1. The Sussex Estate in the Nilgiris one of the two estates belonging to and managed by the petitioner, had amongst its employees one M. Mohamed and one P. Hydross. For violating certain clauses of the standing orders and for abusing the superintendent of the estate in vulgar language when questioned about it, the two workers were charged by the management on 4-12-1958. When the charges were being handed over to the workers by the superintendent on the following day, the workers were alleged to have behaved in an insubordinate manner, by abusing the superintendent in vulgar and filthy language
The management, thereupon, framed charges against the two workers in respect of what happened that day, and on certain other matter. M. Mohamed was charged (1) for abusing the superior officer in filthy language when the previous chargesheet was handed over to him, (2) for declaring openly that he would disobey the orders of his superiors, and (3) for riotous and disorderly behaviour at the muster ground. The other worker, Hydross, was charged (1) for instigating the other workers to "go slow" in their work, and (2) for abusing the superior officer in vulgar language when the previous charge sheet was served upon him.
The management held an enquiry on 15-12-1958. At the enquiry, evidence was adduced both by the management as well as the workers. The workers were found guilty of the charges made against them, and they were dismissed. An industrial dispute was raised consequent on such dismissal, and the Slate Government referred for adjudication to the Labour Court Coimbatore, by G.O.Ms. No. 253 (Lab), dated 22-1-1958, the following issues;
1. Whether the dismissal of Mohamed and Hydross is justified and to what relief they are entitled;
2. To compute the relief, if any awarded, in terms of money, If it can be so computed.
2. It will be seen that the substantial question before the Labour Court was whether the disciplinary actions taken against the two workers were justified. The Labour Court did not find that there was any lack of good faith on the part of the management, that there was either unfair labour practice or victimisation, and that the finding arrived at by the management in the enquiry conducted by it was cither perverse or baseless.
But it held (1) that the charge sheets were m English and there was no evidence on the side of the management to show that they were read out and translated to the workers in the language known to them; (2) that the evidence in the enquiry was not recorded in the language known to the workers, although such evidence was given in Malayalam and Tamil; (3) that there were some corrections in an ink different from that of the rest of the depositions at crucial portions relating to the charges against the workers; and (4) that there was no definite finding by the enquiring officer that the charges, as laid had been proved.
The Tribunal, therefore held that the inquiry had not been made in a proper manner, and that the same was vitiated by irregularity in regard to recording of evidence and making corrections thereof, causing prejudice to the workers. In that view, the Tribunal passed an order, setting aside the order of dismissal of the workers. The propriety of the award is questioned in this writ petition, filed by the management.
3. The scope of the powers of an Industrial Tribunal to interfere with an order of dismissal passed by an employer after a departmental enquiry has been laid down by a number of decisions of theSupreme Court. In Indian Iron and Steel Co. v. Their Workmen 1958-1 Lab LJ 260: (AIR 1958 SC 130) S.K. Das J. observed at pages 269 and 270 (of Lab LJ): (at p. 138 of AIR):
Undoubtedly, the management of a concern has power to direct its own internal administration and discipline; but the power is not unlimited and when a dispute arises, industrial tribunal have been given the power to see whether the termination of service of a workman is justified and to give appropriate relief. In cases of dismissal on misconduct the tribunal does not, however, act as a court of appeal and substitute its own judgment for that of the management. It will interfere
(i) when there is a want of good faith, (ii) when there is victimisation or unfair labour practice,
(iii) when the management has been guilty of a basic error or violation of a principle of natural justice, and
(iv) when on the materials, the finding is completely baseless or perverse."
4. In Balipatra Ten Estates v. Its Workmen; Balipatra Ten Estates v. Its Workmen; , the Supreme Court held that an industrial Tribunal, while adjudicating on an industrial dispute relating to the dismissal of a workman for misconduct, had not got to decide for itself whether the charge framed against the workman concerned had been established to its satisfaction and it had only to be satisfied that the management was justified in coming to the conclusion (in bona fide and proper domestic enquiry), that the charges against the workman were well founded.
As I have already stated the Tribunal did not find that there was any lack of good faith on the part of the management in making the charges, or in conducting the enquiry. Nor has it been found that the management has been guilty of any basic error or violation of any principle of natural justice. The workers, no doubt, pleaded that the management intended to victimise them, and that it had been guilty of unfair labour practice.
There is, however no basis for the complaint in the evidence, and as the Labour court has not either referred or given finding on that aspect of the question, it must be assumed that there is no basis for the complaint that there has been victimisation or unfair labour practice. In those circumstances, the Tribunal should have only seen whether, on the materials before the management, the finding was justified or so baseless or perverse that it could not accept the same.
It is not the case of either party- that on the materials before the management, the conclusion, to which it came, was baseless or perverse. But the labour Court has proceeded to set aside the order of dismissal passed by the management, on the ground that the procedure followed in the enquiry was not proper. It is needless to point out that the Industrial Disputes Act does not prescribe any Procedure for the management to follow in domestic enquiries for investigating misconduct in its employees.
Independent of the statute it cannot be said that the management is under an obligation to record depositions of the witnesses at the domestic enquiry and adopt the procedure which a court of law adopts in the trial of cases. In cases, where however the management records evidence, it will be open to the Industrial Tribunal to look into that evidence and ascertain whether the management had sufficient justification to take disciplinary action it did.
But, if there is no such record of evidence, it will be for the Tribunal to take evidence to see whether the impugned disciplinary action had been effected bona fide in the exercise of the powers of the management. In the absence of any statutory provisions relating to the procedure in a domestic enquiry, the only obligation of a person conducting the enquiry is that: he will have to act according to the rules of natural justice. The essentials of the rule of natural justice applicable to such cases have been laid down in Local Govt. Board v. Alridge, 1915 AC 120. At page 138, Lord Shaw observed,
"If a statute prescribes the means, it must employ them. If it is left without express guidance it must still act honestly and by honest means. In regard to these, certain ways and methods of judicial procedure may very likely be imitated; and lawyer-like methods may find especial favour from lawyers. But that the judiciary should presume to impose its own methods on administrative or executive officers is a usurpation. And the assumption that the methods of natural justice are ex necessitate those of courts of justice is wholly unfounded." Lord Parmour at page 140 observed:
"Where, however, the question of the propriety of procedure is raised to a hearing before some tribunal other than a court of law, there is no obligation to adopt the regular forms of legal procedure. It is sufficient that the case has been heard in a judicial spirit and in accordance with the principles of substantial justice."
These observations, which were made in regard to a statutory tribunal, would equally apply to the case of a domestic tribunal, where an employer conducts an enquiry in respect of a charge against his employee. It would, therefore, follow that there would be no obligation on the part of the employer conducting enquiry, to record evidence, though perhaps it might be advisable to do so. Nor is there any obligation to take down evidence, either in regional language or in the language known to the employee.
The memorandum of evidence, if taken by the employer, is only intended for his own use. He would be at liberty to make such corrections as they may be necessary, if mistakes are committed.
The mere fact that corrections are made, does not mean that the record is in any way vitiated. In all cases where an employer wishes to take disciplinary action against an employee, the only obligation on the part of the former is to have a proper enquiry into the alleged misconduct of the employee; such enquiry must begin with the supply of specific charge sheet to the employee.
The guiding principle is that the enquiry: should be conducted with due adherence to the principles of natural justice, that is, without any bias, giving the employee an opportunity for adequately representing his case etc. If, in the course of enquiry, the management chooses to record evidence, and at later stage an industrial dispute is raised in regard to the conclusion arrived at the enquiry, the industrial tribunal can refer to the record of the depositions made by the employer for coming to the conclusion that the enquiry was held on proper lines.
But if there is any reason to suspect the correctness of the record, it would be open to the Tribunal to reject it, and insist upon evidence being given before it to ascertain whether there had been a proper enquiry and whether the punishment meted out by the employer was justified. So long as the evidence recorded by the employer in the domestic enquiry has not been challenged as incorrect or that the portions thereof have been fraudulently inserted, the Tribunal cannot reject the record as not affording proper basis for the management's action.
The reason is that such records need not conform to the practice adopted by courts in recording depositions like explaining the records of depositions to the witness concerned etc. These considerations apart, I am of opinion, that the conclusion arrived at by the Tribunal on the alleged defects in the record of depositions are not correct. There was no complaint on the part of the workers that the charges, which were in English, were not understood by them or that they were in any way handicapped at the time of the enquiry by the form in which the charges were made.
That the charges were properly understood by the concerned workers, is clear from the fact, that! they attended the enquiry without any complaint as to the form of the charges. I cannot accept the view of the Tribunal that there is obligation on the part of the management to read out and explain the charge sheets to the workers in their own language, unless a bona fide request is made to then in this behalf by the workers.
I have already stated that there is no rule that evidence in a domestic enquiry should be recorded in the language of the workers or that the procedure of explaining the same to them should be adopted. In this particular case, all the witnesses, except the Superintendent, gave their evidence in the vernacular. It is stated that the evidence of the superintendent which was given in English, was interpreted to the workers in their own language then and there. There is no substance in the finding of the Tribunal that there were corrections and additions in the depositions, I have been taken through the depositions, and I find that the corrections are merely formal, There is evidence to show that such corrections were made then and there in the course of taking evidence in the presence of the workers. There is no suggestion that the employer mala fide behind the back of the workers tampered with the depositions given, and that the depositions, as recorded, did not correctly represent the substance of the evidence given at the enquiry.
5. Another infirmity relied on by the Tribunal is the absence of specific findings on each of the charges. If no finding is given in a domestic enquiry in regard to a particular charge, it can only be assumed that the employer did not wish to proceed with that charge. In the present case, there is definite finding that the charge of insubordination against the workman has been established. It is also specifically stated that the punishment awarded was for that offence.
If the management did not give specific findings on the other charges, it can only mean that they had dropped those charges. The quantum of punishment is entirely for the management to decide. As I have stated, the two workmen were dismissed as a result of a bona fide enquiry, the charges framed against them not being actuated by any ulterior motive on the part of the management. In those circumstances, the Labour court would have no jurisdiction to set aside the order of dismissal passed on the two workers by the employer.
6. Rule nisi is made absolute. The writ petition is allowed with costs. Advocate's fee Rs. 100.