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Wakefield Estate (by Hitchi Gowder) Vs. Maruthan Uchi and 31 Ors. (Neelamalal Plantation Workers' Union) (21.11.1958 - MADHC) - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Judge
Reported in(1959)ILLJ397Mad
AppellantWakefield Estate (by Hitchi Gowder)
RespondentMaruthan Uchi and 31 Ors. (Neelamalal Plantation Workers' Union)
Cases ReferredNagendranth v. Commissioner of Hills Division Assam
Excerpt:
- - if these 22 persons actually worked in wakefield estate from april to september inclusive, it is really surprising that no better evidence 'was forthcoming. that dispute came into existence only in october 1957. to fabricate a book like ex. 7. regarding the failure of the management to produce certain books, the court below observed. thus, the non-production of material books is clearly made out by these two officers. if that document is not fabricated, the claim of the petitioners that they worked in wakefield estate from april to september 1957 must fail......workers' union to the labour court at coimbatore for certain directions under section 20(3) of the minimum wages act. their case was that they had been working in wakefield estate from march 1957 to september 1957, and that they had not been paid the wages due to them under the minimum wages act. they claimed that a sum of rs. 1,153-3-0 was due to them in the aggregate and prayed that directions be given to the management of the wakefield estate to pay them this money.3. the manager of the estate filed a counter in which he stated :none of the applicants is entitled to claim the difference in wages claimed as none of the petitioners is employed by this respondent.the workers filed a rejoinder to the effect that 'the petitioners are workmen employed toy the respondent.' the respondent.....
Judgment:

Balakrishna Ayyar, J.

1. This is a petition under Article 227 of the Constitution to revise the order of the Labour Court of Coimbatore in M.W.P. No. 80 of 1957, dated 31 December 1957.

2. On 19 October 1957, 32 persons who claimed to be workers in an estate called the Wake-field Estate applied through the president of the Neelamalai Plantation Workers' Union to the Labour Court at Coimbatore for certain directions under Section 20(3) of the Minimum Wages Act. Their case was that they had been working in Wakefield Estate from March 1957 to September 1957, and that they had not been paid the wages due to them under the Minimum Wages Act. They claimed that a sum of Rs. 1,153-3-0 was due to them in the aggregate and prayed that directions be given to the management of the Wakefield Estate to pay them this money.

3. The manager of the estate filed a counter in which he stated :

None of the applicants is entitled to claim the difference in wages claimed as none of the petitioners is employed by this respondent.

The workers filed a rejoinder to the effect that 'the petitioners are workmen employed toy the respondent.' The respondent filed an additional counter in which he admitted that some of the applicants had worked in his estate for some days in March 1957; but he categorically asserted that none of the workers had worked in his estate on any day from April to September inclusive. The tribunal held that the workers were entitled to the amount they claimed and issued the directions prayed for. The management has now come to this Court to have this order quashed.

4. The first question that arises for determination is whether any of the respondents actually worked in Wakefield estate from April to September 1957 inclusive. Of the 32 petitioners, ten were examined as W.Ws. 3 to 12. If we leave them out for the moment, there would be 22 of the petitioners left. To show that any of them worked in Wakefield estate at any time from April to September 1957 inclusive, there is extraordinarily little evidence. Learned counsel for the respondents was able to draw my attention only to two sentences in the evidence of W.W. 12 as constituting the evidence on this point. One sentence was in the chief-examination which ran as follows:

Though till Deepavali, I have been working, the persona whose names you now read are all workers who were all regularly working here till Deepavali.

The other sentence was in cross-examination and it ran:

All the workers, who figure in this petition and whose names were read Just now all have been working only in your estate.

W.W. 12 who gave these two answers is an ignorant and illiterate woman who does not know even her age. The record does not, show what names were put to W.W. 12 when she was examined-in-chief. It will also be noticed that so far as the answer she gave in cross-examination is concerned, it does not indicate what the period of time was during which these persons worked in Wakefield estate. If these 22 persons actually worked in Wakefield estate from April to September inclusive, it is really surprising that no better evidence 'was forthcoming. Not one of these persons went into the box to say that he or she actually worked in the estate during that period. Not one of the nine persons who were examined as W.Ws. 3 to 11 stated that any of these 22 persons worked in the estate. I may mention here that name of none of these persons appears in Ex. M. 4, the acquaintance roll maintained by the Wakefleld estate for the period from April to September 1957. Certain comments were made on this register and to those I shall return presently. At the moment it will be sufficient to mention that name of not one of these persons appears in the register.

5. So far as W.Ws. 3 to 12 are concerned, they did no doubt say that they worked in the estate from April to September 1957. But there is nothing more than their word of mouth and to support it there is no evidence whatever the name of not one of these persons appears in Ex, M. 4. So far as this document and some others produced by Wakefield estate are concerned, the criticism was made that they were not produced before W.W. 1, the Labour Officer who visited the estate in October 1957, and therefore they must be spurious. On this comment I would make a few observations. The first is that the person whom W.W. 1 asked to produce the books was the manager of the estate, and he then stated that the books were with the proprietor. If the proprietor had been called upon to produce any book and he had omitted to do so, then the criticism based on non production of the book would have some force. That apart, I find it impossible to believe that Ex. M. 4 could have been fabricated. The motive for fabricating a book of this kind could have arisen only after the dispute between the parties started. That dispute came into existence only in October 1957. To fabricate a book like Ex. M. 4 would have required the co-operation of at least 33 persons, because either the signatures or the thumb marks of as many as 33 persons appear in this book. One may presume that the existence of the dispute between the Wakefield estate and the respondents must have been known to the other workers in the estate. In that context it is very unlikely that the management would have sought to enlist the co-operation of any of the workers to fabricate a document of this kind. Even if it had, it is in the last degree unlikely that the workers would have obliged the management. I notice at p. 11 of the book thumb marks of various persons without the amounts paid to them having been entered. This no doubt shows that the thumb marks of the workers were obtained in advance of the entries. But it does not show and cannot show that the register was fabricated. The comment was made that Ex. 4 does not contain the initials of any officers. I do not consider that circumstance to be of any importance.

6. The lower court observed that the evidence of these workers, W. Ws. 3 to 12, that they were permanent workers is fully supported by Exs. W. 1 to W. 11. This observation is demonstrably erroneous. Exhibit W. 1 to W. 11 are chits issued by one John on behalf of the management requesting that the persons referred to in them be given medical attention and treatment. There is no evidence whatever to show that the persona mentioned in the chits are among the petitioners. None of the persons, whose names appear in the chits has been examined and certainly no one who has been examined has given evidence to say that he or she is the person referred to in any of these chits.

7. Regarding the failure of the management to produce certain books, the court below observed.

Regarding W. W.2, he also stated that at a time when he inspected, he wanted certain books. The manager did not produce them. Thus, the non-production of material books is clearly made out by these two officers. Even at the time of the enquiry the management had not cared to produce the books said to have been signed by the labour officer.

The tribunal, however, did not ascertain what the books were which were called for and which were not produced. Nor did it consider what bearing those books would have had if produced on the claim of the respondents that they had been working to Wakefleld Estate from April to September 1957.

8. The tribunal did not say in clear terms that Ex. M. 4 is a fabricated document, and on the evidence it is impossible to reach or maintain any such conclusion. If that document is not fabricated, the claim of the petitioners that they worked in Wakefield Estate from April to September 1957 must fail.

9. So far as March 1957 is concerned names of the petitioners appear In Ex. M. 3, and so the only question here is whether they have been paid the minimum rate of wages they are entitled to under the Act or only smaller amounts. On this point there is the evidence of W. W. 1 which runs as follows:

Men workers were paid Rs. 1-4-0 and women workers Re. 1, and pluckers at 6 pies for pound of green leaves plucked. This is what the workers told me. The manager also told me that this is correct, i.e., what the workers told me.

This witness was not cross-examined on this part of his evidence, and I must take It as correct. No doubt Ex. M. 3 shows that they were paid at the rate fixed by the statute; but to this circumstances I attach no importance. Very often receipts are taken from employees for amounts larger than those actually handed over to them. On this part of this case my conclusion is that all the petitioners whose names appear in Ex. M. 3 are entitled to be paid for March 1957 the difference between the wages actually paid to them according to the evidence of W. W. 1 and what would be admissible to them under the Minimum Wages Act.

10. The learned advocate for the respondents referred me to the decision in Nagendranth v. Commissioner of Hills Division Assam 1958 S.C.J. 798, where the scope of the power of the High Court to interfere under Article 227 of the Constitution is explained and contended that in the present case there is no justification whatever for Interfering with the conclusions reached by the tribunal. If the conclusion reached by the tribunal had been based on some little acceptable evidence, however inadequate it might be, I would not have interfered. But so far as 22 of the workers are concerned, the evidence is so little as to be practically non-existent. So far as the other ten are concerned, there is no doubt some evidence namely the statement of W.Ws. 3 to 12. But that evidence is one, which, in my opinion, no reasonable man could possibly accept. Before we can accept their evidence, we must be prepared to say that Ex. M. 4 is a fabricated document and It seems to me that it isimpossible to say that. That being so, I think this Court will be justified in interfering.

11. The second contention of Mr. Jagadisa Ayyar was this. The summary remedy provided by Section 20(2) of the Minimum Wages Act is available only to an employee. So far as It is now material the definition of the word, 'employee' in Section 2(1) runs as follows :

Employee means any person who is employed for hire or reward to do any work ...in a scheduled employment in respect of which minimum rates have been fixed.

The definition then goes to say that the word ' employee ' includes out-workers and other persons declared to be employees by the appropriate Government. With that we are not now concerned. According to Mr. Jagadisa Ayyar a person who seeks relief under the Act must be an employee within the definition of the Act at the time he seeks the relief.

12. In the Industrial Disputes Act Which is an earlier enactment the word workman is defined as meaning any person employed in any industry and Includes for certain purposes workmen who have been discharged. But persona who have ceased to be employees are not included In the definition of ' employee' In the Minimum Wages Act. According to ordinary routine practice a draftsman who was called upon to define a word in a statute would look for precedents in the earlier Acts and it is unlikely that he would have overlooked the definition of workman in the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, which had been passed only about a year before. The inference legitimately arises that persons who ceased to be employees were deliberately left out of the definition of the word ' employee ' in 1948. Dealing with this aspect of the matter, Mr. Sankaran the learned Advocate for the respondents, contended that if the view which Mr. Jagadisa Ayyar put forward is accepted, the result would be that an employee whose services have been terminated without his having been paid the wages due to him in full would be unable to recover them. But that is not so. Where minimum wages have been fixed for an employee in any industry, he would have earned those minimum wages during the period he was in employment. The sum of money payable to him would be a debt which he can collect by resort to, should the need arise, the ordinary courts. It will also be open to him to raise an industrial dispute over the matter. An employee whose services are terminated will not, therefore, lose the wages he has earned. The only thing is that he will not be entitled to invoke the summary machinery provided in Section 20 of the Minimum Wages Act after he ceases to be an employee.

13. There is nothing new in such a view of the matter. Under the Madras Estates Land Act for example a landholder to whom arrears of rent are due could collect the money by distaining the moveable property of the ryot in arrear. But he would not be entitled to do so if before effecting the distraint the relationship of landholder and ryot ceases to exist.

14. The argument of Mr. Sankaran requires that the word ' employee ' in Section 20 of the Act should be so construed as to include past employees. If that had been the intention of the legislature, it is difficult to understand why the section was not so drafted as to include past employees also. If we look into the Indian Companies Act we find that the relevant sections there are so drafted that where it is intented to confer rights or to fasten liabilities on past members, the word ' past members ' are inserted in the appropriate place. Similar provision is to be found in the Co-operative Societies Act; and I have no doubt that there are other enactments which contain similar provisions.

15. Since Section 20 speaks only of employees and does not speak of past employees, and since the word ' employee ' is defined as meaning a person who is employed, I consider that the summary remedy provided by Section 20 is not available to past employees. On this ground alone, this petition is bound to succeed.

16. This petition is allowed and the order of the court below is set aside. There will be no order as to costs.


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