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The Management of the Radhakrishna Mills Ltd., Coimbatore Vs. the Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Coimbatore and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberWrit Petn. No. 487 of 1958
Judge
Reported inAIR1961Mad305; [1961(3)FLR233]; (1960)IILLJ678Mad; (1960)IILLJ678Mad
ActsIndustrial Disputes Act - Sections 33(2); Indian Penal Code (IPC) - Sections 148
AppellantThe Management of the Radhakrishna Mills Ltd., Coimbatore
RespondentThe Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Coimbatore and anr.
Appellant AdvocateM.R. Narayanaswami, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateT. Ramakrishna, Adv. for ;Addl. Govt. Pleader, ;S. Mohan Kumaramangalam and ;K.V. Sankaran, Advs.
Cases ReferredThe Delhi Cloth and General Mills Ltd. v. Kushal Bhan
Excerpt:
.....to direct his reinstatement. its workmen, (1959)iillj245sc ,where the supreme court held that an industrial tribunal, while adjudicating on an industrial dispute relating to dismissal of a workman for misconduct, would have no power to decide for itself whether the charge framed against the workman had been established to its satisfaction, and that the court had only to be satisfied that the management was justified in doming to the conclusion (in a bona fide and proper domestic enquiry) that the charge against the workman was well founded. (as he then was) observed ;it has been contended on behalf of the appellant, and in our opinion, rightly, that the tribunal has misdirected itself in so far as it has judged the case against the workman concerned afresh on its merits as if it were a..........of the finding, as an industrial dispute, i. d. no. 13 of 1952, was then pending before the industrial tribunal.under section 33 of the industrial disputes act, then in force, it was not open to the management by themselves to take any disciplinary action against the worker miring the pendency of the proceedings before a tribunal. the management, therefore, stated that they would apply to the industrial tribunal for permission to effect the dismissal of the worker. on the 10th february 1956, the management applied to the industrial tribunal for permission to dismiss subbiah. that application did not come up for disposal before the tribunal during the pendency of the industrial dispute.an award was passed in i. d. no. 13 of 1952 on the 25th july 1957. no orders however were passed.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Ramachandra Iyer, J.

1. By G. O. Ms. No. 687, Department of Industries, Labour and Co-operation, dated 17-2-1958, the Government of Madras, referred for adjudication by the Labour Court, Coimbatore, an industrial dispute between the workers and management of the Radhakrishna Mills Ltd., in regard to the question whether the dismissal of one Subbiah was justified, and to what relief he was entitled.

2. The facts that led to the reference were these. At about 8 a.m. on 14-8-1955, Venkatapathy, the Assistant Welfare Officer of the Radhakrishna Mills Limited, was waylaid, be laboured, and a number of injuries were inflicted on him by lethal weapons. The injured man was immediately taken to the hospital, where he gave a dying declaration. In the dying declaration he mentioned that Subbiah was one of the persons who had assaulted him. Venkatapathi, however, got well, though it is stated that some time afterwards he was murdered by some other person.

Subbiah was arrested on 14-8-1955. In due course, the police charged him under Section 324 read with Section 148, I. P. C. and the case was taken on file as C. C. No. 280 of 1955, by the Additional First Class Magistrate, Coimbatore. The Magistrate found him guilty of the offences charged, and sentenced him to three months' rigorous imprisonment. That was on 31-10-1955. There was an appeal against the conviction to the Sessions Judge of Coimbatore in C. A. No. 14 of 1956. The learned! Sessions Judge, by his judgment, dated 25-2-1956, held that the charges against Subbiah were not proved, and acquitted him.

3. In the meanwhile, that is, on 19-9-1955, the management issued a notice to Subbiah, charging him with the misconduct abovesaid, and directing him to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against him. Subbiah was also suspended pending enquiry. The enquiry followed. On the 26th January 1955 the management came to the conclusion that Subbiah was guilty of the offence of assaulting an officer of the mill, and that he was no longer fit to continue in service. No action, however, was taken by the management in pursuance of the finding, as an industrial dispute, I. D. No. 13 of 1952, was then pending before the Industrial Tribunal.

Under Section 33 of the Industrial Disputes Act, then in force, it was not open to the management by themselves to take any disciplinary action against the worker miring the pendency of the proceedings before a Tribunal. The management, therefore, Stated that they would apply to the Industrial Tribunal for permission to effect the dismissal of the worker. On the 10th February 1956, the management applied to the Industrial Tribunal for permission to dismiss Subbiah. That application did not come up for disposal before the Tribunal during the pendency of the Industrial Dispute.

An award was passed in I. D. No. 13 of 1952 on the 25th July 1957. No orders however were passed on the application under Section 33 filed by the management. The result was that the ban imposed by Section 33 was removed by the termination of the industrial dispute in I. D. No. 13 of 1952 in July 1957. In September 1957, the management issued an order, dismissing Subbiah from service. An industrial dispute arose as a result of such dismissal, and the same was referred to the Labour Court, Coimbatore, for adjudication, as stated above.

4. The Labour Court considered afresh the question whether Subbiah was guilty of the offences charged, and came to the conclusion that he was not guilty of the same. The court also held that the management had acted mala fide, and victimised Subbiah in awarding the punishment. But, having regard to the strained relationship between the parties, the court held that it was not a case for reinstatement of the worker, and permitted the management to discharge the worker by paying off his gratuity, the other discharge benefits to which he was entitled by reason of the services he had put in, and the back wages during the period of suspension. The validity of this award is questioned in this petition on behalf of the management. The worker does not complain against the refusal of the labour court to direct his reinstatement.

5. Mr. Narayanaswami, the learned counsel for the management, contended that the Labour Court was in error in adjudicating upon the question whether factually Subbiah was guilty of the offences charged against him. According to the learned counsel, the Additional First Class Magistrate, Coimbatore, had found the worker guilty of the offences as early as December 1955, and when the management made its own enquiry and came to a conclusion which was consistent with that arrived at by the Additional First Class Magistrate in C. C. No. 280 of 1955, it could not be said that the management acted mala fide or even erred.

Reliance was placed, in support of this contention, on the decision in Balipara Tea Estate v. Its Workmen, : (1959)IILLJ245SC , where the Supreme Court held that an industrial tribunal, while adjudicating on an industrial dispute relating to dismissal of a workman for misconduct, would have no power to decide for itself whether the charge framed against the workman had been established to its satisfaction, and that the court had only to be satisfied that the management was justified in doming to the conclusion (in a bona fide and proper domestic enquiry) that the charge against the workman was well founded. At page 249 (of Lab LJ) : (at p. 194 of AIR), Sinha, J. (as he then was) observed ;

'It has been contended on behalf of the appellant, and in our opinion, rightly, that the Tribunal has misdirected itself in so far as it has judged the case against the workman concerned afresh on its merits as if it were a trial of a criminal offence for the falsification of accounts and misappropriation of funds and that in so doing, the Tribunal was not only sitting as a court of appeal on the order of dismissal passed by the management, even though it did not find any mala fides or want of good faith or any irregularity in the proceedings taken by the management against the workman concerned, but it had also laid down a wrong line of approach to the case. The Tribunal misdirected itself in so far as it insisted upon conclusive proof of guilt to be adduced by the management in the enquiry before it. It is well settled that a tribunal has to find only whether there was justification for the management to dismiss an employee and whether a case of misconduct had been made out at the inquiry held by it.'

There can be no doubt that the contention of the learned counsel is well founded, and that the Labour Court had no jurisdiction in the instant case to decide itself whether Subbiah was or was not guilty of the offences charged and on the basis of such a finding set aside the dismissal directed by the employer. But this does not however dispose of the matter.

In the judgment of the Supreme Court referred to above it was observed that if there had been a finding by the Tribunal that the management had been actuated by any sinister motives, or had indulged in unfair labour practice, or that the workman had been victimised for any activities of his in connection with the trade union, the Tribunal might have had reasons to be critical of the inquiry held by the management. This is what the Labour Court found in the present case.

The court expressly found that the management was actuated by improper motives when it came to the conclusion in the enquiry conducted by it that Subbiah was guilty of the offences charged and in awarding the punishment therefor. The Labour Court further held that Subbiah was singled out by virtue of the position he occupied among the labourers for victimisation. This conclusion is fortified by the circumstance to which I shall presently refer. As stated already, the management did not pass any orders for discharge on 26th January 1956, when it concluded the enquiry.

It may be that it could not pass such order of discharge on account of pendency of I. D. No. 13 of 1952. On 25th February 1956, the Sessions Judge on an elaborate consideration of the evidence had acquitted Subbiah of the offences charged. It was nearly one year and six months after the acquittal by the Sessions Judge that the management resurrected the disciplinary proceedings initiated, against Subbiah, and passed the order of dismissal. It does not appear that the management ever paid any regard to the finding arrived at by the Sessions Court. It is needless to say that the action of the management in dismissing Subbiah even after his acquittal by the Criminal Court was anything but bona fide.

6. In Jarone D'Silva v. Regional Transport Authority, : [1952]21ITR369(Mad) , a Bench of this court held that a quasi-judicial tribunal could not ignore the findings and orders of competent criminal courts in respect of an offence when the Tribunal proceeded to take any action on the basis of the commission of that offence, and that, as primarily the criminal courts of the land were entrusted with the enquiry into offences, if was desirable that the findings and orders of the criminal courts should be treated as conclusive in proceedings before quasi-judicial tribunals.

In my opinion, that rule would apply to domestic tribunals like the present one, where the employer was taking disciplinary action against his employee. The learned counsel for the petitioner contended that the decision of the Supreme Court in Civil App. No. 88 of 1959 : : (1960)ILLJ520SC , The Delhi Cloth and General Mills Ltd. v. Kushal Bhan, was to the contrary effect. I do not agree. That was a case, where criminal proceedings were pending against an employee. In the meanwhile, the employer initiated disciplinary proceedings against the former.

The employee did not produce any defence, as in his opinion, that was likely to prejudice him in the decision of the criminal case. He did not even answer the questions put to him during the course of the inquiry by the employer. The latter completed the enquiry, and directed the dismissal of the employee, on the ground that the misconduct alleged against him had been proved. An application was filed under Section 33(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act, by the employer to the Tribunal for approval of the action taken against the employee.

By the time the matter came up before the Tribunal the employee was acquitted by the Criminal Court. It was contended that the action taken by the employer was vitiated, in that the employer had not waited till the trial in the Criminal Court was over, and that principles of natural justice required that the employer should at least wait for the decision of the Criminal Court before taking disciplinary action. The Supreme Court negatived the contentions and observed :

'It is true that very often employers stay enquiries pending the decision of the criminal trial courts and that is fair; but we cannot say that principles of natural justice require that an employer must wait for the decision at least of the criminal trial court before taking action against an employee..... We may, however, add that if the case is of a grave nature or involved questions of fact or law, which are not simple, it would be advisable for the employer to await the decision of the trial court, so that the defence of the employee in the criminal case may not be prejudiced. The present, however, is a case of a very simple nature and so the employer cannot be blamed for the course adopted by him.'

In my opinion, there is nothing in the decision of the Supreme Court which, in any way, militates against the decision in : AIR1952Mad853 . The only question before the Supreme Court was whether the employer could proceed with domestic enquiry, while the criminal proceedings were pending. No question arose in that case as to the binding nature of the judgment of a competent court in an enquiry which was completed after such judgment.

In the present case, by the time the employer completed the enquiry by inflicting the employee the punishment the Sessions Judge of Coimbatore had acquitted the employee of the offences charged. That decision would be binding on the employer. Even otherwise, failure to accept that decision or at least to consider it would show that the employer did not act bona fide in the matter. I am, therefore, of opinion that the labour court did less justice to the worker in denying him reinstatement and awarding him only the compensation.

7. Rule nisi is discharged. The writ petition fails, and is dismissed with costs. Advocate's fee Rs. 100/-.


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