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Sri Rajagopal Transport (P.) Ltd. Vs. the Presiding Officer, Labour Court and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1971)2MLJ85
AppellantSri Rajagopal Transport (P.) Ltd.
RespondentThe Presiding Officer, Labour Court and ors.
Cases ReferredUnion of India v. Nana Singh
Excerpt:
.....was on justifiable grounds or not. 2. thus, the scope of the remand, as high-lighted by the learned judge himself, is that if the labour court found that it was not a collective dispute then it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate on it and only in case when it was satisfied that it was a regular industrial dispute it could adjudicate further on the merits. in my opinion based on the finding that the dispute in this case was individual in character, the labour court had clearly no jurisdiction to decide whether the dismissal of kumaraswami was justified or not. the conciliation having failed, the matter ultimately went up to the government, who, in exercise of their powers under section 10 of the industrial disputes act, referred this dispute between the petitioner and v. , of a..........the same and remitted the matter for fresh disposal. while passing such an order of remit, the learned judge made it clear as to what ought to be done by the labour court. the position is best stated in the words of the learned judge himself:i remanded the matter to the presiding officer, labour court, to make a fresh enquiry himself and decide on two points. (1) whether the cause of the worker v. kumaraswami, who was dismissed had been sponsored validly by the labour union so as to convert it from an individual dispute to a collective dispute, in which event only the labour court under the law as it then stood before the amendment by act xxxv of 1965 with effect from 1st december, 1965, would have jurisdiction to adjudicate on it ; and (2) if he was satisfied that it was an.....
Judgment:
ORDER

T. Ramaprasada Rao, J.

1. The petitioner is Sri Rajagopal Transports Private Ltd., Tiruchirapalli. For a considerable length of time, the disputes between the management and seven workmen thereto were not settled as is seen from the various proceedings that preceded the present writ petition. As early as in 1962, a reference Under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, (hereinafter referred to as the Act), was made, on the question whether the non employment of one V. Kumaraswami, a driver of the petitioner Management, was in order. The Labour Court was of the view that the non-employment was not justified and the petitioner had to come to this Court in W.P. No. 199 of 1963, questioning the propriety of the award passed by the Labour Court. The Union also filed a writ petition against the same award, and both came up for final disposal before Ramakrishnan, J., who quashed the same and remitted the matter for fresh disposal. While passing such an order of remit, the learned Judge made it clear as to what ought to be done by the Labour Court. The position is best stated in the words of the learned Judge himself:

I remanded the matter to the presiding Officer, Labour Court, to make a fresh enquiry himself and decide on two points. (1) whether the cause of the worker V. Kumaraswami, who was dismissed had been sponsored validly by the Labour Union so as to convert it from an individual dispute to a collective dispute, in which event only the Labour Court under the law as it then stood before the amendment by Act XXXV of 1965 with effect from 1st December, 1965, would have jurisdiction to adjudicate on it ; and (2) if he was satisfied that it was an industrial dispute, he could take evidence and decide on the merits whether the dismissal of Kumaraswami was on justifiable grounds or not.

2. Thus, the scope of the remand, as high-lighted by the learned Judge himself, is that if the Labour Court found that it was not a collective dispute then it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate on it and only in case when it was satisfied that it was a regular industrial dispute it could adjudicate further on the merits. On remand, the Labour Court passed its revised award, holding that the dispute was an individual dispute and not an industrial dispute projected collectively by the Union. After having found that it had no jurisdiction to enter further into a discussion on the merits of the dispute before it and apparently without appreciating the terms of the remand, the Labour Court delved further into the merits and found that the non-employment of Kumaraswami was justified. As against this, the Union filed W.P. No. 3016 of 1966. Ramakrishnan, J., again finally held:

In my opinion based on the finding that the dispute in this case was individual in character, the Labour Court had clearly no jurisdiction to decide whether the dismissal of Kumaraswami was justified or not.

3. He further added:

But there is also the other finding arrived on facts that the dismissal was related to one of the four charges which was held as proved and that justified the order of dismissal.

4. The Union, after the disposal of the writ petition in the manner as above, once again raised a dispute as regards the same V. Kumaraswami and sought a conciliation before the Labour Officer, Tiruchirapalli. The conciliation having failed, the matter ultimately went up to the Government, who, in exercise of their powers Under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, referred this dispute between the petitioner and V. Kumaraswami for adjudication in the following terms:

Whether the non-employment of Kumaraswami is justified; if not, to what relief is he entitled

5. I may also summarise for the purpose of completion, the other matter which also has been referred by the Government in the very same reference as above in connection with the non-employment of six other workers of theirs. As regards these six other workers, Ramakrishnan, J., in W.P. No. 3016 of 1966 and others categorically held that the Labour Court did not have jurisdiction to entertain the complaint of such six workers Under Section 33-A of the Act and that therefore they could not be said to be proceedings in respect of an industrial dispute In fact, the learned Judge observed as follows:

If it is found that the proceedings pending before the Labour Court were not in respect of an industrial dispute as defined in the Act (i.e., of a collective nature) but only in respect of an individual dispute, clearly the terms of Section 33 are not attracted and therefore the workers' complaints Under Section 33-A cannot be maintained under that section.... In view of the above, it appears to me that the workers cannot obtain any remedy in this Court in the above said writ petitions....

6. This is a case, therefore, in which the merits were never gone into by the learned Judge, nor were they considered by him on the ground that initially there was want of jurisdiction on the part of the Labour Court to entertain the complaints made by these six workers Under Sections 33-A. These six workers also, through their Union, again raised certain disputes very much connected with the proceedings referred to earlier and sought a conciliation and the conciliation having failed, the Government, by the impugned order, have referred the question of non-employment of such six workers also for purposes of adjudication by the Labour Court.

7. The petitioner is impugning the order of reference in relation to Kumaraswami as also in relation to the six other workmen referred to above, and is seeking for a writ of prohibition restraining the Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Madurai, to whom the reference has been made, from proceeding further with the enquiry as directed in the reference.

8. Mr. Narayanaswami, learned Counsel for the petitioner, after having fairly traced through the history of the disputes between the Management and the workmen as above, referred me in particular to the observations of Ramakrishnan, J., when he disposed of the Writ Petition No. 3016 of 1966. This is the petition which related to the non-employment of Kumara--swami. I have already extracted that portion of the judgment of the learned Judge, touching upon this matter. The learned Counsel, however, relies upon the latter observation which is again reproduced for purposes of completion and immediate reference:

But there is also the other finding arrived on facts that the dismissal was related to one of the four charges which was held as proved and that justified the order of dismissal.

9. On the strength of this, which is interpreted and insisted upon as a finding of fact, made by this Court in a competent proceeding, it is urged that no more reference is possible by the State Government in the purported exercise of their power Under Section 10 of the Act. There is a fallacy in this argument. The very content of the expression extracted above, would show that it was a causal observation made by the learned Judge, which is totally disjunctive of the earlier categorical assertion made by him on the question of jurisdiction. It is elementary that if a Court finds that it has no jurisdiction to entertain a lis and adjudicate upon it, and then if it proceeds further and attempts to weigh the pros and cons of the merits of the case and ultimately renders its finding thereon, then such finding given by a Tribunal or Court which lacks jurisdiction to entertain and dispose of the lis, are absolutely irrelevant, unwarranted and without any effect. Except that it burdens the record, it has no value and much less of any legal promptitude. As a matter of fact, the learned Judge, at the time of remand made it very clear that the Labour Court should take the precaution of seeing whether the dispute before it was an industrial dispute in accordance with the then prevailing law and once it finds that there was such an industrial dispute on its file for adjudication, then only, it could decide on the merits. This pointed direction made by the learned Judge was apparently ignored by the Labour Court, which, after having found that the dispute was not an industrial dispute but an individual dispute, went further into the matter and decided on the merits. It need not have done so and in my view it ought not to have done. That having been done, the learned Judge presumably, out of pure reasons of expediency, touched upon this matter and made the observation which does not in any way affect the main point in controversy in the instant case. I am unable to agree with Mr. M. R. Narayanaswami that the above observations starting from the conjunction. 'But' is effectively a finding of fact, for such a finding of fact cannot be rendered in the circumstances of the case. It is in this connection that the learned Counsel for the respondents quoted the decision reported in Chalchitra Karmachari Sangh v. Regal Talkies : AIR1964MP20 , where, quoting with approval a passage of the Privy Council in Upendranath v. Call , it was observed as follows:

Having held that the reference was not maintainable and it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the dispute referred to it, the opinion expressed by the Tribunal on the merits of the dispute is in law totally ineffective and cannot in any sense be regarded as an adjudication of the dispute.

10. Ramachandra Aiyar, C.J., in United Beedi Workers Union v. Ahmed Hussain and Sons (1964) I L.L.J. 285 quoted with approval the observations of Rajamannar, C.J., in Mariamman Handloom Factory v. State of Madras I.L.R. (1960) Mad. 46 : (1966) 1 M.L.J. 46 : (1959) II L.L.J. 627. The learned Chief Justice extracted the passage which appeared in that judgment reading as under:

In my opinion, the Tribunal has that jurisdiction. If it comes to a right conclusion that it is an industrial dispute, it has jurisdiction to proceed further with the adjudication of that dispute; if however it comes to the conclusion that the dispute is not an industrial dispute, it can have no jurisdiction to proceed any further.' (the italics is mine).

11. There is, therefore, a specific interdict on Tribunals to entertain and adjudicate upon disputes, to be cautious in cases where the question of jurisdiction is raised. If once such a Tribunal comes to the conclusion that it has no jurisdiction to entertain and a fortiorari to adjudicate upon the subject before it, then the ban becomes operative and it has no further right to deal with the subject-matter. If however it considers further, its finding can be treated as an equation of non est. The want of jurisdiction in matters tried by the quasi judicial Tribunals, is one which goes to the core of the matter and if its absence is unchallenged, then there is no foundation for such tribunals to proceed further, hear parties and record their findings on the so-called merits of the case.

12. Mr. Narayanaswami, however, relied upon the principle of res judicata. This is again based on the fact that the observation of the learned Judge:

But there is also... dismissal' extracted above, is a finding of fact. If it were to be a finding of fact, then obviously the rule of res judicata applies automatically. But, if it is not, the poser is, even then whether the doctrine of res judicata would not be applicable. Reliance was placed upon the decision of the Supreme Court in Union of India v. Nana Singh (1970) I L.L.J. 10. There, the High Court, when it reversed the decision of a single Judge, gave reasons for reversing the decision on one ground, though two contentions were raised before them, and in its view, as the appeal could be decided only on the first point, it allowed the appeal and dismissed the petition. In the net analysis, the second contention raised was not considered by the appellate Court, because it thought it was unnecessary to do so. When the matter went up to the Supreme Court, the Court said:Even assuming that the High Court was in error in holding that the appeal could be decided only on the first point, the order dismissing the petition must still operate as res judicata in respect of both the points on which the petition was founded.

13. The ratio is pressed into service in the instant case. Mr. Narayanaswami's contention is that as the learned Judge in W.P. No. 3016 of 1966 was constrained to accept both the findings, one of law and the other of fact, rendered by the tribunal, the two findings must be deemed to be binding and that they would operate as res judicata in subsequent proceedings as well. Here again there is fallacy. The principle laid down by the Supreme Court in the case cited above is a normal one. No question arose in that case about the competency of a Court to render its findings on merits. This distinction has to be borne in mind and if done, the ratio in the Supreme Court case is inapplicable. As already stated, if once a Court is incompetent to render its finding on merits on the primordial ground that it had no jurisdiction to do so, then such finding, if rendered, is, to say the least, ineffective and cannot, for any purpose and much less for the purpose of pressing the doctrine of res judicata, be accepted as a finding of fact. The essential requirement of the doctrine of res judicata is that both the Court which rendered the finding on an earlier occasion and the Court which is to compulsorily review the matter on a subsequent occasion, are competent Courts in the sense that they have the jurisdiction to entertain and adjudicate upon the lis or the subject-matter. If the earlier Court which gave its findings is incompetent to decide on merits on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction, then ab initio those findings of fact need not be looked into and much less acted upon. In this view of the matter, the doctrine of res judicata also is inapplicable in the instant case.

14. As regards the six other workmen, it is not seriously disputed that at no relevant point of time the labour Court or this Court in the earlier writ petition Nos. 621 to 625 of 1964, ever dealt with the merits arising thereunder viz., whether non-employment is justified or not. The question, therefore, was still an open question not having been tried or decided by a competent tribunal or Court. In this view of the matter, the reference Under Section 10 made by the State Government cannot be said to be in any way beyond their jurisdiction or competency.

15. In the view that I hold, that the earlier proceedings do not operate as res judicata and that the findings on the merits rendered or touched upon by this Court earlier do not have any bearing on the exercise of jurisdiction by the State Government Under Section 10 of the Act, I am unable, in my discretion, to issue the writ of prohibition interdicting the Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Madurai, from proceeding with the subject referred to. The rule nisi is discharged. The writ petition is dismissed. There will be no order as to costs.

16. Excepting for the main question as to jurisdiction, which was the sheetanchor and the bone of contention of Mr. Narayanaswami, no other contention was raised and it is, therefore, open to him to raise such other contentions available to him in law before the Labour Court.


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