21 Jun 2121

A Court must prevent hardship, discomfort, unfairness, absurdity, and oddity while choosing between several interpretations - Bombay High Court

Case : Duncan Engineering Ltd. v. Ajay C. Shelke Writ Petition (St.) No. 93088 of 2020

Court : Bombay High Court

Bench : Justice Smt. Anuja Prabhudessai

Decided on : 21 Jun 2121

The Relevant Statutes

Article 227, 141, 226 of the Constitution of India

Section 33(2)(b), 10, 33A, 25FFA, 25G, 25O, 33, 33(1), 33(2), 33(2)(a) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

Sections 24(a), (b), (k), (l), (w) of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946

Brief Facts & Procedural History

1. The Petitioner is in the business of producing Tube Valves for the automobile industry. Respondent-workers were employed in one of the Petitioner's factories. They were served charge sheets alleging willful insubordination, disobedience, illegal strike, riotous and disorderly behaviour, and other acts that constituted misconduct under model standard orders enacted under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, under Sections 24(a), (b), (k), (l), and (w).

2. The Petitioner, dissatisfied with the Respondent-response, workmen launched an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing. The Respondent-workmen were found to be guilty of misbehaviour by the Enquiry Officer. As a result, the Petitioner terminated the Respondent-services workmen with immediate effect by an order. The Respondent-Workmen, who were aggrieved by the dismissal decision, filed an industrial dispute, which was submitted to the Labour Court for adjudication under the authority granted by Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The issue in the Reference was whether the Respondent-termination Workmen of services was legitimate and legal, and if so, whether the Respondent-Workmen were entitled to reinstatement with continuity of employment, back pay, and other benefits.

3. The Respondent-workmen filed a statement of claim in the Labour Court, alleging, among other things, that their dismissal was unlawful and invalid due to a lack of authorisation under Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The Respondents - workers - claimed that the issue of the charge sheet and subsequent firing was due to persecution for joining the Maharashtra Rajya Rashtriya Kamgar Sangh (INTAK), which was advocating their cause.

4. The Respondent-workmen argued that the dismissal order was issued awaiting the outcome of the Reference, Ref. (IT) No.17 of 2014, involving the Charter of Demands raised by the Union of which they were members. The Respondent-workers claimed that the dismissal orders were invalid because they were issued without first seeking consent from the body before which the Reference was being heard. On the merits, the Respondent-workmen claimed that the investigation was not fair and proper and that the Enquiry Officer's conclusions about the misbehaviour were perverse.

5. The issuing of a charge sheet, according to the Petitioner, was not an act of victimisation. The Petitioner claimed that the Respondent-Workmen had taken part in the investigation into their wrongdoing. It was further claimed that the Enquiry Officer found the Respondent-workmen guilty of the accusations after reviewing the evidence. The Petitioner argued that seeking clearance was unnecessary, and he denied that the order of dismissal was unlawful or ineffective due to a violation of Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

6. The Labour Court addressed preliminary issues such as the fairness of the investigation and the perversity or otherwise of the Enquiry Officer's findings. The Labour Court found the investigation to be fair, appropriate, and in line with natural justice principles in its Part-I Award on the preliminary issues. The Labour Court further found that the Enquiry Officer had adequate and acceptable evidence to conclude that the Respondent-workmen had committed the wrongdoing alleged in the charge sheet. As a result, the Labour Court found that the Enquiry Officer's conclusions are based on adequate and acceptable evidence and are not perverse, and therefore addressed the preliminary questions in favour of the Petitioner.

7. The Labour Court intervened in the penalty and ordered restoration, mostly due to non-compliance with the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947's Section 33(2)(b) requirement. The Labour Court made these conclusions after noting that the Charter of Demand Reference was awaiting adjudication and that the dismissal orders were issued while the said Reference was pending without complying with the provisions of Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

8. The Labour Court found that dismissal decisions that violate the required provision of Section 33(2) (b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 are unlawful and inoperative, citing the Supreme Court's judgement in Jaipur Zila Sahakari Bhumi Vikas Bank Ltd. Vs. Ram Gopal Sharma and Ors. (2002) 2 SCC 224. As a result, the Labour Court threw aside the dismissal decisions and ordered the Petitioner to restore the Respondent-workmen with continuity of employment, full back pay, and all other benefits.

The Issue(s) of the Case

Whether the Labour Court has declared the dismissal orders void and inoperative due to the Petitioner's failure to comply with the provisions of Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and has ordered the Petitioner to reinstate all of the Respondent-workmen with continuity of service, full back wages, and all other benefits valid?

The Observations of the Court

1. Referring to the case of Jaipur Zila Sahakari Bhumi Vikas Bank Ltd. Vs. Ram Gopal Sharma and Ors. (2002) 2 SCC 224, it did not address the case in which a worker opts for a Section 10 reference to challenge his dismissal on numerous grounds, including non-compliance with Section 33(2). (b). The Constitution Bench, it is said, has not addressed the method to be followed or the matters to be determined in such a Reference. As previously stated, the decision in Jaipur Zila Sahakari Bhumi Vikas Bank Ltd. Vs. Ram Gopal Sharma and Ors. (2002) 2 SCC 224 underlines the obligatory character of the proviso of Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, decisively holding that non-compliance makes the dismissal or discharge order invalid and inoperative.

2. Referring to the case of United Bank of India Vs. Sidhartha Chakraborty AIR 2007 SC 3071, even though the investigation was found to be fair and appropriate, and the dismissal order was warranted, the dismissal order was found to be void for non-compliance with the proviso to Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and the workman was ordered to be restored with full back pay. It would be incorrect to characterise the judgement as limited to the interpretation of Section 33(2)(b) or to accept expert counsel for the Petitioner's claim that the ruling did not examine the scope of investigation in a complaint under Section 33A or a reference under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

3. Referring to the case of the decision of the Apex Court in Indian Telephone Industries Ltd. and anr. v/s. Prabhakar H. Manjuare and anr. (2003) 1 SCC 320 and the decision of Honourable High Court of J0075dicature at Bombay in AIR India Ltd. v/s. V.M. Mhadgut and anr. in Writ Petition No.2818 of 2003, furthermore, the withdrawal of the permission application nullifies the dismissal decision, and the worker is entitled to full back pay as if his employment had never been terminated. Such an employee cannot be terminated by issuing a new dismissal order without paying all back wages from the date of the first dismissal order to the date of the second dismissal order. As a result, it is apparent that a technical violation of Section 33(2)(b), which renders the dismissal decision unlawful ab initio and entitles the worker to reinstatement with all benefits, cannot be considered.

4. Treating the violation as a minor technicality and then confirming an invalid order in a Reference under Section 10 or a Complaint under Section 33A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 by allowing the employer to explain the dismissal on the merits would be inconsistent with the Constitution Bench's ruling in the Jaipur Zila Sahakari Bhumi Vikas Bank Ltd. Vs. Ram Gopal Sharma and Ors. (2002) 2 SCC 224. Furthermore, the reading sought by counsel for the Petitioner is inconsistent with the purpose of the clause and does not accomplish the legislative goal.

5. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay observes that it's also worth noting that providing the employer with a chance to defend the dismissal/discharge would prevent the worker from working and collecting his salary until the merits of the disagreement are resolved. Giving such an opportunity, on the other hand, would reward an employer who deliberately avoids complying with the legislative obligation, which specifically protects an employee against probable victimisation and unfair labour practices. As a result, the experienced counsel for the Petitioner's view would be equivalent to putting a premium on an illegal act of participating in unfair labour practises and/or victimisation.

6. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay also observes that ‘Statutory Interpretation Principles' Justice G. P. Singh's 13th edition (2012) states that a Court must prevent hardship, discomfort, unfairness, absurdity, and oddity while choosing between several interpretations. The theory must be implemented with extreme caution, and any interpretation that might cause ridiculous discomfort must be avoided. In this matter, reading the provision in the way advocated by expert counsel for the Petitioner would result in an anomalous result, giving hardship and injustice to an employee who seeks relief via a statutory remedy while protecting and rewarding an employer who chooses to violate one. As a result, it is not permitted to accept such an interpretation, which would have illogical implications, negate the Section's protection, and render the proviso otiose.

The Decision Held by the Court

1. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay held that The Labour Court's judgement was justified in directing reinstatement with subsequent benefits since it followed the principles given forth by the Constitution Bench in Jaipur Zila Sahakari Bhumi Vikas Bank Ltd. Vs. Ram Gopal Sharma and Ors. (2002) 2 SCC 224. Respondent-Workmen, on the other hand, will be eligible for reinstatement if they have not reached the age of superannuation during the interregnum period. Workers who have reached the age of superannuation will be entitled to earnings from the date of dismissal until their superannuation date.

2. According to learned counsel for the Petitioner, this Court granted ad-interim remedy in terms of prayer clause (c) by order, which is still in effect. She asks for the interim remedy to be continued so that the Petitioner can appeal the ruling to the Hon'ble Supreme Court. 

3. In light of the foregoing remark, the interim order will be extended for another four weeks.

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