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The Sree Meenakshi Mills, Ltd., Represented by Its Attorney S.N. Krishnamurthi Vs. the State of Madras and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial;Constitution
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCivil Misc. Petn. No. 4652 of 1950
Judge
Reported inAIR1951Mad974; (1951)IILLJ194Mad; (1951)2MLJ382
ActsIndustrial Disputes Act, 1947 - Sections 2 and 10; Constitution of India - Articles 5, 13(1), 14, 19, 31 and 31(1)
AppellantThe Sree Meenakshi Mills, Ltd., Represented by Its Attorney S.N. Krishnamurthi
RespondentThe State of Madras and ors.
Appellant AdvocateK.S. Jayarama Iyer, Adv. for C.K. Venkatanarasimham
Respondent AdvocateThe Adv.-General for Govt. Pleader and ;C.K. Viswanatha Ayyar, Adv.
DispositionApplication dismissed
Cases ReferredJagannath Baksh Singh v. The United Provinces
Excerpt:
labour and industrial - reinstatement - sections 2 and 10 of industrial disputes act, 1947 and articles 5, 13 (1), 14, 19, 31 and 31 (1) of constitution of india - reinstatement order passed by industrial tribunal challenged - workers of demand for payment of bonus and management refused - there was industrial dispute within meaning of act - articles 14, 19 and 31 not violated - application liable to be dismissed. - - jayarama iyer, the learned advocate for the petitioners, namely, the management of the mills has challenged the validity of the award on two grounds (1) that the reference by the government was bad as there was no industrial dispute within the meaning of the act inasmuch as there was no, demand by the workers and no refusal by the management in respect of the items now..........4 and 6 which run as follows:'4. reinstatement of sri v. srinivasan, secretary of the meenakshi mills workers' union, mathurai, with compensation for the period of his unemployment. 6. payment of 3 3/4th months' wages as bonus, for the year 1948 without deducting for leave and etc.' the industrial tribunal, after enquiry, passed an award under which it directed that v. srinivasan be reinstated and that he be paid half his wages and dearness allowance for the period of his unemployment and also directed the payment of an additional bonus of 3/4th month's basic wages in addition to the bonus already paid for the year 1948-49, namely, three months' basic wages.2. mr. k.s. jayarama iyer, the learned advocate for the petitioners, namely, the management of the mills has challenged the.....
Judgment:

Rajamannar, C.J.

1. This is an application by Sri Meenakshi Mills Ltd., Mathurai for the issue of a writ of certiorari to call for the records in Industrial Dispute No. 28 of 1949 before the Industrial Tribunal, Mathurai and to quash the award made therein on 14-4-1950 and for the issue of a writ of prohibition prohibiting the State of Madras from enforcing the award passed by the tribunal and approved by it under G. O. No. 1491. By G. O. Ms. No. 5793 Development dated 7-12-1949 the Government made a reference of an industrial dispute which had arisen between the workers and the management of the Meenakshi Mills Ltd., in respect of matters mentioned in the annexure to that order to the Industrial Tribunal at Mathurai for adjudication. The annexure contained eight items out of which we are concerned in this application only with two, namely, items 4 and 6 which run as follows:

'4. Reinstatement of Sri V. Srinivasan, Secretary of the Meenakshi Mills Workers' Union, Mathurai, with compensation for the period of his unemployment.

6. Payment of 3 3/4th months' wages as bonus, for the year 1948 without deducting for leave and etc.'

The Industrial Tribunal, after enquiry, passed an award under which it directed that V. Srinivasan be reinstated and that he be paid half his wages and dearness allowance for the period of his unemployment and also directed the payment of an additional bonus of 3/4th month's basic wages in addition to the bonus already paid for the year 1948-49, namely, three months' basic wages.

2. Mr. K.S. Jayarama Iyer, the learned Advocate for the petitioners, namely, the management of the mills has challenged the validity of the award on two grounds (1) that the reference by the Government was bad as there was no industrial dispute within the meaning of the Act inasmuch as there was no, demand by the workers and no refusal by the management in respect of the items now in dispute, and (2) the Industrial Disputes Act and the award made in pursuance of its provisions contravene the fundamental rights declared by Arts. 14, 19 and 31 of the Constitution of India.

(2) I shall take up the first ground. On 17-9-1949 a letter was addressed by the Secretary of the National Textile Workers Union, Mathurai, to the Managing Director, Sri Meenakshi Mills Ltd., in which it was stated that Sri Meenakshi Mills Workers Union had resolved to cease functioning as an independent Union and had decided to function as part of the National Textile Workers' Union and the workers of Sri Meenakshi Mills were being enrolled as members of the latter Union, that as a result of the merger of the Meenakshi Mills Workers' Union with the latter Union, a majority of the workers of the Meenakshi Mills were members of the National Textile Workers' Union; that the Mathurai Mills had agreed to pay to their workers 3 3/4 months' wages bonus for the year 1948 and that the Meenakshi Mills should also agree to pay bonus at the same rate. The other statements in the letter are not material for the purpose of this application. Mr. Jayarama Aiyar contended that there was no demand as such by the workers of the Meenakshi Mills, because the National Textile Workers Union could not make a demand on behalf of the workers of the Meenakshi Mills and also because there was no express demand for payment of bonus. I see no substance in either contention. The letter contains a categorical assertion that the majority of the workers in the Meenakshi Mills were members of the National Textile Workers Union and it was not suggested that the statement was wrong. If so, I fail to see why the demand made by the Union on behalf of the workers is not a demand by the workers. Mr. Jayarama Iyer relied upon the fact that in this letter the Secretary of the Union wanted the management to recognise the Union in the same way as the management of the Mathurai Mills had recognised it. In this connection he referred us to Act XLV of 1947 which amended the Indian Trade Unions Act of 1926 by inserting Chapter III-A providing for the recognition of trade unions by the management. But the learned Advocate-General pointed out that the Act comes into force only on such date as the Central Government may by notification in the official gazette appoint and he represented that the Central Government had not fixed any such date. Be that as it may, I fail to see how the provisions of this Act have any bearing on the question now before us, namely, whether there was a demand by the workers and a refusal by the management to giverise to an industrial dispute. Mr. Jayarama Iyer next addressed an argument based on Section 15 of the Trade Unions Act of 1926. That section provides that the general funds of a registered trade union shall not be spent on any other objects than those mentioned therein. One of such objects is the conduct of trade disputes on behalf of the trade union or any member thereof' (Clause d). The contention was that as only the 'conduct' of trade disputes is mentioned in the section, making a demand would not be one of the legitimate objects of a trade union. I must confess that I was surprised at such an argument being put forward. In the first place, there is no question here of any funds being spent by the address of a letter containing a demand on behalf of a section of the members of the union. In the second place, any trade dispute must originate with a demand. There is nothing in this contention.

3. Mr. Jayarama Iyer relied on certain observations in decisions of this Court, namely, Ramayya Pantulu v. Kutty and Rao (Engineers) Ltd : (1949)1MLJ231 and 'Kandan Textiles Ltd. v. Industrial Tribunal Madras : (1949)2MLJ789 . In the former case Horwill. J. said.

'However that may be, it seems to us on a fair reading of Section 10, that the Government must have reason to believe that in a particular business, a definite dispute is known to exist or is apprehended by reason of demands and discussions taking place amongst the workers and management.'

In the latter case I relied upon the fact that there was no evidence that either the aggrieved workers or other workers on their behalf ever made a demand on the management and that the demand was refused by the employer to show that no industrial dispute could, in the circumstances, be deemed to have existed. I referred to the passages in the judgment of the Federal Court in 'Western India Automobile Association v. Industrial Tribunal, Bombay, 1949 F. L. J., 154 that a demand may arise in several ways. But in that case there was no letter addressed by the Union to the management. The Secretary of the Union was addressing letters only to the Commissioner of Labour. There was also dispute as to the representative character and the membership of the Union. In the case before us there was clearly a demand by the Union on behalf of the workers of the Meenakshi Mills on its management. It also appears from the records that there were negotiations and discussions to which representatiyes of the workers and of the management and the Labour officers of Government were parties. I shall refer to this aspect presently. I do not think much serious consideration need be paid to Mr. Jayarama Iyer's argument that the language employed in the letter of the Union is not consistent with a demand and it suggests more a pious wish. The actual words are:

'We would appreciate very much if the Meenakshi Mills, who are no less progressive employers than the Madura Mills would also agree to pay the same rate of bonus for their workers, i.e., to pay an extra 3/4th month's wages along with the balance of one month's wages as bonus on the eve of Deepavali.'

Simply because a demand is couched in a courteous language, it does not cease to be a demand. I have no hesitation in holding that there was a demand by the workers in respect of the additional bonus for the year 1948. It is not denied that this demand was refused (vide the letter of the Union to the Commissioner of Labour dated 8th October 1949.)

4. Nothing was mentioned in the letter of the 17th September 1949 about the reinstatemnt of V. Srinivasan. But before the Government eventually made the reference, it is clear from the record that there was a demand and a discussion in regard to this subject also. In a letter dated 19-11-1949 addressed by him to the Commissioner of Labour, Madras, the Labour Officer, Mathurai, speaks of the demands of the National Textile Workers Union which were discussed by him with the Secretary of the Sri Meenakshi Mills Ltd. One of such demands was for the reinstatement of V. Srinivasan. The Labour Officer says that the suggestion that his re-employment may be considered has not been accepted by the management. Incidentally, it may be mentioned here that this letter also refers to the demand for the payment of 3 3/4 months' wages as bonus as in the case of the Madura Mills. After saying that the management are not falling into line with the Madura Mills, the officer points out that the profits made by the Meenakshi Mills for 1948-49 was Rs. 30.37 lakhs as against 16.28 lakhs in 1947-48. Subsequent to this letter, the Commissioner of Labour himself appears to have taken up the matter with the management of the Meenakshi Mills, had a meeting with both the parties and made suggestions to the management for their consideration. The management was apparently not amenable to any settlement by mediation. It was thereupon that he addressed a letter to the Government requesting the Government to refer the dispute for adjudication by the Industrial Tribunal. The order of Government making the reference specifically refers to this letter from the Commissioner of labour. There can be no doubt whatever in the circumstances that there was a demand by the Union on behalf of the workers and a refusal by the management even in respect of the reinstatement of V. Srinivasan. The first ground of Mr. Jayarama Iyer therefore fails.

5. The next ground is based on the new Constitution which came into force on 26th January 1950. We have heard an interesting argument on this point, but in the view I am taking, I do not think it necessary to pronounce finally on the several questions raised as regards the application and construction of several articles of the Constitution. It was conceded by Mr. Jayarama Aiyar that the Industrial Disputes Act and the reference made by the Government under it in this case were constitutionally valid on the date when the reference was made which was before the coming into force of the Constitution. But he contended that they became invalid and void thereafter because Article 13 of the Constitution declared that all laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution in so far as they were inconsistent with the provisions of Part III of the Constitution shall, to the extent of this inconsistency, be void.

6. The learned Advocate-General raised a preliminary objection that this provision in the Constitution cannot have the effect of putting an end to proceedings which had validly started before the commencement of the Constitution. In support of his objection he relied on the recent decision of the Supreme Court in 'Keshavan Madhava Menon. v. The State of Bombay', 1951 SCJ 182. In that case proceedings had been started against the party for an offence punishaole under Section 18(1) of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act in respect of a pamphlet published in 1949. It was during the pendency of such proceedings that the Constitution came into force. It was contended on his behalf that as the relevant provisions of that Act were inconsistent with the fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution, they became void under Article 13(1) of the Constitution after 26th January 1950 and the proceedings could not be proceeded with. This contention was rejected by the majority of their Lordships. It was held that Article 13(1) had no retrospective effect but was wholly prospective in its operation and it did not have the effect of rendering the laws which existed on the date of the commencement of me Constitution void 'ab initio' and for all purposes if they were inconsistent with the fundamental rights. So far as the past acts were concerned, the law must be deemed to exist notwithstanding that it may not exist with respect to acts after me commencement of the Constitution. The proceedings commenced before the coming into force of the Constitution were not therefore affected by the Constitution and could be proceeded with. His Lordship Das J., observed:

'Article 13(1) cannot be read as obliterating the entire operation of the inconsistent laws, or to wipe them out altogether from the Statute book, for to do so will be to give them retrospective effect which, we have said, they do not possess. Such laws exist for all past transactions and for enforcing all rights and liabilities accrued before the date of the Constitution........ The effect of Article 13(1) is quite different from the effect- of the expiry of a temporary Statute or the repeal of a statute by a subsequent statute. As already explained, Article 13(1) only has the effect of nullifying or rendering all inconsistent existing laws ineffectual or nugatory and devoid of any legal force or binding effect only with respect to the exercise of fundamental rights on and after the date of the commencement of the Constitution. It has no retrospective effect and if, therefore, an act was done before the commencement of the Constitution in contravention of the provisions of any law which, after the Constitution, becomes void with respect to the exercise of any of the fundamental rights, the inconsistent law is not wiped out so far as the past act is concerned, for to say that it is, will be to give the law retrospective effect.'

His Lordship Mahajan, J., discusses at length the scope of the provisions of the General Clauses Act as well and points out that irrespective of the provisions of that Act, on a proper interpretation of the language employed in Article 13(1) of the Constitution, it follows that that Article does not prevent the continuance of pending proceedings under existing law. Mr. Jayarama Aiyar tried to distinguish this ruling of the Supreme Court of India on the ground that in the case before us there was no liability incurred before the Constitution, as a mere demand does not give rise to a liability and the award which imposes the liability was made after the Constitution came into force. I do not agree that the distinction is well-founded. In this case the bonus claimed by the workers is for the year 1948-40. As pointed out in several decisions of this Court, bonus is not in the nature of an 'ex gratia' payment and it must be treated as comprised in the terms of employment. The demand and the refusal were long before the commencement of the Constitution. The reference by the Government of the dispute for adjudication by the tribunal was before the Constitution. Admittedly the reference was valid on the date it was made. Proceedings thus validly commenced under the Industrial Disputes Act must therefore be allowed to continue notwithstanding the coming into force of the Constitution. Otherwise, we shall be giving retrospective operation to Article 13 of the Constitution. The award is only the final determination of the proceedings initiated by the reference, in the same way as a conviction or acquittal is in the criminal proceedings initiated under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act in the case before the Supreme Court. I am unable to see any difference between a prosecution in respect of an offence committed and a reference in respect of a dispute which existed. I am of opinion that the objection raised by the learned Advocate-General must be upheld.

7. In this view it is unnecessary to pronounce finally on the contention raised by Mr. Jayarama Iyer that the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act and the award made in pursuance of the reference under the Act, are inconsistent with the fundamental rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution. As the point was, however, argued at some length, I shall briefly indicate the scope of the argument.

8. Of the three articles mainly relied on by Mr. Jayarama Aiyar, Article 19 presents an initial difficulty. That article confers rights only on citizens. Can a limited company incorporated under the provisions of the Indian Companies Act be deemed to be a citizen? Article 5 defines a citizen as a person who has his domicile in the territory of India and who was born or either of whose parents was born or who has been ordinarily resident for not less than five years immediately preceding the commencement of the Constitution in the territory of India. The definition 'prima facie' does not appear to take in corporate bodies. A company would certainly be a person, but it is difficult to speak of a company having a domicile. Even apart from this difficulty, I very much doubt if there is anything in the Industrial Disputes Act or even in this award which affects adversely any right to acquire, hold and dispose of property, or any right to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

9. Articles 14 and 31 apply to all persons and not only to citizens. Though Article 14 was mentioned, counsel did not elaborate his argument with reference to it. I fail to see how any question of equal protection of the laws or equality before law arises in this case. Both the employer and the employees are given similar right to invoke the application of the provisions of the Act. The Act does not make any discrimination between employers and employees 'inter se' or between employer and employee, as in the case of 'Truax v. Corrigan', 257 U. S. 312. There is nothing in the Act which 'ex necessiti' compels the Industrial Tribunal to make any discrimination, though per force the Tribunal may have to make a classification in deciding disputes:

10. Article 31 was the article on which most reliance was placed, particularly the first clause of Article 31 which declares that no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law., Taking the case on hand, Mr. Jayarama Iyer says that here is a person, namely, the petitioner company who has been deprived of his property by the direction in the award to pay additional bonus. 'By authority of law' means by authority of statute law. This was common ground ('vide also A.K. Gopalan v. The State of Madras, 1950 S. C. J. 174 It must also be assumed that property as used in Article 31 connotes the totality of rights which ownership connotes (See 'Charanjit Lal v. The Union of India' 1951 S.C. J. 29 But it appears to be patently clear that nothing done under the Industrial Disputes Act can even approximate to an acquisition or confiscation. It is true as pointed out by His Lordship Mahajan, J., in 'Bharat Bank v. Employees of Bharat Bank', : (1950)NULLLLJ921SC ,

'The dispute and its result can always be translated in terms of money. The point for decision in the dispute usually is how much money has to pass out of the pocket of the employer to the pocket of the employee in one form or another and as to what extent the right of freedom of contract stands modified to bring about industrial peace.'

But this does not mean that any of the provisionsof the Industrial Disputes Act as such deprives any person of property. The Act does not say that a particular amount has to be awarded as bonus, that there should be a particular scale of wages or that there should be particular allowances. The Act is concerned with disputes and differences not only between employers and workmen but also between employers and employers and between workmen and workmen. The only qualification is that the dispute should be connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or the conditions of labour.

11. Usually any dispute between parties as to their legal rights is decided by the establishedCourts, of law, and in accordance with the lawgoverning the subject-matter of the dispute. In such disputes both the claim and the defence are founded on the law of the land, whether it is contained in statute law or the personal law of the parties or custom and usage. It will be seen, however, that even in the adjudication of such disputes, the Courts have often to pass into a region of more or less uncertainty in which the only guiding principles are fairness, reasonableness and equity. No doubt the decision is not arbitrary in the sense that it is fanciful and unconnected with the evidence in and in the circumstances of the case. No doubt certain more or less general notions of what is just and equitable come to prevail with Courts as a result of a course of precedents relating to like matter. The fact, however, remains that ultimately, the decision is what the Court considers just and fair in each particular case. This yardstick of justice and equity itself changes with changes in social, political and economic outlook and with changes in the conditions of individual and national life. Many if not all, of the so-called disputes between employers and employees in industrial concerns are not founded on contractual rights and obligations, but on considerations outside strict legal rights and obligations. How many hours should any employee work in a factory may be a matter in dispute. Most often there is no express contract entered into between the employer and each one of his hundreds, may be thousands, of employees. It may be said that the custom ry working hours in respect of the particular factory may be impliedly included among the terms of employment. In the absence of statutory provisions for conciliation, arbitration and adjudication of such disputes between employer and employees, as the Courts of the land were unable to give any redress to the aggrieved workmen, resort was being had to strikes, if not to more of violent action, with the result, at least some times, of the employer being forced to consent to terms which may not appear to a disinterested person to be fair and reasonable. Equally the employer could coerce the workers into submission by a lockout. To avoid such disastrous happenings, there nave been attempts in every advanced State to provide for a satisfactory solution of the several problems which arise in the relations between employers and employees by conciliation and adjudication by special tribunals. The ultimate decisions of such tribunals have to be determined not merely by the application of legal principles to ascertained facts, but by considerations of policy also. Referring to a claim for reinstatement by a dismissed employee as one of the typical matters in dispute between employer and employee, the Privy Council observed in 'Labour Relations Board of Saskatchewan v. John East Iron Works Ltd A I R 1949 P. C. 129.

'The: jurisdiction of the Board (Labour Relations Board) .............. is not invoked by the employee for the enforcement of his contractual rights; those, whatever they may be, he can assert elsewhere. But his reinstatement which the terms of his contract of employment might not by themselves justify, is the means by which labour practices regarded as unfair are frustrated and the policy of collective bargaining as a road to industrial peace is secured. It is in the light of this new conception of industrial relations that the question to be determined by the Board must be viewed.'

The essential object of all recent labour legislation has been not so much to lay down categorically the mutual rights and liabilities of employer and employees as to provide recourse to a given form of procedure for the settlement of disputes in the interests of the maintenance of peaceful relations between parties, without apparent conflicts such as are likely to interrupt production and entail other dangers. It is with this object that in the United States there has been legislation arranging for the adjustment of conflicting interests by collective bargaining. In Great Britain there have been Acts like the Industrial Courts Act, 1919 which provides for Industrial Courts to enquire into and decide trade disputes. There is also provision for Conciliation Boards under the Conciliation Act, 1896. In fact, our Industrial Disputes Act is modelled on these two British Acts.

12. As was pointed out by my learned brother during the course of the argument, the entrustment of these disputes to administrative Tribunals, without enunciating even the general principles on which the disputes should be decided, is fraught with the risk of grave injustice being done to either party. If the decision of the dispute were to depend entirely on the unfettered discretion of the tribunal, there may be occasions when the very object of the legislation under which these tribunals function may not be achieved. It is for the legislature to have regard to this aspect of the matter. But I am not inclined to hold an Act like the Industrial Disputes Act to be invalid because of this defect.

13. Every dispute which would amount to an industrial dispute according to the definition in the Act is likely to affect the pecuniary rights of the parties; but I do not think it right on that account to speak of the Act or the Award that may be passed under the Act as depriving any person of property. An adjustment of relations between two parties should not be considered in that light. In this connection I may refer to the ruling of the Privy Council in 'Jagannath Baksh Singh v. The United Provinces 1946 2 MLJ 29. In that case the validity of the United Provinces Tenancy Act of 1939 was in question. It was argued that that Act contravened the provisions of Section 299 of the Government of India Act, 1935 which provided in terms similar to the terms of Article 31(1) and (2) of the Constitution that no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law and that neither the Federal nor the Provincial Legislature shall have power to make any law authorising the compulsory acquisition of land for public purposes save in the case of providing for the payment of compensation. Their Lordships refused to accept that argument. They observed :

'But in the present case there is no question of confiscatory legislation. To regulate the relations of landlord and tenant and thereby diminish rights, hitherto exercised by the landlord in connection with his land, is different from compulsory acquisition of the land.'

The doctrine of 'laissez faire' which held sway in the world since the time of Adam Smith has practically given place to a doctrine which emphasizes the duty of the State to interfere in the affairs of individuals in the interests of the socialwell being of the entire community. As Julian Huxley forcibly remarks in his Essay on 'Economic Man and Social Man.'

'Many of our old ideas must be retranslated, so to speak, into a new language. The democratic idea of freedom for instance, must lose its nineteenth century meaning of individual liberty in the economic sphere, and become adjusted to new conception of social duties and responsibilities. When a big employer talks about his democratic right to individual freedom, meaning thereby a claim to socially irresponsible control over a huge industrial concern and over the lives of tens of thousands of human beings whom it happens to employ, he is talking in a dying language.'

I do not think it necessary to give my final opinion in these points in this case. I have, however, expressed my 'prima facie' inclination as the matter was argued at some length before us.

14. The application is dismissed with costs of the third respondent.

Satyanarayana Rao, J.

15. I agree.


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