In the Supreme Court of India Civil Appeal No.3585 of 2008 Appellants Kurukshetra University Respondents Prithvi Singh Date of Judgement 22.09.2006 Bench Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre
A person employed as labour has the ultimate entitlement to certain claims to work as a dignified person and he can avail all the immunities or protections against any maltreatment.
This realisation became reality post-Independence era when the government took cognizance of the state which earlier subjected the labour class to be slave of the harsh terms and conditions of the master or employer like long hours of working, no facility for rest, no amenity for recreation, etc.
Due to these causes after independence V.V.Giri was the labour minister emphasized that the labour division should become self-servants. This counter-current outlook gave place to a new concept known as “Tripartism”. In this method the three parties namely trade union representing the workers, the employers and the government. In this procedure, the representatives do not decide anything but their function is mainly advisory. They meet together, scrutinize the points in dispute and seek to reach an accord. Out of the three, the role of the executive organ is more crucial.
This resulted in the shift from ‘doctrine of laissez-faire which means transactions amid private parties are free from government interference such as directives, benefits, taxes and relaxations; to a welfare state’.
Though, the present scenario of the labour class condition is still under the progress aided by the notion of social justice. However, sometimes because of what is currently happening in the society with the working class directly impacts the organisation that has been honest on their side against which the labour division may institute a suit of exploitation of any kind. This can be deemed as the misuse of the available statutes or sometimes the court of justice may commit an err in analysing both the parties.
Facts of the case:
1. In this case, on 18.08.1999, the security guard (respondent) while on duty avowed to have misbehaved with one lady research scholar who was working in the university. The University (appellant) took note of the incident and held a departmental probe by appointing investigation officer to examine into the matter.
2. The investigation officer, in his intimation dated 20.09.1999, found the respondent liable for committing the misconduct. The appellant accordingly opted to terminate the services of the respondent and treated him to be the daily rated employee relinquishing with his services with effect from 30.03.2000.
3. This led the state to make the industrial note to the labour court, Ambala under section 10 of the Industrial disputes act, 1947 which mentions that the appropriate government savours permissive authority to refer an industrial matter to the court or tribunal; for deciding the legitimacy and reasonableness of the respondent’s stopping from the services by the appellant with effect from 30.03.2000.
Legal issues involved:
a) The prime issue involved in this case is whether the domestic probe held by the university was conducted following the doctrine of natural justice or not.
b) If the investigation held was legitimate and bona fide then the next issue which arose for the scrutinization was whether the penalty imposed on the respondent was reasonable to the gravity of the charge obtruded against him or it was subjected for any intervention to award less sentence by using the authority under section 11(a) of the Industrial disputes act.
c) The next question for examination was if the domestic probe was held felonious and unreasonable, so whether the appellant should be allowed to substantiate the charge before the labour court on merits by citing additional proofs against the respondent.
This parody of justice was not the first of its kind. Natural justice is an omnipresent dimension of secular law which revitalizes legislation, executive and judiciary to make fairness and order of life. The doctrine of natural justice or fundamental postulates of a method for executive action is neither fixed nor mentioned in any code. Natural justice has meant many aspects to several writers, attorneys and system of rules and regulations. It has many colour and layers and various forms and shapes. India significance is given to the postulates of natural justice under the suprema Lex or The Constitution.
Obligation to act reasonably is a part of the fair procedure mentioned under article 14 and 21[i]. The doctrine of natural justice is deemed as basic human rights because they attempt to bring justice to both sides naturally.
The two essential points in the notion of principles of natural justice are:
(a)Nemo judex in causa sua- It means that no one should be made a judge in his own case or suit; command contrary to unreasonableness.[ii]
(b)Audi Alteram Partem- This maxim means that hear the other side of the rule of a fair hearing or the rule that no one should be condemned unheard.[iii]
Verdict of the case:
In this case, the supreme court pointed out certain loopholes where the subordinate court of jurisdiction committed errors while analysing the facts from the appellant’s (university) side which in total be called as lack of principle of natural justice.
(a) The labour court, by their verdict dated 23.01.2006, answered the note in respondent’s support. The labour court observed that the respondent has worked for more than 240 days in one calendar year. It was additionally believed that since the appellant had levelled a charge of misbehaviour in defiance of the respondent, it was important for the appellant to conduct regular departmental probe by providing a charge sheet, etc. and then depending upon the result of the probe, necessary orders should have been issued. It was observed that the procedure followed for the probe was illegitimate. The labour court deemed the termination as illegal retrenchment.
(b)The appellant moved to the high court through writ petition where the division bench upheld the labour court’s verdict and accordingly the writ petition didn’t prove fruitful for the appellant. The appellant went further and filed a special leave petition which states that (1) Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India.[iv]
(2) Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to any judgment, determination, and sentence or order passed or made by any court or tribunal constituted by or under any law relating to the Armed Forces.
(c)The supreme court in their viewpoint considered that neither the judge of the labour court and nor the judges of high courts applied their legal mind while scrutinizing the issues involved in the matter and totally defied the established legal doctrines which are applicable to the suit at hand and advanced to decide the suit against the postulates laid down by the court.
(d)In the above-mentioned issues, once after the appellant was able to prove allegation before the labour conduct, then it was upon the labour court to decide as to whether the suspension should be upheld or intervened by exercising the authorities under the clause of the Industrial Dispute Act’[v] which provides that Powers of Labour Courts, Tribunals and National Tribunals give appropriate relief in case of discharge or dismissal of workmen.- Where an industrial dispute relating to the discharge or dismissal of a workman has been referred to a Labour Court, Tribunal or National Tribunal for adjudication and, in the course of the adjudication proceedings, the Labour Court, Tribunal or National Tribunal, as the case may be, is satisfied that the order of discharge or dismissal was not justified, it may, by its award, set aside the order of discharge or dismissal and direct reinstatement of the workman on such terms and conditions, if any, as it thinks fit, or give such other relief to the workman including the award of any lesser punishment in lieu of discharge or dismissal as the circumstances of the case may require: Provided that in any proceeding under this section the Labour Court, Tribunal or National Tribunal, as the case may be, shall rely only on the materials on record and shall not take any fresh evidence in relation to the matter and by subjecting him to the lesser penalty provided a similar case on similar facts is presented by the defendant.
(e)The apex court compels to held that firstly, the labour court committed a mistake by not drafting an introductory issue for deciding the legitimacy of the domestic probe and secondly, having found an error in the domestic enquiry committed another mistake when it did not allow the appellant to present independent proof to manifest the misconduct on merits and rapidly forwarded to say that it was an issue of illegal retrenchment. They could have treated the termination as retrenchment rather than illegal retrenchment.
(f)The labour court didn’t pay consideration to definition of retrenchment of the industrial dispute act[vi] which states that retrenchment means the termination by the employer of the service of an employee based on any cause whatsoever, other than as a penalty imposed through disciplinary action. In other words, it provides in lucid expression, provides that retrenchment does not include stopping of the services if it is thrust by way of punishment. The Hon’ble Supreme Court considered proper the authentic observation by the labour court that the defendant had worked for 240 days in a year. It is because of this finding the respondent is entitled to avail the protection of labour laws.
(g)The High Court while analysing the appellant’s petition didn’t pay any consideration to the legal issues and hurriedly dismissed the petition.
(h)The Supreme Court setting aside the verdict of labour court and high court and accepted the appellant’s petition.
(i)The Supreme Court instructed the labour court to allow the appellant to adduce the evidence to prove the misbehaviour as testified by the appellant in their inscribed statement and after which the subordinate court would register on the matter of misconduct.
(j)The University will appear before the labour court on 5.3.2018 and will file the copy of the verdict. The labour court will issue a new notice to the respondent for his arrival before the labour court and decide the issue within 3 months from the date from which the notice is sent.
Analysis of the case:
The supreme court in this suit took cognizance of the fact that the other party was totally deprived of their right to adduce the evidence, in addition, to prove that the other party alleged to have committed the wrongful conduct in his course of duty. In other words, the principle of natural justice went missing during the course of the proceedings.
This mistake may have happened due to the reason that the present condition of the labour sector in the industries has not been much improved and if they are suspended or terminated, they would directly approach for the justice which altogether influences the organisation in all aspects and the society always thinks that employer in some or the other maltreats the employee.
When the domestic probe has been conducted by the management and the management depends on the same, it is open to the latter to plea before the tribunal to try the soundness of the domestic probe before the tribunal as a primary issue and also ask for a chance to lead additional evidence in the tribunal, if the observation on the primary issue is against the management. However, detailed and burdensome the process may be, under such conditions, it is on the tribunal to look, in the preliminary instance the legitimacy of the domestic probe. If the observation on the issue is in the favour of management then there is no requirement to cite extra proofs. But if the observation on the issue is proving contrary to management, the tribunal should give them a chance to present additional evidence during the course of the proceedings and before the closing of the trial. It will not be reasonable and just to the management and to the workman that tribunal simply denies to accept the evidence and asking the management to make the application again.[vii]
The apex court was compelled to trammel in the challenged verdict and sent back the case to the labour court for deciding it again. The crucial question before the Hon’ble supreme court was what are the authorities vested in the labour court and how it should progress to decide the legitimacy and reasonableness of the termination order of a workman under the labour statutes in reference to legal proceedings and what are the rights of the master while safeguarding the termination order in the labour court have been no more an untouched matter and court took consideration of their own various pre-decided case laws starting from Indian Iron and steel co. Ltd. v. Their Workmen (1958, SCR 667) and in Shankar Chakravarti v. Britannia Biscuit Co. Ltd. and Anr. (AIR 1979 SC 1653) in which the court of justice took note of the entire case law laid down and reiterated the legal point of view in an elaborated form.
The court stated that if the employer discontinues the service of a workman. That termination lifts a question an industrial matter either by way of an application under section 33 of the act by the employer or through the appropriate government under section 10. If an application is made by the employer as it necessitates to be applied in a said form all facts are needed to be pleaded. In this application, the employer has to supplicate that domestic probe has been held and it is legitimate and reasonable. In the opposite, it must be adjured that if the labour court or Industrial tribunal comes to the decision that either there was no probe or the one held was or the one which was conducted was flawed, the employer would present additional evidence to support the charges of misconduct alleged against the workman. Now, if no such pleading is put forth either at the beginning stage or during the pendency of the proceedings there arises no interrogation of a sort of consultative role of the labour court or the Industrial tribunal unintended by the act to advise the employer, a party quite better off than the workman to aware about their rights namely, to right to present additional evidence and then give a chance which was never sought.
This runs against the concept of industrial jurisprudence. Unquestionably, if such a pleading is raised and a chance is sought, it is to be provided but if there is no such pleading either in the authentic plea or in the declaration of the claim during the pendency of the lawsuit there emerges no responsibility on the part of the law or by the rules of impartiality, reasonableness and equity that a quasi-judicial authority like the Industrial tribunal or the labour court should ratify an advisory duty by informing the employer of its claims.
When a case of termination or discharge of an employee is taken for an industrial adjudication, the labour court should primarily decide as an initial issue whether the domestic probe has infringed the doctrine of natural justice. When there is no domestic enquiry or mala fide probe is admitted by the employer, there will be no complications. But when the issue is in disputation between, the parties that question must be resolved at a prefatory issue. On that verdict being pronounced it will be for the administration to determine whether it will present any evidence before the labour court. If it chooses not to present any evidence, it will not be thereafter permissible in nay proceeding to elevate the issue.[viii]
The provision to section 11(A) mentions that the labour court or the Industrial tribunal in a lawsuit under section 11(A) shall count only on the materials on record and shall not take any latest evidence in relation to the suit. This argument was in terms nullified by this court observed that at the time of establishing section 11(A) in the statute, the legislature must have been enlightened of the long line verdicts of this court expressing various doctrines connecting on the theme and thus it is cumbersome to accept that by a single virgule of a pen by the declaration used in the clause to section 11(A), all these postulates were set at nothing. The court then exhaustively scrutinized all its previous judgements and significance on the subject and framed the principles raised therefrom.
The purpose and the cause for the inclusion of section 11(A) which was inserted through recommendation no. 119 of International Labour Organization related to ‘dismissal of employment at the initiative of the master’ which was ratified in June 1963. It advocated that an employee aggrieved by the dismissal of his duty should be entitled to go against the termination to a neutral authority. For example, an arbitrator, court of justice, a similar authority to analyse the causes behind stated in the dismissal of employment and the other situations relating to the suit and to deliver the decision on the rationale of the termination. The International Labour Organisation further suggested that the neutral authority should be authorized to command to pay the relief amount if the dismissal was unreasonable.
The study of case comment leads to the conclusion that though the labour may have been suspended due to some allegation and he has the equal opportunity to move to the court of justice for the relief. It is court’s ultimate duty not to hurriedly scrutinize the case and consequently, the other side does not get a chance of hearing or present their allegations or the principle of natural justice is totally out of the story which describes the inefficiency of justice delivery mechanisation.
The organisation sometimes takes reasonable decisions in the form of retrenchment which in the society is deemed as discrimination on the poor section, but the organisation’s outlook for taking the decision should be analysed rather than criticizing all the time. There should equilibrium amid the labour class and employers for better growth and corporation for the welfare of both.
“The views of the authors are personal“
Frequently Asked Questions
What is meant by the principle of natural justice?
Ans. Natural justice in brief means to make a practical and rational judgment process on a certain issue. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what is the legit verdict but, what matters, in the end, is the course of action and who all aided in reaching the lawful verdict. It is not confined within the principle of ‘fairness’ as it has various contrast and shades which differ from the context.
What is section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act?
Ans. As per this section if the appropriate government is of the view that an industrial dispute exists, the concerned government may refer such dispute to (i)Industrial Disputes board for settlement, (ii) Court for inquiry, (iii)Labour Court, (iv) Tribunal for adjudication; provided that the matter mentioned in the third schedule should not affect more than 100 workmen.
What is illegal retrenchment?
Ans. Retrenchment is defined under section 2(oo) of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 which states that cancellation of the services of the employee by the employer for any ground other than a punishment imposed through disciplinary measures but does not comprise: (a) discretionary retirement of the employee, (b) attaining the age of superannuation if the contract amid the employer and employee concerned includes a provision in that regard, (c) due to the ill health of the employee, the contract gets terminated. Whereas for illegal retrenchment, there must be the reasonable cause behind the decision of retrenchment. If there is no valid cause behind then such retrenchment is illegal.
What relief does the International Labour organization specify for the labour?
Ans. Recommendation number 119 states that an employee aggrieved by the dismissal of his duty should be entitled to go against the termination to a neutral authority. For example, an arbitrator, court of justice, a similar authority to analyse the causes behind stated in the dismissal of employment and the other situations relating to the suit and to deliver the decision on the rationale of the termination. The International Labour Organisation further suggested that the neutral authority should be authorized to command to pay the relief amount if the dismissal was unreasonable.
[i] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 597, SC 1978.
[ii] Mineral Development Corporation Ltd. v. State of Bihar, AIR 468, SC 1960.
[iii] Hira Nath Mishra and ors. v. The Principal, Rajendra Medical College, AIR 1260 SC 1973.
[iv] The Constitution of India 1950, art. 136.
[v] Industrial Disputes Act, Sec 11(A), (1947).
[vi] Industrial Disputes Act, Sec 2(00), (1947).
[vii] Delhi Cloth and General Mills Co. v. Ludh Budh Singh, SCR 573, 1972.
[viii] Shankar Chakravarti v. Britannia Biscuit Co. Ltd. & Anr., AIR 1652 SCR (3) 1165, 1979.