(1) These writ petitions arise out of the order of the Labour Court, Madras, in these circumstances. The workers under two managements, the management of Sri Gandhiban bus Service, the petitioner in Writ Petition No. 411 of 1963, and the workers under the management of Sri Shanmughananda Bus Service, the petitioner in Writ Petition No. 418 of 1963, filed applications under the Minimum Wages Act, seeking directions by the Labour Court for the payment of the difference in the wages payable to the workers in each of these petitions. As there was a delay in the filing of the petitions, applications for the condonation of the delay were also filed. Thirty-five workers are involved in the first of the cases, and the claim against the petitioner in writ Petition No. 411 of 1963 runs to Rs. 2,63,260 and old and in Writ Petition No. 418 of 1963, the claim is to the extent of Rs. 1,21,755 in respect of twenty employees. It was alleged by the workers that the managements in question had filed to implement the Minimum Wages Act. It was claimed that by reason of the action of the managements, the workers were kept in ignorance of their rightful dues; that the managements were paying them at arbitrary rates on such days as the managements chose to employ them and that the managements failed to give publicity to the minimum wages fixed by the Act by displaying notices as required in the relevant rules. The working hours of a normal working day had not been fixed. Days of rest had not been provided in the week, and such other infringements on the part of the managements were alleged. It was further claimed that the workers had put in overtime work in excess of the eight hours' limit per day; nevertheless, no overtime wages were paid.
It is not necessary to traverse in detail these allegations, because in these writ petitions only the order of o the Labour Court condoning he enormous delay of over ten years in the making of these applications is being conversed. In so far as the applications to condone the delay are concerned, it may be broadly stated that the claim put forward covers various periods ranging from 12 to 165 months. It was only after the managements set up the plea that the claims were barred that the applications for the condonation of the delay were filed by workers. As stated already, the plea of the workers was that they were ignorant of their rights and the managements themselves were responsible for keeping them so ignorant. The managements urged that broad statements of this description were wholly ineffective in explaining the delay and that the delay should not be condoned. But the Labour Court, for certain reasons which will be dealt with later, thought it just and proper to condone the delay, though the delay is of long periods, and the managements were thereafter called upon the meet the claims made in the petitions.
(2) The petitioner-managements in the affidavit accompanying the petitions under Art. 226 urge that the Labour Court has failed to apply the proper principles in considering the question of excusing the delay, that it has failed to appreciate the true scope and effect of the relevant rules framed under the Minimum Wages Act and has misinterpreted the relevant rule as laying any duty upon the managements. It is also urged that a proceeding under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act is a legal proceeding for recovery of money, which under the law governing limitation cannot be enforced in a Court of law beyond a period of three years,. In condoning the delay for periods extending to as much as over ten years, the Labour Court has virtually abrogated the law of imitation. Such a power cannot by an interpretation of S. 20 of the Act be deemed to exist in the Labour court. It is upon these grounds that the order of the Labour Court is attacked as disclosing errors of law and excess of jurisdiction.
(3) No counter-affidavits have been filed on behalf of the workers.
(4) The Minimum Wages Act was placed on the statue book in 1948. It is common ground that by notification the Motor Industry was brought within the ambit of the Act in March, 1952. It was not till March 1962, that the workers concerned in the two writ petitions filed applications under S. 20 provides that the appropriate Government may appoint such officer as it think fit.
to be the authority to hear and decide for any specified area all claims arising out of payment of less that the minimum rates of wages, or in respect of the payment of remuneration for days of rest or for work done on such days under Cl. (b) or Cl. (c) of sub-sec (1) of S. 13 or of the wages at overtime rate under S. 14 to employees employed or paid in that area.'
(5) Sub-sec. (2) enables applications to be made to such authority for a direction under sub-sec. (3) by certain specified persons authorized to act on behalf of the employee having a claim of the nature referred to in sub-sec. (1). Under sub-sec. (3), when the authority entertains an application, that authority shall hear the applicant and the employer, or give them an opportunity of being heard, and may direct the payment of the difference between the minimum wages payable and the amount actually paid together with compensation. The provisos to sub-sec. (2), read thus:
'Provided that every such application shall be presented within six months from the date on which the minimum wages or other amount became payable: Provided further that any application may be admitted after the said period of six months when the applicant satisfies the authority that he had sufficient cause for not making the application within such period.'
(6) It is the proper interpretation of these provisos that calls for examination here
(7) An application has to be presented within six months from the date on which the amount claimed became payable. Obviously, the payment of these sums is of a recurring nature and a claim presumably arises month after month and I respect of the claim for each month, an application has to be made within six months of the date when the amount became payable. Normally, therefore, an application in respect of the claim for a period beyond six months from the date of the application would be out of time but for the further proviso which enables the authority to condone the delay. This proviso so empowering the authority is of the usual nature which appears in numerous enactment's. The broad principles on which power is given to any such authority is that the applicant should satisfy the authority that he had sufficient cause for not making the application within the period specified.
(8) The Labour Court gives the following reasons for condoning the delay in these cases, which, as has been stated, extends to s long as period of ten years in several cases. It observes that the questions involved are of more than ordinary interest, that the claim of the workers relates to the period 1952 to 1962, that the period no doubt is a large period but 'the interests of the workers involved are also large.' After stating that the questions was whether the applicants had shown sufficient cause, it precedes to say that it will practically amount to negation of the rights of the workers under the Minimum Wages Act if in these cases these petitions should be thrown out for the only reason that they have not been made within the period of six months. This observation of the labour court virtually amounts to saying that since the claim would fail if the delay were not condoned, the delay should on that account alone be condoned. It is difficult to appreciate this process of reasoning. It virtually amounts to saying that sufficient causes need not be shown at all just because the claim would fail other wise. The labour court again observes:
'If the averments in the petitions are true, then the managements in these cases have deliberately disregarded the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act and failed to give effect to the provisions of the Act continuously for a period of over several years and they are at fault, and they cannot take advantage of their own fault and use it as a ground to non-suit the petitioners.'
(9) The fault of the managements is said to consist in their failure to comply with Rule 22 of the Minimum Wages (Madras) Rules, 1953. Whether this rule so casts any duty upon the managements will presently be considered. But the labour court has taken the view that the managements have not kept the workers informed of their rights, that the workers were afraid to agitate the matter and it is only after the union had recently been formed that this question has been taken up. It is upon these reasons that the labour court finally expressed itself as being satisfied that sufficient cause for not making the applications within the period of six months had been shown.
(10) The issued Advocate-General for the petitioner in Writ Petition No. 411 of 1963, and Sri. M. R. Narayanaswami for the petition in Writ Petition No. 418 of 1963, attack these reasons upon which the labour court relieved as reasons which are neither sufficient nor valid in law. If so, the order discloses an error of law on is face. It would also mean that if the labour court erred in law in exercising its power of condonation, so far as it purports to entertain the claim relating to a period beyond six months, it is acting in excess of its jurisdiction.
(11) Of the reasons relied upon by the labour court, it seems abundantly clear that only one deserves to be examined, viz., whether the managements were under a duty to do certain acts and whether by their failure had wilfully kept the workers in ignorance of their rights under the Act.
(12) Before I deal with that aspect of the matter, I may refer to certain other arguments advanced on behalf of the petitioners. The claim to arrears of salary or wages is governed by Art. 7 or Art. 102 of Sch. I to the Indian Limitation Act. Under the latter article, the period of limitations is three years. I shall assume without deciding that this larger period of limitation would be the one applicable to the workers in the present case. Had it been a case where the claim was enforced in an ordinary court of law, it is obvious that no part of the claim relating to a period beyond three years prior to the filing of the suit could at all be entertained. The authority constituted under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act is set up for providing a summary remedy to a worker and the very fact that in the normal run of cases an application under S. 20(2) of the Act has to be made within six months, that is t say, the authority is not up to the full period of limitation which the general law otherwise provides, itself shows that what is contemplated by the Act is the provision of a summary remedy in order to give the workers immediate relief in respect of part of their claims, having their rights under the general law unaffected.
In a decision of the Privy Council is Hansraj Gupta v. Dehra Dun Mussoorie Electric Tramways Co. Ltd., ILR 54 ALL 1067: AIR 1963 PC 63 the power of the Court under S. 186(1) of the Indian Companies Act, 1913, to order a contributory in a winding up to pay a debt was considered. On the recovery of that debt would have been barred by limitation. The relevant section merely stated that he Court may, at any time after making the winding up order, make an order on any contributory to pay any money due from him. It did not specify any period of limitation or refer to a claim the application. Their Lordships of the Privy Council observe that he moneys due from a contribution a recoverable only by a suit in the company's name, that he section created a special procedure for obtaining payments of moneys and was not a section which purported to create a foundation upon which to base a claim for payment. The section itself created no new rights. The power of the Court to order payment was discretionary, and on there facts, their Lordships observe:
'It is difficult to conceive a case in which so far as limitation is concerned, the section should so operate as to deprive a man of a defence to a claim made by the liquidator which would have been effective against the same claim, if brought against him by an action in the company's name.'
(13) They observe that the position in this respect in India is the same as in England, and they found that money due and recoverable from the contributory would not include any moneys which at the date of the application under the section could not have been so recovered by a resort to a Court of law.
(14) In the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the first proviso to S. 15(2) thereof, proscribes a limitation and says that every such application shall be presented within six months from the date on which the causes of action accrued. The second proviso lays down further that any application may be admitted after the said period of six months when the applicant satisfies the authority that he had sufficient cause for not making the application within such period. The terms of this proviso are identical with those of the second proviso to S. 20(2) of the Minimum Wages Act. Their Lordships of the Supreme Court had to consider in Sitaram Ram Charan v. M. N. Nagrashana, : (1960)ILLJ29SC whether ignorance of law can be said to constitute a sufficient cause within the meaning of this proviso. It is not necessary to set out in detail the particulars of that cause. The short argument advanced was that if sufficient cause had been shown for not making he application within the period of six months, then the application could be made any time there after, and that it was not necessary for the applicant to explain the subsequent delay.
Their Lordships refer to English cases which construe the expression 'reasonable cause' and in particular to the decision of the House of Lords in Powell v. Main Colliery Co. Ltd., 1900 AC 366 and explain that according to the English Act which governed these English cases, sufficient cause had to be shown only in respect of the delay in serving a notice of claim on the employer and there was no question of calling upon him to explain any further delay in instituting proceedings before the tribunal. The analogous provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act were also examined by their Lordships and finally they observe thus:
'The present proviso is in substance similar to the provision in S. 5 of the Limitation Act and Sri Phadke has fairly conceded that there is a concensus of judicial opinion on the question of the construction of S. 5. It cannot be disputed that in dealing with the question of condoning delay under S. 5 of the Limitation Act, the party has to satisfy the Court that he had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal or making the application within the prescribed time, and this has always been understood to mean that the explanation has to cover the whole of the period of delay......................'
(15) This decision clearly requires that where a period of limitations prescribed in any particular enactment and liberty is given to the authority to condone the delay, that delay has to be explained and sufficient cause shown in as rigid a manner as the Condonation of the delay under S. 5 of the Limitation Act calls for according to decided cases.
(16) Sri. K. V. Sankaran, appearing for the respondents workers, suggests that the decision of the Supreme Court dealt with the provision under the Payment of Wages Act and cannot be taken as an authority for interpreting the proviso to S. 20(2) of the Minimum Wages Act. It is claimed that Minimum Wages Act is a special enactment and that it must be interpreted in its own setting. I am really unable to follow this argument. In so far as a period of limitation is prescribed and the power to condone delay is given to the authority, the two provisions in these Acts are almost similarly worded. In interpreting those provisions it is not the general scheme of either Act that has to be had regard to. Even in the case of two Acts which are wholly different in so far as their object and scope are concerned, if the are analogous provisions dealing with limitation and the power to condone delay, an interpretation with regard to one will equally apply to the interpretation of a similar provision to the other Act.
(17) Learned counsel has referred to the decisions in South India Estates Labour Relations Organisations v. Sate of Madras, : AIR1955Mad45 . The question that was considered there was whether in view of the provisions contained in it he Minimum Wages Act for the fixation of the minimum wages, resort to the Industrial Disputes Act was prohibited. That was the argument which this Court had to consider. I can find nothing in this decision which gives any assistance to the particular point now under examination. Reference was also made by Sri. K. V. Sankaran to Ramaswami Dass v. Rama Pillai, : (1955)IILLJ487Mad . In that case, an application was made under S. 20(2) of the Act. It was apparently filed beyond the period of six months and there was no written application for obtaining the benefit of the second proviso to Section 20(2), that is, condonation of the delay in the filing of the application. What the learned Judge pointed out was merely that there is no requirement in the Act itself or in the rules that notice of the application to condone the delay should go to the other side, that the authority could act suo motu, and if that is so, there was no requirement of any written application. That decision does not canvass what would amount to sufficient d cause within the meaning of the section.
(18) That limitation cannot be ignored by any tribunal is settled by the decision of the Privy Council in Ramdutt Ramkissendas v. E. D. Sassoon and Co., ILR 56 Cal 1048: AIR 1929 PC 103. In that case, there was a reference to arbitration and the award of the arbitrator was challenged in a suit. The validity of the arbitration came before the Privy Council and the decision of the Judicial Committee was issued more than six years after the date of submission of the award. A second arbitration was started and the arbitrators made an award. One of the questions referred to the arbitrators was whether the defence of limitation could be raised in these matters. The High Court took the view that since the original arbitration proceedings had been commenced in 1915, the claim was within time, though those proceedings provided abortive through want of jurisdiction of that arbitrator. But the Privy Council disagreed with this view. They observe that the earlier arbitration proceedings came to an end when the award by the arbitrator was ultimately set side after the decision of the Party Council. They held that the second proceedings cold both be regarded as a continuation of the first proceedings and observed thus:
'It is quite clear that where a suit has been instituted in a court which is found to have no jurisdiction and it is found necessary to raise a second suit in a court of proper jurisdiction, the second suit cannot be regarded as a continuation of the first, even thought the subject matter and the parties to the suits were identical'.
(19) The second proviso to S. 20(2) was considered by Ramachandra Iyer J. (as he then was in Murugan Transports, Cuddalore v. Radhakrishnan, : (1961)ILLJ283Mad . That was a case where the application was preferred nearly two and a half years after the minimum wage accrued due and became payable. The authority found upon the evidence that the applicant was bona fide in his statement that he did not know that under the law he had to file an application within the prescribed period, and held it to be a sufficient cause. The learned Judge took the view that there was no serious cross-examination of the applicant's version and that, in the circumstances of the case, the decision of the authority on that point could not be challenged in a writ proceeding. The learned Judge however observed.
'Whether in a particular case a bona fide ignorance of law could be excused or not is one for the authority to decide and not a matter for interference in these proceedings'.
(20) Great reliance has been placed upon the last mentioned decision by Sri K.V. Sankaran, learned counsel for the respondents. It is however pointed out on behalf of the petitioners that there is no finding by the Labour Court that the alleged set of facts existed which justifiably led to the inference that the respondents workers were ignorance of the law. That the Minimum Wages Act had been passed in 1948 and had been applied to several industries could not have been unknown to the large majority of workers. The application of this Act tot he motor transport industry was made in 1952. It is reasonable to presume that this should have been made partly at least on representation made by the workers in the transport industry. It was vaguely alleged in the applications for the condonation of the delay that the workers were afraid of being victimized, if they made any claims to the minimum wage prescribed for the industry. A large number of workers are involved in each of these petitions and no specific instance of intimidation by the employer was furnished. Again and again, the authority, the Labour Court, merely states, 'if the averments are true, then, the delay could bee deemed to be sufficiently explained'. Unless the is a finding that the workers were ignorant of their lawful rights or were prevented form putting forward their claims, by reason of other circumstances, the decision that ignorance of the law could be regarded as a sufficient excuse in certain circumstances cannot apply. As the passage cited above indicates, the mere allegation of ignorance of law is not sufficient. It is to be supported by a reference to surrounding circumstances before the authority could accept that as a sufficient excuse within the meaning of the action. There is no finding in that regard any where in the order of the Labour Court.
(21) I may a now deal with the last contention, that by reason of the mangements failing to comply with the requirements of the Act, the workers were kept in ignorance of their rights. Reference in this regard has been made to Rule 22. Rule 22 of the Central Rules reads thus:
'Notices in form IX-A containing the minimum rates of wages fixed, together with abstracts from the Act, the rules made thereunder and the name and address of the Inspector shall be displayed in English and in a language understood by the majority of the workers in the employment, at such place be maintained in a clean and legible condition. Such notices shall be displayed on the notice boards of all sub-divisional and district offices'.
The relevant rule under the Madras Rules is also Rule 22. It reads thus:
'Notices containing the minimum rates of wages fixed under the Act together with abstracts from such of the provisions of the Act and the rules made thereunder, as the Government may specify in this behalf, and the name and address of the Inspector, and shall be displayed in English and in a language understood by the majority of the workers in the employment at such place is may be selected by the Inspector, and shall be maintained in a clean and legible condition. Such notices shall also be displayed on the notice boards of the offices of the Collectors, Revenue Divisional Officers, Tahsildars and Deputy Tahsildars in all the districts. In the case of employment in agriculture, the notices shall also be displayed in all the district offices of the Agricultural Department and in the case of any other scheduled employment, such notices shall also be displayed in all the district offices of the Industries and Labour and Factories Departments'.
(22) It is the contention on behalf of the respondents that his rule enjoins upon the managements to display such notices and that the managements in these two cases had wilfully failed to do so and thereby kept the workers in ignorance of their rights. Firstly, I would observe that the rules do not in terms fix upon the managements the liability to display such notices. The latter part of the rules which requires the display of such notices in the offices of the Collectors, the Revenue Divisional Officers and others cannot obviously be compiled with by the managements in question. They have no authority to display these notices in those offices. The natural interference should be that the authorities concerned with the enforcement of the Minimum Wages Act should take steps to cause such notices to be interpretation of that part of the rules, a similar interpretation has necessarily to be placed upon the earlier part of the rule. It is the duty of the Inspector appointed under the Act to cause the specified notices to be displayed, for it is under his directions that the places where the notices should be displayed are indicated. It is the contention of the managements that no such direction had been issued, and that, in any event, the rule does not make it obligatory upon the management to do something of their own accord. Even assuming that the rule lays such a duty upon the managements, I am unable to agree that the failure to comply with this rule can be relied upon as a step taken by the managements in keeping the workers in ignorance of their rights.
(23) I am accordingly of the opinion that the grounds put forward by the workers in explanation of the delay are not reasons which can be regarded as reasons acceptable in law for the relief sought. The labour court has merely rested upon allegations which have been contradicted and has not found as a question of fact on any evidence that was placed before it that the set of circumstances relied upon by the workers to account for the delay in filing the applications did in reality exist. In any event, following the decision of the Privy Council, it must be held that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to excuse the delay in respect of a period beyond the period of limitation under the Indian Limitation Act.
(24) It follows that the orders of the Labour Court are vitiated both by errors of law and by errors of jurisdiction. They are quashed. It will be open to the labour Court to examine the question afresh and reach the appropriate conclusion in the matter. There will be no order as to coasts.
(25) Order accordingly.