S.P. Mitra,J. -
(1.)In this Rule Order No. 12 dated December 15, 1970, made by the District Judge, Darjeeling, in Misc. Appeal No. 27 of 1970, has been challenged. The District Judge was heating an appeal from, an order made on July 1, 1970, by the authority under the Payment of Wages Act. 1936. The point that has arisen in this Rule is whether the said authority has jurisdiction to decide the question of relationship of employer and employee under Sec. 15(2) of the said Act. We would, therefore, at the outset set out the relevant portions of Sec. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936. These are as follows:
15. Claims out of deductions from wages or delay in payment of wages and penalty for malicious or vexations claims. (1) The State Government may by notification in the Official Gazette appoint a presiding officer of any Labour Court or Industrial Tribunal, constituted under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, or under any corresponding law relating to the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes in force in the State or any Commissioner for Workmen's Compensation or other officer with experience as a Judge of a Civil Court or as a stipendiary. Magistrate to be the authority to hear and decide for any specified area all claims arising out of deductions from the wages, or delay in payment of the wages, of persons employed or paid in that area, including all matters incidental to such claims....
(2) Where contrary to the provisions of this Act any deduction has been made from the wages of an employed person, or any payment of wages has been delayed, such person himself, or any legal practitioner or any official of a registered trade union authorised in writing to act on his behalf, or any Inspector under this Act, or any other person acting, with the permission of the authority appointed under Sub -section (1), may apply to such authority for a direction under Sub -section (3)....
(2.)The expression 'including all matters incidental to such claims' was introduced into Sec. 15(1) by an Amendment Act being Act No. LIII of 1964. Before, however, this expression came into the Statute Book the Supreme Court in Shri Ambica Mills Company Ltd. v/s. Sri S.B. Bhatt and Anr. : A.I.R. 1961 S.C. 970 made certain observations with respect to the jurisdiction of the authority under Sec. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act. The Supreme Court has said that the only claims which can be entertained by the authority under Sec. 15 are claims arising out of deductions or delay made in payment of wages. The jurisdiction thus conferred on the authority to deal with these two categories of claims is exclusive. In dealing with claims arising out of deductions or delay made in payment of wages the authority inevitably would have to consider questions incidental to the said matters. In determining the scope of these incidental questions, their Lordships of the Supreme Court pointed out, care must be taken to see that under the guise of deciding incidental matters the limited jurisdiction is not unreasonably or unduly extended. Care must also be taken to see that the scope of these incidental questions is not unduly limited so as to affect or impair the limited jurisdiction conferred on the authority. It would be inexpedient to lay down any hard and fast or general, rule which would afford a determining test to demarcate the field of incidental facts which can be legitimately considered by the authority and those which cannot be so considered. The authority under Sec. 15, says the Supreme Court, has jurisdiction to determine what the terms of the contract between the parties are, and if the terms of the contract are admitted and the only dispute is, whether or not a particular employee falls within one category or another, that would be incidental to the decision of the main question as to what the terms of the contract are. Whether the terms of a contract are admitted and the only point in dispute is which of the two subsisting contracts applies to the particular employee in question the authority has jurisdiction to decide the same. This judgment of the Supreme Court laid down, therefore, that the authority under Sec. 15 had jurisdiction to determine all matters incidental to deductions from wages or delay in payment of wages. In other words, the amendment introduced by Act LIII of 1964 did not alter the legal position so far as the extent of the authority's jurisdiction was concerned. One has, however, to be conscious that this jurisdiction is a limited one and should not either be unreasonably extended or unreasonably curtailed.
(3.)After the amendment, however, the Supreme Court had to deal with this question of jurisdiction in other cases that came up before it. For instance, in Payment of Wages Inspector, v/s. B.E.S. and I. Company, A..I.R. 1969 S.C. 59 the Supreme Court had to consider whether the authority under the Payment of Wages Act could adjudicate upon claims under Sec. 25FF of the Industrial Disputes Act. This Sec. runs thus:
Where the ownership or management of, an undertaking is transferred, whether by agreement or by operation of law, from the employer in relation to that undertaking to a new employer, every workman who has been in continuous service for not less than one year in that undertaking immediately before such transfer shall be entitled to notice and compensation in accordance with the provisions of Sec. 25F, as if the workman had been retrenched:
Provided that nothing in this Sec. shall apply to a workman in any case where there has been a change of employers by reason of the transfer, if - -
(a) the service of the workman has not been interrupted by such transfer;
(b) the terms and conditions of service applicable to the workman after such transfer are not in any way less favourable to the workman than those applicable to him immediately before the transfer; and
(c) the new employer is, under the terms of such transfer or otherwise, legally liable to pay to the workman, in the event of his retrenchment, compensation on the basis that his service has been continuous and has not been interrupted by the transfer.