Decided on February 16,1970

LABOUR COURT Respondents


- (1.) THE petitioner is the management of Pachamalai estate, Valpami. It held a domestic enquiry against seven of its female workers and one male worker in respect of an incident that took place on 6 August 1966 in its tea gardens. The women workers were reported to have refused to pluck in the rows allotted to them and to have abused and assaulted the assistant manager and assistant conductor. It is not necessary to refer to the case of the male worker because he was prosecuted is a criminal Court and convicted and his dismissal by the domestic tribunal has also been upheld by the labour court and there is no writ petition on his behalf in this Court The charges against the women workers were: (1) under standing Order 23 (1), " wilful insubordination, disobedience, whether alone or in combination with others of any lawful and reasonable orders of a superior, (2) under standing Order 23 (11), " riotous and disorderly behaviour. " and (3) under statnding Order 23 (12), "any act subversive of discipline. " After holding an enquiry these women were dismissed by order dated 12 September 1966 The labour court has found that no principles of natural justice were violated in the enquiry held against these seven women workers. There was also a criminal prosecution against them in Calendar Case No. 4487 of 1966 before the Sub-Magistrate of Pollachi. The seven women ware given the benefit of doubt and acquitted. This was on 6 March 1967. The labour court has held that in the face of acquittal by the criminal Court of these seven women workers, the orders of dismissal passed by the management cannot be sustained. This writ petition is against that order.
(2.) I am satisfied that the labour court has fallen into an error. The prosecution against these seven women was on the basis that they abused the north division workers ordered by P. W. 1 before the crimlnal Court to pluck tea leaves and did not allow them to do so, that when they were asked by P. W. 1 to go and attend to their work, they did not obey him, but abused him and surrounded him and P. W 2, that all the women started to attack P. W. 1, that one of the women beat P. W. 1 with a stick and damaged his sweater and shirt and that they chassd both P. Ws. 1 and 2. The criminal Court gave them the benefit of doubt and acquitted them. The finding in the domestic enquiry was that all the seven women were guilty of the charges of wilful insubordination of lawful and reasonable order of the superiors and riotous and disorderly behaviour and acts subversive of discipline, in that they refused to Pluck in the rows allotted to them and abused and assaulted the assistant manager. Now it would be noticed that the charge against them of wllful insubordination of lawful and reasonable order of the superiors had nothing to do with the criminal complaint, nor the charge of acts subversive of discipline. The abuse heaped by them on P. We. 1 and 2 cannot be the subject-matter of charge in criminal Court; only the assault could be and if we leave out the allegation regarding assault, it should be held that charges 1 and 3 have been proved and charge 2 to some extent. They are enough to justify the dismissal in this case.
(3.) BUT, that apart, I think that where a disciplinary proceeding has been held against certain workers and there is no defect in the enquiry, an order of dismissal passed earlier cannot be set aside on the basis of a subsequent acquittal of these workers by a criminal Court. No arguments are necessary to show that where such acquittal is purely on a technical ground, like lack of sanction, the order passed by the domestic tribunal would not in any way be vitiated. But where the subsequent acquittal by the criminal Court is as the result of giving the workers the benefit of doubt, could it be said still that the domestic tribunal's finding and the punishment inflicted on the workers are liable to be set aside ? In Writ Petition No. 263 of 1969, Workmen of Ruby Rubber Works v. Ruby Rubber Works and Anr. , Ismail, J. , has taken the view that they are not liable to be set aside. His reasoning is: As far as the second contention is concerned, the learned Counsel for the petitioner himself admitted that the workmen concerned were acquitted after giving them the benefit of doubt on the ground that the charge against them was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. That finding of the Court is with reference to the basic judicial principles of criminal justice that the burden is on the prosecution to prove the guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, and if there is any doubt, the accused is entitled to the benefit of the same, and this principle has no application to disciplinary proceedings that may be taken by a master against a servant. If the workmen had been acquitted on being found that the charge made against them was false and they were innocent, the position will be different. While the innocence of the workmen was not established, and they were acquitted solely on the basis of benefit of doubt having been given to them, it cannot be contended that the enquiry conducted by the management in relation to the same conduct is barred by that conclusion of the criminal Court. Consequently, in my opinion, there is no substance in this contention either.;

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