1. The petitioners are the president and vice-president of the Chittivalasa Labour Union, connected with the Chittivalasa Mills. They have been convicted under rule 35 (4) read with rule 38 (5) of the Defence of India Rules and sentenced by the Joint Magistrate of Vizianagaram to nine months' rigorous imprisonment each. In appeal to the Sessions Judge, these convictions were Confirmed as well as the sentences.
2. The prejudicial act alleged to have been committed by the petitioners was the bringing about of a strike by the mill workers and thereby impeding the war effort; for the mill in question was turning out sand bags and other articles urgently required by the Government for the prosecution of the war. The petitioners also indulged in picketting, thus dissuading workers from going to work. The reason for the strike was that a woman named Ellamma was dismissed because she stuck a bodkin or needle of some sort into another worker. The Labour Union seems to have thought that she ought to have been given two or three warnings before she was dismissed and that she was dismissed without a proper inquiry. These omissions, the Union considered, wore very objectionable, and if repeated would affect the interests of the whole body of workers. A strike was therefore ordered and the workers persuaded not to go to work. The learned Magistrate rightly found that the strike necessarily involved a reduction in the output of the mill; and he thought that as the petitioners were aware of the fact that the mill was doing war work, they were guilty of doing a prejudicial act.
3. Rule 38 (1) says that no person shall without lawful authority or excuse (a) do any prejudicial act The learned Magistrate and the learned Sessions Judge unfortunately did not further consider whether the petitioners acted without lawful authority or excuse.
4. The simple question that falls for decision here is therefore whether the petitioners had a lawful excuse for calling on this strike. Strikes and lockouts, though clumsy and injurious, are the only existing means of deciding trade disputes; and the (tailing of a strike has not yet been declared to be illegal. If the petitioners had called the strike with the object of impeding the war effort and not merely with the knowledge that it would impede the war effort, they would undoubtedly have been guilty of the offence with which they were charged. There however seems very little doubt that the motive for the calling of the strike was to remedy what the petitioners and others considered to be an arbitrary exercise of the employers' power of dismissal without a fair inquiry and without giving a reasonable warning to the worker. The evidence indicates that the petitioners interviewed the Collector of Vizagapatam even before the strike was declared, and asked him to intervene. There can therefore be no doubt from the record that the' petitioners were primarily concerned with remedying their real or supposed grievance with regard to the treatment of Ellamma. As the petitioners and their union had no other method of redressing their grievance except by going on strike, it must be held that they had a lawful excuse for the strike, even though the petitioners knew that as a result of the strike essential war work would be impeded.
5. As the petitioners acted with a lawful excuse, they were not guilty of any offence punishable under the Defence of India Rules. The petition is therefore allowed, the convictions and sentences are set aside, and the bail bonds of the petitioners cancelled.