(1) The above appeals are from the judgment of Rajagopalan J. disposing of a batch of petitions filed under Art. 226 of the Constitution by the managements of certain handloom factories in the following circumstances: On 20-7-1955, the Government in exercise of the powers conferred by S. 10(1)(c) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, directed that an industrial dispute which had arisen between the workers and the managements specified in the first Schedule to the order in respect of matters specified in the second Schedule thereto be referred, for adjudication, to the Industrial Tribunal having its place of sitting at Madras.
The matters mentioned in the Second Schedule were (1) whether the wage cut made in November 1954 should be restored and if so, from what date and (2) Fixation of the number of festival holidays. Though the reference mentions the dispute to be between the workers and the managements in general terms, it is common ground that the controversy is between the weavers who work for the several factories, and the respective managements, and the main question for consideration is whether these weavers are workmen within the definition of that term in the Industrial Disputes Act, S. 2 cl. (s). The contention of the managements was that as these weavers were not workmen, there was no industrial dispute, because according to the definition in cl. (k) of S. 2 of the Act, 'industrial dispute' means inter alia any dispute or difference between employers and workmen.
Before the Tribunal could take up the matter for adjudication, the managements first filed an application for the issue of a writ of certiorari to quash the reference itself. But that petition was dismissed by this court on 12-2-1957. Subsequently the applications out of which these appeals arise were filed by the managements of the five factories praying for the issue of writs of prohibition directing the Industrial Tribunal, Madras, to forbear from proceeding with the enquiry of the dispute which had been referred to it by the Government.
Before the learned Judge Rajagopalan. who dealt with the petitions the main contention was that the weavers who were concerned in the dispute were not workmen as defined in S. 2(s) of the Act. This legal position was not accepted by the weavers. The sole question is whether this controversy should be decided first by the Industrial Tribunal or can only be decided by this court in the petitions under Art. 226. Rajagopalan J. made it abundantly clear that this court certainly had jurisdiction to decide the question and in a proper case this court would be justified in dealing with the matter at the earliest stage before even the Industrial Tribunal had begun its proceedings. But the learned Judge was equally clear that this did not necessarily imply that the Industrial Tribunal itself had no jurisdiction to try such an issue. The learned Judge observed.
"In my opinion, the Tribunal has that jurisdiction. If it comes to a right concluson that it is an industrial dispute, it has jurisdiction to proceed further with the adjudication of that dispute. If, however, it comes to the conclusion that the dispute is not an industrial dispute it can have no jurisdiction to proceed any further. As a statutory Tribunal whose jurisdiction is to be sought within the terms of the Statute which created it, it cannot give itself jurisdiction by deciding wrongly such a jurisdictional issue. If the Tribunal wrongly decides such a question, the error can be corrected by appropriate proceedings under Art. 226 of the Constitution."
With respect to the learned Judge, we are in entire agreement with this statement of the law. In this view, the learned Judge refused to issue writs of prohibition and dismissed the petitions. Learned counsel for the appellants was unable to cite any authority to show that the view is not sustainable. Though the point as such did not come up for discussion in the case, the judgment of the Supreme Court in D. C. Works Ltd. v. State of Saurashtra, (S) , supports by implications the view taken by Rajagopalan J. which accords with our view. Learned counsel for the appellants relied on a new sub-section added by the Amending Act of 1952, S. 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act which runs thus:
"10(4) Where in an order referring an Industrial dispute to a labour court, Tribunal or national Tribunal, under this section, the appropriate Government has specified the points of dispute for adjudication, the labour court or the Tribunal or the National Tribunal, as the case may be, shall confine its adjudication to those points and matters incidental thereto........"
We do not think that this provision has any material bearing on the question now in issue. It has reference to the matters mentioned in the order of the Government as matters in dispute between the parties. It does not preclude expressly or impliedly the Tribunal from deciding whether there is an industrial dispute and whether the dispute is between employers and workmen.
(2) Learned counsel for the appellants tried to support his contention that the Tribunal would not have jurisdiction to decide the question of fact a decision on which is a preliminary requisite to further valid proceedings by the Tribunal, by referring to some of the other provisions in the Act. For instance learned counsel referred to S. 15 of the Act. The argument so far as we are able to gather was that the Industrial Tribunal should always pass an award in respect of any reference made to it under S. 10, but if the Tribunal were to hold that it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matters referred to it, the Tribunal would not be able to pass an award.
Now an award has been defined as an "interim or a final determination of any industrial dispute or of any question relating thereto........" It will not be straining the language of the statute to say that a question whether there is an industrial dispute within the definition of that term in the Act is certainly a question relating to the determination of any industrial dispute. There may be several occasions when the Industrial Tribunal would have no opportunity of passing an award which can in its terms be implemented by the parties.
Take for instance a case when it transpires during the proceedings that there is no dispute between the management and the workers in respect of a matter mentioned in the Government Order of reference. The surely the Tribunal will not be able to pass an award. The Tribunal will have to close the proceedings and report to the Government that there is no matter in dispute between the workers and the management. Likewise, if the Tribunal were to hold that the weavers concerned in the reference are not workmen falling within S. 2(s) of the Act, then the award of the Tribunal would consist in a declaration that they would not have the right to demand an adjudication of the dispute.
(3) In our opinion the Industrial Tribunal has initial jurisdiction to decide the preliminary jurisdictional issue. It is not necessary for us to define the extent of the power of this Court to interfere with the decision of the Tribunal on the point. In the appeals before us there has yet been no such decision by the Tribunal.
(4) As we have mentioned above, the aggrieved party that is the party aggrieved by the decision of the tribunal on the point, can always approach this court to issue a writ of prohibition to restrain the Tribunal from proceeding with the enquiry. As Rajagopalan J. has said.
"If an Industrial Tribunal wrongly decides the jurisdictional issue and comes to the conclusion that the dispute is an industrial dispute when it is not, the aggrieved party can ask for the issue of a writ of prohibition to restrain the Industrial Tribunal from proceeding further in the matter. The aggrieved party can also ask for a writ of certiorari to quash the proceedings so far taken resulting in the erroneous decision......." It is unfortunate that though the reference was made by the Government in July 1955, the Tribunal to this day has not taken up the enquiry. In the view we have taken the appeals are dismissed but there will be no order as to costs.
(5) Appeals dismissed.