10 Jan 2121

Where an employer fails to make an enquiry before dismissing or discharging an employee, he may justify the action before the tribunal by leading all relevant evidence before it - Supreme Court of India

Case : State of Uttarakhand & Ors. v. Smt. Sureshwati Civil Appeal No. 142 of 2021

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Navin Sinha and Indu Malhotra

Decided on : 10 Jan 2121

Relevant Statutes

Section 25-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

Uttaranchal School Education Act, 2006

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. Respondent was initially engaged as an Assistant Teacher in Jai Bharat Junior High School, Haridwar during the period July 1993 to 21.5.1994. Subsequently, she worked as a Clerk from 1.7.1994.

2. On 25.3.1996, the District Basic Education Officer approved the appointment of Respondent herein with effect from 1.7.1994. During this period, the School was an unaided private institution.

3. From 24.5.2005 the School started receiving grants-in-aid from the State and came to be governed by the Uttaranchal School Education Act, 2006.

4. Appellants alleged that the Respondent had abandoned her service as a clerk in the School since 1.7.1997 when she got married and shifted to Dehradun. Whereas, on 15.7.2006 the Respondent filed a complaint before the School contending that she had worked continuously up to 07.03.2006 and that on 8th March 2006 her services were illegally retrenched without granting her any hearing, or payment of retrenchment compensation.

5. The School requested the Additional District Education Officer (Basic), Haridwar to conduct an inquiry on the complaint made by the Respondent.

6. The Basic School Inspector reported tampering of the date of the appointment by the Respondent, found that her employment was illegal, and she had not worked in the School from July 1997 onwards, nor was there any leave application received from her on the record. Audit Report of February 2008 did not contain her name. 

7. The Respondent filed a Complaint before the Labour Commissioner, Haridwar which was referred to the Additional Labour Commissioner. An ex-parte award was passed by the Labour Court on 05.02.2010 in favour of the Respondent. The said Award was challenged before the High Court of Uttarakhand in a Writ Petition. The High Court allowed the Writ Petition and remanded the case to the Labour Court to decide the matter de novo in accordance with the law.

8. The Labour Court held that the Respondent was not entitled to get any relief.

9. Aggrieved by the Judgment of the Labour Court, the Respondent filed Writ Petition before the High Court; it was allowed and reversed the Award passed by the Labour Court.

10. The Appellant then approached the Supreme Court against the same.

Issue of the Case

Whether the alleged termination of the services of the Respondent was proper and valid?

The Observations of the Court

The Supreme Court observed that:

1. Full opportunity was given to the parties to lead evidence, both oral and documentary, to substantiate their respective case. The High Court did not even advert to the said evidence and disposed of the Writ Petition on the sole ground that the School had not conducted a disciplinary enquiry before discharging the respondent from service.

2. In Workmen of the Motipur Sugar Factory Private Ltd. v. Motipur Sugar Factory, AIR 1965 SC 1803 it was held that where an employer has failed to enquire before dismissing or discharging a workman it is open to him to justify the action before the tribunal by leading all relevant evidence before it. In such a case the employer would not have the benefit which he had in cases where domestic enquiries have been held. The entire matter would be open before the tribunal which will have jurisdiction not only to go into the limited questions open to a tribunal where a domestic enquiry has been property held but also to satisfy itself on the facts adduced before it by the employer whether the dismissal or discharge was justified.

3. Delhi Cloth and General Mills Co. v. Ludh Budh Singh, (1972) 1 SCC 595 supports the same.

4. The School had led sufficient evidence before the Labour Court to prove that the Respondent had abandoned her service from 01.07.1997 when she got married and moved to another District, this was not denied by her in her evidence. The record of the School revealed that she was not in employment of the School since July 1997.

5. The employment of the Respondent as a teacher from July 1993 to 21.5.1994 was itself invalid since she was only inter-mediate and did not have the B.Ed. degree, which was the minimum qualification to be appointed as a teacher.

6. Neither the Respondent to have called for the records of the Attendance Register and the Accounts, nor She produced her Salary Slips as evidence of her continuous employment up to 08.03.2006. She failed to discharge the onus to prove that she had worked for 240 days’ in the preceding 12 months prior to her alleged termination on 8.3.2006 in accordance with the decision in Bhavnagar Municipal Corpn. v. Jadeja Govubha Chhanubha, (2014) 16 SCC 130.

The Decision Held by the Court

1. The Supreme Court allowed the Appeal, set aside the Judgment of the High Court and restored the award of the Labour Court. There was no Order as to costs.

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