilla Vellukunnel v. Reserve Bank of India, [1962] 32 Comp Cas 515, the Supreme Court again stressed the privileged position of the Reserve Bank (see pages 525, 526). In All India Reserve Bank Employees' Association's case [1966] 36 Comp Cas 165 (SC), the court had occasion to refer to the Reserve Bank as the ' central bank ' and as the 'bankers' bank '. In the circumstances, we see nothing wrong in leaving the decision to the Reserve Bank and no grounds for apprehension of arbitrary action or decision.

10. The learned Advocate-General argued that any disparity in regard to the nature of work and the quality and range of service and efficiency in the various banks could well be levelled up by experience in the transferee bank for any short period and that the object of ' the cushioning period ' of three years provided under Clause (ii) of second proviso to Section 45(5)(i) was to level up this disparity. We are afraid the argument proceeds on a misconception. The outermost limit of three years indicated in the above clause to effect the fitment, does not necessarily prevent the transferee bank from effecting it at any earlier point of time, and we are unable to read the 'cushioning period provided' in the relevant provision as meant to cover up the deficiencies of the transferor bank and level up the disparity between it and the transferee bank. We think, therefore, that the Reserve Bank was within its powers in passing Ex. P-6 decision ; and that the learned judge was wrong in haying interfered with the same.

11. The learned Advocate-General cited to us the passages from the Sastry Award at page 18, para. 52, and the Desai Award, para 5, p. 172. In the Sastry Award at page 18, para. 52, reference is made to one of the awards which showed how the business of banking is of a different type from those kinds of industry which produce and manufacture articles by chemical process and how standardisation of wages is not feasible in the business of banking, although the clerical staff does the same kind of work, because of the difference in the contribution of mental exertion which they make to the profit-making capacity of the units in which they are employed. A little lower down, the same paragraph noticed that the award had come to the conclusion that all banks should not be regarded as of equal capacity for the purpose of meeting the demands made by the employees. The passage, at page 36, para. 111, to the effect that there is no exact standard for measuring the productivity of labour in connection with banking work and that the said factor is not capable of precise application was also cited. From the Desai award, the passages at page 115 to the effect that efficiency of workmen does not play a part in inspiring established confidence of the public in banking industry and similar passages were stressed. We have not found these general discussions very helpful in the face of the statutory provisions of the Act which we have construed.

12. The learned Advocate-General commended to us the decision of the Supreme Court in State of Orissa v. N.N. Swamy, AIR 1977 SC 1237, which had stated in reference to the taking over of a well-recognised institution completely by the Government for the purpose of management, that it was not merely a taking over of the land and buildings, or the tables and chairs, but it had to be tackled at the same time, as a human problem, involving the fate of teachers and the staff serving the institution. We have not forgotten the human aspect of the problem involved in the amalgamation of banks and the fitment of the personnel involved. These, as service integrations, labour disputes, and other allied matters, present human problems, which we endeavour, to the best of our ability, to solve with the best human approach possible.

13. The counsel for the appellant, stressed the provisions of Sections 10A, 10B, 12, 12A, 14A, 18, 19, 20A, 21, 22, 23, 35A, etc., to stress the preeminent position of the Reserve Bank. We have taken note of them. Both sides placed some reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in State Bank of Travancore v. Elias Elias [1971] 41 Comp Cas 14. We do not think the decision as such is very helpful. It only emphasised the position that in effecting a fitment we cannot degrade an employee, and that his status and rank cannot be changed while his qualifications and experience can be taken into account.

14. The remaining points, urged by counsel for the appellant, do not call for serious notice. Whether the precise point now urged by the respondents was not raised at any of the earlier stages or not, there can be little doubt that the decision in Writ Appeal No. 921/1969 allowed the respondents an opportunity of placing their views before the Reserve Bank and when this was done, the point now urged was highlighted and dealt with by the bank. We see no force in the objection that the contention now urged against Ex. P-6, decision of the Reserve Bank, is barred by delay and Inches. There appears no need to stretch the principle of no interference in writ jurisdiction where one of two possible views in regard to the statutory provisions in question is taken. In the view that we have taken, resort to this principle is uncalled for. We are not impressed by the argument as to the finality given to the Reserve Bank's decision by the Act and by the provisions of the scheme. These would not enable the Reserve Bank to clutch at a jurisdiction which it does not have. The argument based on the settlement dated July 31, 1968, again lacks force or merit. The employees of the Cochin Nair Bank were not parties to the settlement; and counsel for the appellant himself agreed that the settlement was not legally binding.

15. In the view that we have taken on the main point, we allow the appeal, and set aside the judgment of the learned judge. The result is that O.P. No. 4037 of 1974 will stand dismissed. We make no order as to costs.


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