1. The petitioner is the management of Pachamalai estate, Valpami. It held a domestic enquiry against seven of its female workers and one male worker in respect of an incident that took place on 6 August 1966 in its tea gardens. The women workers were reported to have refused to pluck in the rows allotted to them and to have abused and assaulted the assistant manager and assistant conductor. It is not necessary to refer to the case of the male worker because he was prosecuted is a criminal Court and convicted and his dismissal by the domestic tribunal has also been upheld by the labour court and there is no writ petition on his behalf in this Court The charges against the women workers were:
(1) under standing Order 23(1), ' wilful insubordination, disobedience, whether alone or in combination with others of any lawful and reasonable orders of a superior,
(2) under standing Order 23(11), ' riotous and disorderly behaviour.' and
(3) under statnding Order 23(12), 'any act subversive of discipline.'
After holding an enquiry these women were dismissed by order dated 12 September 1966 The labour court has found that no principles of natural justice were violated in the enquiry held against these seven women workers. There was also a criminal prosecution against them in Calendar Case No. 4487 of 1966 before the Sub-Magistrate of Pollachi. The seven women ware given the benefit of doubt and acquitted. This was on 6 March 1967. The labour court has held that in the face of acquittal by the criminal Court of these seven women workers, the orders of dismissal passed by the management cannot be sustained. This writ petition is against that order.
2. I am satisfied that the labour court has fallen into an error. The prosecution against these seven women was on the basis that they abused the north division workers ordered by P.W. 1 before the crimlnal Court to pluck tea leaves and did not allow them to do so, that when they were asked by P.W. 1 to go and attend to their work, they did not obey him, but abused him and surrounded him and P.W 2, that all the women started to attack P.W. 1, that one of the women beat P.W. 1 with a stick and damaged his sweater and shirt and that they chassd both P.Ws. 1 and 2. The criminal Court gave them the benefit of doubt and acquitted them. The finding in the domestic enquiry was that all the seven women were guilty of the charges of wilful insubordination of lawful and reasonable order of the superiors and riotous and disorderly behaviour and acts subversive of discipline, in that they refused to Pluck in the rows allotted to them and abused and assaulted the assistant manager. Now it would be noticed that the charge against them of wllful insubordination of lawful and reasonable order of the superiors had nothing to do with the criminal complaint, nor the charge of acts subversive of discipline. The abuse heaped by them on P.We. 1 and 2 cannot be the subject-matter of charge in criminal Court; only the assault could be and if we leave out the allegation regarding assault, it should be held that charges 1 and 3 have been proved and charge 2 to some extent. They are enough to justify the dismissal in this case.
3. But, that apart, I think that where a disciplinary proceeding has been held against certain workers and there is no defect in the enquiry, an order of dismissal passed earlier cannot be set aside on the basis of a subsequent acquittal of these workers by a criminal Court. No arguments are necessary to show that where such acquittal is purely on a technical ground, like lack of sanction, the order passed by the domestic tribunal would not in any way be vitiated. But where the subsequent acquittal by the criminal Court is as the result of giving the workers the benefit of doubt, could it be said still that the domestic tribunal's finding and the punishment inflicted on the workers are liable to be set aside In Writ Petition No. 263 of 1969, Workmen of Ruby Rubber Works v. Ruby Rubber Works and Anr., Ismail, J., has taken the view that they are not liable to be set aside. His reasoning is:
As far as the second contention is concerned, the learned Counsel for the petitioner himself admitted that the workmen concerned were acquitted after giving them the benefit of doubt on the ground that the charge against them was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. That finding of the Court is with reference to the basic judicial principles of criminal justice that the burden is on the prosecution to prove the guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, and if there is any doubt, the accused is entitled to the benefit of the same, and this principle has no application to disciplinary proceedings that may be taken by a master against a servant. If the workmen had been acquitted on being found that the charge made against them was false and they were innocent, the position will be different. While the innocence of the workmen was not established, and they were acquitted solely on the basis of benefit of doubt having been given to them, it cannot be contended that the enquiry conducted by the management in relation to the same conduct is barred by that conclusion of the criminal Court. Consequently, in my opinion, there is no substance in this contention either.
4. However where in the disciplinary proceeding the tribunal has come to a conclusion earlier than the criminal Court, I do not think that the finding of the domestic tribunal and the punishment inflicted by it could be set aside merely on the ground that subsequently a criminal Court has acquitted the concerned employee in a criminal prosecution even if it be on merits.
5. In Delhi Cloth and General Mills v. Kushal Bhan : (1960)ILLJ520SC , the concerned worker had been acquitted by the criminal Court on 8 April 1958 on the ground that the case against him was not free from doubt. The copy of the judgment of the criminal Court was produced before the labour tribunal and it refused to approve the order of dismissal, when, it was approached under Section 33A. The company thereupon applied for special leave and appealed to the Supreme Court The main contention before the Supreme Court was that the company was not bound to wait for the result of the criminal trial and. that it would, and did, hold a fair enquiry against the respondent and if the respondent refused to participate in it and left the place where the enquiry was using held, the company could do no more than to complete it and come to such conclusion as was possible on the evidence before it. The Supreme Court said:
It is true that vary 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, In Bimal Kanta Mukherjee v. Newman's Printing Works 1956 I L.L.J. 453, this was the view taken by the Labour Appellate Tribunal. We may, however, add that if the case is of a grave nature or involves questions of fact or law, which are not sure, 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.' This decision shows that the fact that the criminal Court acquitted the concerned employee after the domestic proceedings were completed does not mean that the order of the tribunal on the basis that the employee was guilty of the departmental delinquency complained of is liable to be set aside.
6. In Tata Oil Mills Company, Ltd. v. its workmen by Tata Oil Mills Workers' Union, Ernakulam, and Anr. : (1964)IILLJ113SC , the Supreme Court held that to say that domsatic enquiries may be stayed pending criminal trial is very dlfferent from saying that if an employer proceeds with the domestic enquiry in spite of the fact that the criminal trial is pending, the enquiry for that reason alone is vitiated and the conclusion reached in such an enquiry is either bad in law or mala fide. In that case the Supreme Court held that the domestic enquiry was properly held and fairly conducted and the conclusions of fact reached by the enquiry officer were based on evidence which he accepted as true and that being so, it was not open to the industrial tribunal to reconsider the same questions of fact and some to the contrary conclusions.
7. In J.K. Cotton Spinning and Weaving Company, Ltd. v. its workmen 1965 II L.L.J. 153, the employee was dismissed, having been found guilty of the charge of theft levelled against him. The enquiry was conducted after the concerned workman was convicted of the offence of theft by a criminal Court. The concerned workman reused to participate in the domestic enquiry and it was conducted ex parte and the enquiry officer, after considering the evidence on record before him, found the concerned workman guilty of the charge levelled against him. He did not rely on the conviction of the worker by the criminal Court for coming to the conclusion against the concerned workman. Subseqently the worker was acquitted in appeal. The industrial tribunal considering the evidence on record and the evidence adduced before it come to the conclusion that the charge was not made out. No defect the domestic enquiry was found. The industrial tribunal held that the domestic enquiry was based on the conviction of the workman by the criminal Court which was set aside in appeal and hence no value could be attached to the finding arrived at the enquiry. The award was confirmed by the Labour Appellate Tribunal. The Supreme Court held that there was nothing in the report of the enquiry officer to show that he was influenced by the conviction of the workman by the criminal Court and upheld the dismissal.
8. It is therefore, obvious that the fact that the worker was, after the domestic enquiry, acquitted by a criminal Court or even by criminal appellate Court would not in any way vitiate the finding arrived at by a domestic tribunal earlier on proper evidence and without violating any of the principles of natural justice. I do not think that the decision of Ramachandra Ayyar, J. (as he then was), in Radhakrishna Mills, Ltd. v. Labour Court, Coimbatore, and Anr. : (1960)IILLJ678Mad can help the respondents, In that case the worker was convicted by a criminal Court. In the domestic enquiry the conclusion reached was that the charge levelled against the worker was also proved. Subsequently the worker was acquitted in appeal by the criminal Court. The management thereafter dismissed the workman from service for misconduct. The facts are not similar here. There the petition of the management was dismissed on the ground that the decision of the original court was not even considered by the management.
9. I may also refer to the decision of a Bench of this Court in Writ Appeal No. 175 of 1965 Superintendent of Post Offices, Chingleput, and Anr. v. Sheik Kasim which was a case relating to a Government servant. There the question whether on the same facts the domestic tribunal could come to a conclusion contrary to that arrived at by the criminal Court was not directly considered. But the Bench pointed out that an analysis of the facts showed that the charge before the criminal Court was different from the charge in the domestic enquiry. That is the case here also,
10. To sum up, the position of law may be stated time:
It a domestic tribunal has concluded its enquiry and come to a conclusion even before the criminal Court has passed the Judgment, the domestic tribunal's conclusion is not vitiated by the fact that, on the same facts, the criminal Court has subsequently acquitted the worker either on a technical ground or on merits. Similarly, if after a conviction by the criminal Court, there is a finding of the domestic tribunal holding the employee guilty on evidence which is independently assessed by it, the fact that subsequently on appeal the worker was acquitted does not mean that the domestic tribunal's conclusion is in any way vitiated. But if the criminal Court's judgment, either of trial Court or of an appellate Court, is earlier than the domestic tribunal's enquiry, the domestic tribunal is bound to take the judgment of the original Court into consideration. If after taking the judgment into consideration the domestic tribunal taken a different view, the labour court cannot interfere if it is found that principles of natural justice have been compiled with and there is evidence which could support the finding of the domestic tribunal. But, if the domestic tribunal does not apply its mind to the Judgment of the criminal Court, it may show mala fides and therefore its order may be liable to be struck down.
Applying these principles, I find that the award of the labour court in this case cannot be supported and it is accordingly quashed. The petition is allowed. There will be no order as to costs.