1. The appeal is by the Anglo-French Mills, Pondicherry, represented by its manager, and involves questions of considerable interest relating to labour law as it prevails in Pondicherry. For the purpose of clarification, we may state that there is a Labour Code which governs the relationship between employment organizations and workers in Pondicherry, an authorized translation of the French text which has been issued by the International code came into force, as far as Pondicherry is concerned, there were proceedings of mutual discussion and conciliation, upon all aspects of the relationship between employment and labour, authorized by the State. This has resulted in what is known as the Chakravarthi award, which is named after the deputed officer, who held the enquiry. Admittedly, organizations like the Anglo-French Mills (appellant) have framed standing orders for employees in pursuance of this award, which have also been revised and approved by the Arbitration Commission for Textile Mills. The result is, in brief, that
(1) the Labour Code,
(2) the Chakravarthi award, and
(3) the standing orders,
are the sources of authority for all problems a rising out of the relations between employment and labourers in textile mills in Pondicherry.
2. We may here add that labour appeals coming up to this Court, after the Pondicherry Administration Act has come into force, are of two kinds:
(a) individual, and
The present is an appeal In respect of an Individual case, and the procedure is some-what different with regard to collective disputes. In cases like the present, the dispute is initially dealt with by a labour court generally consisting of a single-member, namely, the tribunal du travail. Appeals from those decisions are heard by the Court of first instance (tribunal depremiere instance). From these decisions, special appeals in Cassation were originally instituted in the Paris Court, and are now instituted before this Court.
3. The facts which have given rise to the present dispute are very simple. The respondent is a certain Muniammal, and though she has not appeared in this Court to contest the appeal by the Anglo-French Mills (appellant), we have considered the matter fully, in the light of the principles which may be involved in the cause. It is clear from the record that, on 6 August 1962, at 10-30 a.m., there was a quarrel between two women, namely, Thaiyanayagi, employed as a sweeper in the engineering sections, and this Muniammal (respondent). One Sengani, another worker, made a report about the occurrence. From the statement of Thaiyanayagi, it appears that Muniammai (respondent) referred to her in vile language, during the course of the quarrel, as a woman of loose morals. She then added that Thaiyanayagi was a person who should deliberately eat her own son. Saying this, Muniammal is supposed to have beaten Thaiyanayagi with a basket, and also to have caused an injury to her finger. It is not in dispute that the strange conduct of Muniammal on this occasion, and her cannibalistic curse pronounced on her opponent, led to certain suspicions concerning the mental health of the worker. Ultimately, the case of Muniammal was referred to two medical officers of the appellant mills. The report of the two medical officers, namely, Dr. J. Mariadasu and Dr. K.C. Pavitran, is brief, almost cryptic. It is to the following effect:
Smt. Muniammal is of unsound mind and it is not desirable to keep her in employment in her own interest.
4. In consequence of this report, the appellant-organization purported to terminate the services of Muniammal (respondent) forthwith. Admittedly, the organization has paid her the normal salary for the period of notice, and all the benefits that she would be entitled to upon the details of the service previously rendered by her. The first Court upheld the termination, as justified in law and not amounting to any wrongful rupture of contract, which would entitle the worker to damages. The appellate Court, for reasons stated in its judgment, differed, and, ultimately, awarded the respondent damages to the tune of Rs. 500. It is against this judgment and decree that the appeal has been filed.
5. Sri Vedantam Srinivasan, for the appellant, has urged the following main grounds before us. First of all, he argues there has been a confusion in the Court below between the case of termination of a contract of service and the case of dismissal. It is only in the latter case that it is necessary that misconduct should be proved against the worker before there could be a valid dismissal. That is clear from Atricles 40, 41 and 42 of the Labour Code, and also from the terms of the standing order 13 of the printed standing orders, approved by the Arbitration Commission. Next, it is argued that, treating this case as one of termination of service, all that is necessary is that the employer should have acted bonafide, and should have been satisfied that there were good and sufficient reasons for discharging the worker. In the present case, the appellants were informed, through qualified medical officers, that the woman was of unsound mind, and that, in her own interest, she should not be any longer retained in service. The appellant mills had no reason whatever to doubt the soundness of this advice, or to probe further into the matter, when it had been tendered by qualified medical men. The conduct of the appellant is not merely bona fide, but it was for good and sufficient reason, judged from the point of view of equity and commonsense. Under those circumstances, the appellate Court was in error in treating the termination as a dismissal, and in holding that it amounted to a rupture of the contract which was an abuse in law, justifying a claim for damages.
6. We have very carefully considered this matter, and in our view, the appellate Court was perfectly justified in awarding damages, on the facts of this particular case. Indeed the case is a good illustration of the kind of injustice that might be easily perpetrated, however sincerely an employment organization might be acting, if the safeguards specifically enacted to protect the workers are not duly kept in mind, and are not strictly implemented. The record contains no hint whatever of the previous conduct of the respondent (Muniammal), or her prior state of mind. There is no hint, for instance, that she was erratic in conduct or speech, or found to be unreliable in the performance of her duties. The incident of that morning (6 August 1962) was not at all uncommon and was, in brief, a vulgar brawl between two women of the working class, of the kind which occurs quite frequently in human experience. Actually, it is somewhat strange that this mere brawl should have led anybody to suspect that the respondent was of unsound mind. The so-termed cannibalistic curse pronounced by the respondent on her opponent, was merely on a par with the kind of vituperative abuse which is freely indulged in among certain social sections, particularly where women quarrel and come to blows from words. The fact that this vituperation was not of the ordinary category of indecent language, but took the somewhat novel form of a cannibalistic curse, does not imply for a moment that the person pronouncing that curse was necessarily abnormal in mind, or of doubtful sanity. But, since there was a reference to the medical experts, we may take it that something else in the conduct of the woman, had also led to the suspicion that her intellect might be deranged. We are perfectly willing to assume that the suspicion was a bona fide one, and that the reference was made without any intention to victimize the worker. But, even so, for two important reasons, we cannot possibly accept the subsequent conduct of the appellants as in accordance with the law. Since the first reason refers to a right safeguarded in the code itself, we shall state it immediately. This is, briefly, that under Article 47(c) of the code, wherever a worker is incapacitated by illness he or she would appear to be entitled to special medical leave for a period not exceeding six months. During this period, the contract itself is to be suspended. The employer-organization can thus take action to terminate the services of a worker, for mental or physical incurable infirmity, only after affording this opportunity for a cure or at least for a sufficient rehabilitation for the worker to be restored to the efficient performance of duty. The appellant-organization was in error in not keeping this safeguard in mind, and in not giving effect to it in the case of this particular worker.
7. Secondly, even apart from this, we are totally unable to accept the medical report in this case as satisfactory, or as forming any reasonable basis for the further action taken. It cannot be insisted upon too strongly, as a matter of basic equity, that where the opinion of medical experts may have the consequence of imposing some permanent disability upon a citizen, such as the deprivation of liberty by incarceration in a mental home, or the deprivation of the right to dispose of property, or, on equally powerful ground, the deprivation of the means of livelihood, that opinion ought not to be a mere conclusion without reasons; if it is that, it ought not to be acted upon without further enquiry. It is a fundamental principle of natural justice that such experts should not usurp the functions of Judges. They must give reasons for their view, they must set forth the observed data, and their inference must be a reasonable one as based on such observations. In the present case, it is not even clear why the doctors thought that the respondent was of unsound mind, and what led them to form such an impression; nor did the doctors state why it was not desirable to keep the respondent in employment, ' in her own interest.' For instance, as supporting such a view, we would have expected particulars of violent behaviour; or disordered speech, or any conduct likely to injure or annoy others; there are no such details. The doctors should have gone further, and given the diagnosis of the particular form of mental illness that the respondent suffered from. It is needless for us to stress that 'unsound mind' is a term of lay parlance though it is sometimes also used in legal text-books; but it is not an accurate medical term, and hence it is not an adequate diagnosis. Further many forma of mild mental illness are curable by modern methods, within a reasonable prospect of time. They may not necessarily involve any impediment to employment, particularly manual employment as a sweeper, and they may not at all involve risk or injury to others. The employer-organization ought to have referred the case back to the doctors, for a detailed elucidation upon these aspects, before they took the extreme step of terminating the services of the worker outright. We may add that we are not impressed by the argument that, because the worker was a person employed on contract of ' unspecified duration,' it was not even necessary that there should he reasons Justifying the termination. The standing orders make it clear that there must be good and sufficient reasons, even in such instances. It is sufficient for us to observe that the respondent was a permanent worker in the employment of the mills, not a purely temporary or ad hoc worker, who could be discharged merely by the payment of salary in lieu of notice, or by a statutory notice.
8. The appeal has, therefore, no merits and it is dismissed. Since the respondent has not appeared and contested the appeal, there will be no order as to costs.