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Bhargavan Nair Vs. Kolappan Asari - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial
CourtKerala High Court
Decided On
Judge
Reported in(1982)ILLJ410Ker
AppellantBhargavan Nair
RespondentKolappan Asari
Excerpt:
.....in relation to the agricultural operations as laid down under the latter part of the definition of agricultural worker given under section 2(f) of the agricultural workers act, 1974. the counter petitioner has admitted in his depositions that he was his personal and domestic servant who he was sending to fetch persons for disposing his coconuts to ascertain the market price of coconuts to know the dates of posting of the land tribunal cases of himself and his sisters etc. from this it goes without saying that the petitioner was doing the works such as those claimed to have been done by the petitioner in his statement as well as in his depositions. and if a person is engaged for attending to domestic and other duties, as well as supervision of agricultural work during the season, it..........his coconuts to ascertain the market price of coconuts to know the dates of posting of the land tribunal cases of himself and his sisters etc. he being a practicing advocate he could have deputed his clerk for knowing the date of posting etc. of the cases. from this it goes without saying that the petitioner was doing the works such as those claimed to have been done by the petitioner in his statement as well as in his depositions.and the main question is whether the above represents a proper understanding of the relevant provisions of the act.3. section 2(f) of the act defines 'agricultural worker' as follows:'agricultural worker' means a person who, in consideration of the wages payable to him by a landowner, works on, or does any other agricultural operation in relation to,.....
Judgment:

M.P. Menon, J.

1. The first respondent was a caretaker looking after the immovable properties of the petitioner, besides rendering other services to him, and was being paid at the rate of Rs. 100 a month. On a complaint being made that he was denied employment, an agricultural dispute relating to his non-employment was referred to the 2nd respondent Tribunal, under Section 22(4) of the Kerala Agricultural Workers Act. 1974 (Act 18/74). Ext. P3 is the Tribunal's award declaring hat the first respondent.

is entitled to get employment under the counter-petitioner and arrears of wages, if any, found due to him.

The 'counter-petitioner' referred to in the awaral is the land owner petitioner herein. And the prayer in the O.P. is to quash Ext. P3.

2. The petitioner's case before the Tribunal was that the first respondent was not an agricultural worker as defined in the Act but only as agent doing many things on his behalf as 'karyastha'. The Tribunal dealt with this contention in the following terms:

The petitioner has no case that he was doing any agriculture operation by directly working on the land but that he was doing only works, which are considered to be the other agricultural operations in relation to the other agricultural lands of the owner. The counter petitioner has also admitted before the Deputy labour Officer (the Conciliation Officer) that the petitioner was attending his personal property affairs (Ext. B6). It clearly goes to show that there is nothing wrong that an agricultural worker who does not work directly on the land can also claim himself to be a care taker of the property also since he is doing any ether works in relation to the Agricultural operations as laid down under the latter part of the definition of Agricultural Worker given under Section 2(f) of the Agricultural Workers Act, 1974. The counter petitioner has admitted in his depositions that he was his personal and domestic servant who he was sending to fetch persons for disposing his coconuts to ascertain the market price of coconuts to know the dates of posting of the Land Tribunal cases of himself and his sisters etc. He being a practicing advocate he could have deputed his clerk for knowing the date of posting etc. of the cases. From this it goes without saying that the petitioner was doing the works such as those claimed to have been done by the petitioner in his statement as well as in his depositions.

And the main question is whether the above represents a proper understanding of the relevant provisions of the Act.

3. Section 2(f) of the Act defines 'agricultural worker' as follows:

'agricultural worker' means a person who, in consideration of the wages payable to him by a landowner, works on, or does any other agricultural operation in relation to, the agricultural land of such landowner:

The definition postulates a wage-earner under a landowner, either working on agricultural land or doing any other agricultural operation in relation to such land. The petitioner is admittedly a landowner and the 1st respondent was admittedly being engaged on wage or salary. What remains to be seen is:

(i) whether he was working on agricultural land; or

(ii) whether he was doing any other agricultural operations in relation to such land.

To ''work' mean to exert force, spend energy or apply effort; and in this sense, a person works 'on land' only when he engages himself in some physical activity on the land. But the word 'work' can also be understood in a wider sense so as to include not only manual work, but also intellectual and other kinds of activity. In this wider sense the work done by other persons on land is also a worker a person overseeing or supervising worker. But the definition makes a distinction between working on the land, and doing agricultural operations in relation to land. A person arranging for or supervising the work of transplanting in paddy fields, for example, may be said to be engaged in work 'in relation to the land'', and he may even be said to be working 'in connection with' the land; it may not however be proper to describe his activity as work 'on the land'. Again, every kind of activity in relation to agricultural land does not make the person engaged in it at an agricultural worker: the activity must amount to 'agricultural operation', to be brought within the scope of the definition. Under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 a person employed in any industry to do any skilled, unskilled, manual, supervisory, technical or clerical work is a workman; The various types of work are enumerated apparently to indicate that work does not mean only manual work. Whatever that be, the term 'work' in the first part of Section 2(i) of Act 18/74 is intended to denote some kind of activity on the land, as distinct from doing agricultural operations in relation to land, under the second part. A supervisor or overseer who does nothing on the land cannot be said to be working on the land, though he may be working in connection with agricultural operations; and since such activity is not an agricultural operation in itself, he cannot also be said to be engaged in agricultural operations in relation to land.

4. The above approach may have pit falls, and in construing a legislation designed to benefit certain classes of wage-earners, it may not be proper to adopt a narrow approach. Some of the other provision of the Act can also therefore be examined.

5. Where the owner of agricultural land is personally cultivating it. he is the 'landowner' in relation to that land, under Section 2(m)(i). 'Personally cultivate', under Clause (it) of Explanation I to Sub-section (m) means, cultivate either solely by one's own labour or with the help of member of the family or hired labourers, or both; alternatively, it means personally direct or supervise cultivation by such members or hired labourers, or both. Cultivation thus involves 'labour' and 'labourers'. Where the owner, uses his own capacity to ''labour', be cultivates the land himself. He can also get the help of hired labourers and personally 'direct or supervise' their activities; such direction or supervision also makes him the cultivator of the land. There is thus an apparent distinction between labour or work carried on through hired labourers on the one hand, and direction or supervision on the other. Direction or supervision is the function of the employer or the owner of land, in the context of cultivation, and all other activities required to make up cultivation can be carried on through hired labourers. In this view, if the owner of land engages another to direct, Oversee or supervise cultivation, instead of doing it himself, the proper way of describing that another is to call him an agent, and not a servant.

6. Section 18 provides that every landowner shall pay to the agricultural workers employed by him, the 'prescribed wages'. Section 2(n) defines ''prescribed wages' so as to include the rate of wages fixed under the Minimum Wages Act. It is as if notifications made under , the. Minimum Wages Act from time to time are bodily lifted into Apt, 18/74 for the purpose of of fixing the rates of wages payable to agricultural workers. As per the notification made by the Kerala Government on 3-9-75 under the Minimum Wages Act, Super-Ceding an earlier notification of 1973. different rates of wages have been fixed for:

[i] hard work done by men ;

[ii] light work done by women, including preparation of pits or bounds for planting coconut saplings;

[iii] ploughing ;

[iv] transplanting ;

[v] plucking coconuts; and

[vi] harvesting and threshing,:

The classifications cover only various types of manual work carried on directly on the land, and no wage-rate has been fixed for indirect work done in connection with agriculture, such as direction and supervision. The intention behind Section 18, read with Section 2(n), seems to be to bring only direct manual work on agricultural land, within the purview of agricultural work.

7. Where the wages payable to an agricultural worker remain unpaid the Conciliation Officer can arrange to recover it under Section 20. Sub-section (3) of this Section speaks of recovery of wages 'in the case of every work other than harvest'; and 'work' in the context, may possibly connote only manual work other than harvesting Section 7 of the Act suggests that agricultural work is seasonal; and if a person is engaged for attending to domestic and other duties, as well as supervision of agricultural work during the season, it cannot at any rate be held that he is permanently engaged as agricultural worker. The Explanation to Section 7(1) describes a 'permanent worker' as one bound by custom or contract to work in the agricultural land of the landowner; and so far as I know, employment of a person to supervise agricultural work is not a well-known custom. As for contract; it should be for working 'in the agricultural land a composite contract for attending to domestic duties and for supervising work on agricultural land may not fill the bill.

8. I have referred to only some of the provisions of the Act, and probably, a more exhaustive survey may be needed before finally holding that a supervisor, caretaker or overseer is not on agricultural worker under the Act. But for the purpose of the preset case, it is enough to notice that the Tribunal has erred in thinking that.

doing any other works in relation to agricultural operations.

is sufficient to satisfy the requirement of the 'latter part of the definition of agricultural worker'. That part requires that the person must be doing 'any other agricultural operation', and not any kind of work relation thereto. The admission of the landowner that the first respondent

was his personal and domestic servant whom he was sending to fetch persons for disposing of his coconuts, to ascertain the market price of coconuts, to know the dates of posting of Land Tribunal cases of , himself and his sisters.

could not have concluded the question, as the Tribunal seems to have thought, because domestic service, finding purchasers for agricultural produce, making enquiries about their market price and frequenting Land Tribunals could not. by any stretch of imagination, be considered as work on agricultural land, or doing agricultural operations in relation thereto. The Tribunal in also seem to have been unduly influenced by the circumstance that the Ist respondent had registered himself as an agricultural worker under Section 35. The Section only requires the local authorities to prepare a register of agricultural workers. There is no provision that registration raises a presumption about the status of the person registering. When Section 35 provides for registration of agricultural workers, it is idle to think that any other person would automatically become an agricultural worker by the process. Rules 20 to 23 of the Kerala Agricultural Workers Rules, 1975 do not also disclose that before registering a person as agricultural worker, proceedings are initiated with notice to the landowner in order to make him bound by the decision of the registering authority.

9. I am, therefore, of the view that Ext. P. 3 award is vitiated by errors of law. The same is therefore, quashed, leaving the parties to suffer their own costs.


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