Rajagopala Iyengar, J.
1. The legality of the award of the Labour Court, Coimbatore, in an industrial dispute which was referred to it is the subject matter of this writ petition which has been filed by the management.
2. The petitioner, management in question is one which was conducting a transport undertaking. Gopal the second respondent in this petition was employed as a driver of a lorry in this undertaking.
While he was in charge of a lorry the vehicle met with a serious accident on 20-9-1957 by reason of which the lorry became a total loss. The person who was actually driving the vehicle at the time of the accident was a cleaner by name Dayanandan who had no licence to drive. The management immediately after the accident issued notice to both the driver and the cleaner to show cause why they should not be dismissed from service for misconduct. Gopal the driver replied on 23-9-1957 pleading that he was not responsible for the accident blaming it on Dayanandan alone and attributed victimisation as the motive for the issue of notice.
The management held an enquiry on 26-9-1957 when they examined Gopal as well as Dayanandan. The evidence of Dayanandan was that he had been instructed or directed by Gopal the driver to drive the lorry and bring a load and that the key of the vehicle was given to him by the driver for the purpose. He confessed that he was himself not a licenced driver and that his driving the vehicle amounted to an offence. The management found as a result of this enquiry that it was established that it was the driver Gopal who put the vehicle under the control of the cleaner Dayanandan, and that it was on his instructions that the vehicle was driven by the cleaner.
On these findings the management took action against both the driver as well as the cleaner and both of them were dismissed from service. This petition is concerned only with the driver Gopal since there was no controversy as regards the propriety of the punishment imposed on the cleaner, Dayanandan. The Secretary of the District Motor Workers Union sponsored the cause of the driver and raised an industrial dispute which was referred by the Government for adjudication. The terms of reference to the Industrial Court were; 'Whether the dismissal of Sri N. Gopal, driver is justified and to what relief he is entitled and to compute in terms of money the relief, if any to which the worker is entitled if it can be so computed'.
3. The Tribunal by its award has held that the services of the driver were unjustifiably terminated and on this finding he directed the reinstatement with back wages and allowances of Gopal. It is the lagality of this award that is challenged in this writ petition. The ground on which the Tribunal held that the management was not justified in dismissing the driver was based upon the enquiry which it conducted in relation to the driver's misconduct. Before the labour Court both Gopal as well as Dayanandan were examined. Besides one Ibrahim was examined as the workers' second witness.
Gopal stated in his evidence what ho had always been asserting that he did not authorise the cleaner, Dayanandan to drive the lorry. Dayanandan in his evidence stated the same facts that he deposed before the management namely that it was the driver who permitted him and it was only on his instructions that he drove the lorry. Gopal, however, produced a letter before the Labour Court which had not been produced at any earlier stage and which had been marked as Ex. W. 1. This was a letter passed by Dayanandan to Gopal on the same day as the accident in which he had stated that Gopal had not instructed him to take the lorry but that he had done so of his own accord.
When this letter was put to him in the course of cross-examination Dayanandan stated that he gave it to Gopal because the latter wanted such a letter in order to escape proceedings being taken against him by the employer. The labour court was inclined to believe that that letter, represented the truth, that Dayanandan's evidence given before the labour court was untrue and that it was not really on the instructions of Gopal that the vehicle was taken by Dayanandan. On this finding the Tribunal held that the discharge was unjustified and therefore granted relief to the driver Gopal which the Union prayed for.
4. The functions of an industrial Tribunal in deciding a dispute as to whether an employer has properly terminated the services of an employee have been laid down by the Supreme Court in Indian Iron and Steel Co. v. Their Workmen, : (1958)ILLJ260SC and the passage relevant in the present context is at p. 270 (of Lab LJ) : (at p. 138 of AIR) :
'Undoubtedly the management of a concern has power to direct its own internal administration and discipline; but the power is not unlimited and when a dispute arises, industrial tribunals have been given the power to see whether the termination of service of a workman is justified and to give appropriate relief. In cases of dismissal on misconduct the Tribunal does not, however, act as a court of appeal and substitute its own judgment for that of the management. It will interfere (1) when there is a want of good faith, (2) when there is victimisation or unfair labour practice, (3) when the management had been guilty of a basic error or violation of a principle of natural justice and (4) when on the materials the| finding is completely baseless or perverse'.
If these tests were applied it appears to me that the order of the labour court cannot be sustained. The dismissal of the driver was preceded by an enquiry conducted by the management.
The driver was directed to show cause why his services should not be terminated and the charge against him was specified with particularity. The enquiry was held on 26-9-1957 in the presence of the worker. The worker had no doubt denied knowledge of the cleaner's driving the vehicle but he had however to admit that the key of the lorry was left in the lorry itself in his presence. The cleaner was examined and he stated that he was instructed to make one trip and bring the load and that the driver gave him the key of the lorry on account of which he drove the vehicle. There was no cross-examination of this witness by Gopal.
If this represented the enquiry it appears to me indisputable that it satisfied every test of a proper enquiry and if the management in the circumstances held that the evidence of Dayanandan, the cleaner should be accepted I do not see any impropriety in the order of dismissal which followed. The Tribunal was not as the learned Judges of the Supreme Court pointed out a court of appeal from the decision of the domestic forum. Learned counsel for the respondent Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam however urged two points.
The first was that the management had not raised this point about the jurisdiction of the labour court before it and were therefore precluded from objecting to a finding now reached regarding the impropriety of the dismissal of the driver. I feel unable to uphold this objection. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal is dependent on the proper construction of the Industrial Disputes Act and the relevant law of the land. That has been laid down authoritatively by the Supreme Court and this is as much the duty of the Tribunal to govern itself by proper rule of law and keep itself within the limits of its jurisdiction as it is the duty of the litigants to apprise it of the real state of the law.
Nor is it correct to say that no objection was raised as to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. In the counter statement filed by the management before the labour Court, in paragraphs 13 to 15 the management had set out the details of the enquiry which they conducted with a view to show that the enquiry was proper and that its results were fair and just. The legal objection based on the finding at this inquiry was formulated in paragraph 18 thus: 'It is, therefore, submitted that the claim is not tenable either in law or on the facts'.
The fact that the management led evidence on the merits of their contention regarding misconduct of the worker does not in my judgment preclude them from saying that the conclusion reached by them as a result of their enquiry should be accepted by the Tribunal. In passing I might mention that though the worker had attributed mala fides to the management there is no finding regarding it by the tribunal and I must therefore proceed on the basis that their action in terminating the services of the driver was bona fide.
Learned counsel for the respondent further submitted that the management did not follow up the plea raised by them in paragraph 18 of then counter statement in the course of their arguments and raise an issue regarding it but that on the other hand they led evidence to justify the misconduct of the worker before the Tribunal and that as they had taken the chance of a decision in then favour they could not now object to the jurisdiction in the Tribunal basing themselves on the decision of the Supreme Court. This submission is in my opinion, also not tenable.
On the decision of the Supreme Court the termination of employment by the management afterenquiry even if justified on the merits, might be impugned on the ground of mala fides and consequently it was necessary for them to adduce evidence andit was the worker and not the management that adduced evidence to show that on the merits he wasnot guilty of the misconduct charged. This cannotcertainly be blamed on the management and if theTribunal wrongly held that it was entitled to travelbeyond the findings reached by the management atthe enquiry held, the petitioners cannot suffer. Inthis connection I have only to mention that it wasthe case of the worker that there was no enquiryat all by the management. The Tribunal found thatthis was untrue and has recorded a specific findingregarding it.
The record of the enquiry was before the Tribunal and if the contention that there was no enquiry is negatived, it would certainly follow that the document filed before the Tribunal purporting to be the record of enquiry represented what actually took place. The next point urged was that as the
Tribunal had not found as a fact that this enquiry was a proper enquiry I should even if the award should be set aside remit it for further consideration by the Labour Court for determining whether the enquiry was proper, in view however of the case put forward on behalf of the worker that there was no enquiry at all, the Tribunal was not called on to record any specific finding on this point.
The record, however, of the enquiry conducted by the management on 26-9-1957 is before me and the learned counsel for the respondent was unable to suggest why it should not be held to be a proper enquiry if it represented what actually took place at the time. It was open to the management to accept the evidence of the cleaner and if they did so I do not see how it could be characterised as perverse, so as to fall within the purview of the decision of the Supreme Court already cited.
5. I hold that the award of the Labour Court was beyond its jurisdiction in that it entered into the merits of the dismissal when on its finding there had been an enquiry by the management and there was no suggestion that the conclusion reached as a result of the enquiry was perverse or was vitiated by improper motive. The writ petition is accordingly allowed and the rule nisi made absolute. The award of the labour court is set aside. There will be no order as to costs.