(1) This is a petition for the issue of a writ of certiorari to quash the order of the Labour Court, Madras by which it directed certain documents to be produced by the petitioner, the Management of the Agri Horticultural Society. The petitioner Society employs a number of workmen. Under S. 10(1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, a dispute between the Management and the workmen stands referred to the Labour Court. The questions before the Labour Court called for the determination of these points:--
(1) Whether the Society is carrying on an industry?
(2) Whether the Union can represent the workers?
(3) Whether the demand for fixation of scales of wages by the workers is justified?
(4) Whether the existing rates of dearness allowance require revision? and
(5) Whether a gratuity scheme has to be introduced?
Among the preliminary questions directed to be tried in the first instance was whether the Society was engaged in an industry as defined in the Act. The Society, which is a body devoted to the development of agriculture, horticulture, etc., claims to be a non-profit-making body maintained by subscriptions from its members and by Government grants and donations.
The Union made an application praying that the Labour Court may direct the Society to produce ledgers, day books, sales bill book, receipt book, wage register and a contract whereunder the Society had leased out a portion of its property to the Woodlands Hotel. It was claimed that these documents were necessary for the trial of the preliminary issue. The Society opposed the application, contending that these documents were irrelevant and that the union should not be permitted to enter upon a roving inspection of the petitioner's books and records. The Labour Court heard arguments in the matter and made an order, which merely states, 'Documents to be produced by 22-5-1964'. It is the contention of the Society that the Labour Court has not considered the objections of the petitioner and it has given no reasons for calling for these documents. It is contended that in directing the production of the documents, the Labour Court has not followed the procedure enjoined upon it, and in any event, the inspection of the documents at this stage, when the preliminary jurisdictional issue has not been decided, would be premature.
(2) No counter affidavit has been filed in this writ petition, but the statement filed on behalf of the workers in the proceedings before the Labour Court forms part of the record. In the affidavit accompanying the application made by the workmen for causing the production of the documents, it is merely stated that the documents referred to are essential for arriving at a reasonable decision on the preliminary issue. The Management contended that the affidavit filed by the workers did not disclose how any entries in the account books would be relevant for the consideration of the question. It was again asserted that the Society is a non-profit making body and that the workmen employed by the Society are all domestic servants and carrying on the domestic duty of maintaining the garden for the benefit of its members.
(3) Mr. M. K. Nambiar appearing for the Society, contended that while the Labour Court enjoys the powers of a civil court under S. 11(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act, it is nevertheless a court of limited jurisdiction, and it is bound to give reasons for any order that it might make in the exercise of the powers vested in it as a civil court. It is not in dispute that in the exercise of such powers as a civil court, the Labour Court has the power to compel the production of documents and material objects. The provisions of Order XI C.P.C. are accordingly applicable. Rule 15 or Order XI enables every party in a suit at any time to give notice to any other party in whose pleadings or evidence reference is made to any document to produce such document for inspection of the party giving such notice. Rule 18 provides that where a party has been served with notice under Rule 15, the court may, on the application of the party desiring inspection, make an order for inspection in such manner as it may think fit.
It will be noticed that both of these rules refer to the inspection of documents of one party, upon which documents that party relies in its pleadings or affidavit. The present is obviously not a case which comes within the scope of either Rule 15 or Rule 18(1). For the documents, the inspection of which is sought by the respondent, workmen in the present case, are not documents which are referred to in the pleadings of the other party. These are documents which according to the workmen, would disclose the manner in which the petitioner has been doing business and would serve to establish whether the petitioner society is carrying on an industry or not. Rule 18(2) appears to meet such a situation. This rule reads:
'Any application to inspect documents except such as are referred to in the pleadings, particulars or affidavits of the party against whom the application is made or, disclosed in his affidavits of documents shall be founded upon an affidavit showing of what documents inspection is sought, that the party applying is entitled to inspect them, and that they are in the possession or power of the other party. The court shall not make such order for inspection of such documents when and so far as the court shall be of opinion that it is not necessary either for disposing fairly of the suit or for saving costs.'
This sub-rule clearly relates to documents which are not referred to in the pleadings or the affidavits of the Management. When inspection is sought of documents other than those referred to in such pleadings or affidavits, the application has to be dealt with in the manner set out in Rule 18(2).
(4) Mr. Nambiar has referred to the decision in Burn and Co. v. Jitendranath, : AIR1956Cal592 . In that case, an industrial dispute was pending adjudication before the Tribunal which related to bonus. The Union sought an order to direct the company to allow inspection of certain documents mentioned in its petition. The company opposed the prayer. The Tribunal however directed inspection to be given. The matter came before the High Court and it was contended that the Tribunal which was conferred with the same power as the civil court with regard to discovery and inspection has not followed the procedure outlined in the Civil Procedure Code. The learned Judge observed:
'There are certain principles which have been firmly established in such cases, e.g. an affidavit of documents is considered as prima facie conclusive, but there are certain circumstances under which a Court can order inspection of documents although not stated in the affidavits, because it comes to the conclusion that their existence is reasonable or probable by reason of anything contained in the affidavit of documents contained therein or the pleadings. It is unnecessary to go into these cases, because it is conceded by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents that before inspection could have been ordered, it was necessary to order the filing of an affidavit of documents. Such is in reality the procedure which has been laid down by law. Until such an affidavit of documents has been directed to be filed, the court would have no jurisdiction to order inspection. This is not a procedure which can be omitted.'
The subsequent parts of the judgment purport to say that there was nothing to indicate whether the company had admitted possession or relevancy of all the documents, and finally, the learned judge concluded:
'In any event, before compelling the company to give inspection of certain documents, it must be ordered to file an affidavit of documents and there can be no exception to it. The order made by the Tribunal therefore is not in accordance with law and is bad on the face of it..... The matter will now go back to the Tribunal, which will, in the first instance, if it is desirous of directing the company to give inspection of any documents, make an order directing it to file a proper affidavit of documents on the lines specified in the Civil Procedure Code and thereafter make such orders for inspection as are warranted by law.....'
I am unable to see how this decision can apply to the facts of the present case. It is not the dispute of the Management that it is not possessed of these documents or that in the normal carrying on of its business it does not maintain these accounts. There seems to be a distinction between Rule 18(1) of Order XI on the one hand, and Rules 15 and 18 on the other. Rule 18(1) pre-supposes an affidavit or the pleadings of a party referring to or relying on certain documents, in which event the other party can seek an inspection of those documents. But where one party seeks inspection of documents not referred to in the pleadings or affidavit of the other, neither Rule 15 nor 18(1) appears to have any application.
(5) It is Rule 18(2) that would apply to such a case, and when the possession of the documents is not disputed, an affidavit in regard to possession seems unnecessary. At any rate, Rule 18(2) does not in terms call for such an affidavit, the only point which the Tribunal would be called upon to examine would be whether the documents would be relevant for determination of the question before it.
(6) The point that I have indicated above has been considered in a decision of this court in Mettur Chemical and Industrial Corporation Ltd. v. Their Workmen, 1955 1 MLJ 27. The learned Judge observes:-
'Rule 18(2) of Order XI C. P.C. provides for documents other than those referred to in Rule 15, the inspection of which a court is empowered to order. The conditions to be satisfied before the power under S. 18(2) of Order XI C.P.C. can be exercised are: (1) that there should be an affidavit to show the documents inspection of which is sought; (2) the party who applied for the inspection of the documents should establish that he is entitled to inspect and (3) the documents the inspection of which is sought must be in the possession of the party against whom the order of inspection is sought. Overriding all these is the further requirement that the court should be of opinion that the document inspection of which is sought is necessary either for disposing of fairly the suit or for saving costs.'
(7) There is no doubt that the first and third conditions set out above are fulfilled. Nor is there any doubt that the overriding requirement indicated by the learned Judge also obtains in this case, for in deciding whether the Management is engaged in any industry very relevant evidence would certainly be the manner of its carrying on its business, which will be disclosed by the accounts maintained by it. In fact, the Labour Court could not possibly determine the preliminary issue. The question is whether the second condition stated above is fulfilled. The learned Judge in dealing with the matter in the above decisions, stated that the court or Tribunal must apply its mind and satisfy itself that the limitations under which jurisdiction or power is exercisable are satisfied. If the court fails to appreciate and apply its mind to the preliminary questions it has to decide, it would amount to an erroneous assumption of jurisdiction. The jurisdictional fact must be established before the jurisdiction is assumed and the power exercised.
(7-A) Upon the question whether the workmen are entitled to inspect such documents, it seems to me that there can be only one answer.
(8) Here the dispute concerns the liability of the management to be regarded as an industry within the meaning of the Industrial Disputes Act. The decision of this question is vital to a proper disposal of the reference pending before the Labour Court. There can be no other satisfactory method of determining this issue except by reference to the documents and accounts with the Management.. the evidence which is available and which is undoubtedly necessary for the disposal of the issue is with one of the parties to the action. It seems to me that in those circumstances, no further proof of the right to inspection on behalf of the other party requires to be produced.
(9) The further contention of Mr. Nambiar is that the Labour Court as a Tribunal of limited jurisdiction has filed to give any reasons for the order that it passed. Though it may be that the sufficiency of the reasons, if given by a subordinate tribunal would not be a matter for investigation in proceedings under Art. 226, the failure of the subordinate Tribunal to furnish any reason at all, it is claimed, is sufficient to vitiate the order of the Tribunal. Reference has been made to Govindrao v. State of Madhya Pradesh, : 1SCR678 . In that case, the Government rejected a petition for a grant in terms of S. 5 of the C. P. and Berar Regulation of Land Revenue Exemption Act XXXVII of 1948. The order contained no reasons. Their Lordships of the Supreme Court observe.
'The Act lays upon the Government a duty which obviously must be performed in a judicial manner. The appellants do not seem to have been heard at all. The Act bars a suit and there is all the more reason that Government must deal with such cases in a quasi judicial manner giving opportunity to the claimants to state their case in the light of the report of the Deputy Commissioner. The appellants were also entitled to know the reason why their claim for the grant of money or pension was rejected by the Government and how they were considered as not falling within the class of persons who it was clearly intended by the Act were to be compensated in this manner............ As the order of the Government does not fulfil the elementary requirements of such quasi judicial process, we do not consider it necessary to order a remit to the High Court. The order of the State Government must be set aside.'
The decision therein proceeded not only on the ground that no reasons were given but that in discharging a quasi judicial duty, the Government gave no opportunity to the party affected. The position in law cannot be denied that a Tribunal should give its reasons for an order which it makes. The Tribunal must apply its mind and determine whether the several documents sought to be inspected are relevant. For instance, the contract which the respondent has entered into with a third party by way of lease of its properties may have nothing to do with the business activities of the Society. I merely express a tentative opinion, more to emphasise that it is the duty of the Labour Court to scan the matter before it could decide the relevancy of the documents sought to be inspected. The concluding part of Rule 18(2) is so worded that it is made manifest that the order should not be made as a matter of course but only when the court finds the documents necessary for the disposal of the question.
(10) The order impugned is not in compliance with the requirements of Order XI Rule 18(2). It is accordingly quashed. The Labour Court will reconsider the matter and dispose the application in accordance with the law.
No order as to costs.
(11) Order accordingly.