Decided on April 10,1985

The Management Of Muttuck Tea State Owned By Jokai (Assam) Now Jokai (India) Tea Company Limited Appellant
Presiding Officer, Labour Court and Anr. Respondents


K. Lahiri, J. - (1.)A lowly paid labourer named Ganesh Barhoi was dismissed on 6.2.1970 for an alleged misconduct. Over 12 years have rolled by since the workman was dismissed but the industrial dispute is still pending before the Labour Court, Assam, at Dibrugarb. All the resistance which the dismissed workman had must have been totally shattered. When enacting the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Parliament thought it at that "industrial disputes" should be heard and disposed of expeditiously, rather than those being tried by civil courts. But sluggish justice and long distance litigation could not be avoided. The impact of tardy justice amounts to denial of justice more so in industrial disputes adjudications. This has been observed by their Lordships of the Supreme Court in very many cases and we extract below only one such observation made in D.P. Maheswari v. Delhi Administation, AIR 1984 SC 153:
It was just the other day that we were bemoaning the unbecoming devices adopted by certain employers to avoid decision of Industrial disputes on merits. We noticed how that would raise various preliminary objections, invite decision on those objections in the first instance, carry the matter to the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution and to this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution and delay a decision of the real dispute for years, sometime over a decade.

* * *

Nor should High Courts in the exercise of their jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution stop proceedings before a Tribunal so that a preliminary issue may be decided by them. Neither the jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution nor the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 136 may be allowed to be exploited by those who can ill afford to wait to the detriment of those who can afford to wait by dragging the letter from Court to Court for adjudication of peripheral issues, avoiding decision on issues more vital to them. Article 226 and Article 136 are not meant to be used to break the resistance of workman in this fushion. Tribunals and Courts who are to decide preliminary questions must therefore ask themselves whether such threshold part -adjudication is really necessary and whether it will not lead to other woeful consequences.

[Emphasis added]

(2.)IN the instant case, the workman was chargesheeted and his services were terminated after completing a domestic enquiry against him. There was an industrial dispute pending between the workman and the management, and, although the misconduct was 'not connected with the dispute', the order of termination required approval of the Labour Court, Assam, at Dibrugarh under Section 33 (2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act -for short "the Act". The management applied for approval and the Labour Court refused to accord approval. The management approached this Court against that order and it is stated that the order of the Labour Court was set aside and the matter was remanded back to the Labour Court for proceeding under Section 33(2) of "the Act". However, there is no material before us whether any approval was granted by the Labour Court after records were sent down to it. Be that as it may, in the meanwhile, the industrial dispute relating to the termination of the workman was the subject -matter of conciliation proceeding and in due course the dispute was referred to the Labour Court for adjudication under Section 10 of "the Act". It was registered as Reference Case No. 10 of 1980, As usual, the management took a preliminary objection as to the validity of the reference on the ground that the Labour Court had granted approval of the action of the management acting under Section 33(2)(b) of "the Act".
Mr. Acharyya, learned Counsel for the Petitioner -management fairly concedes that grant of approval under Section 33(2)(b) does not de -bar the appropriate Government to make reference under Section 10 of 'the Act' nor does it prevent the Labour Court or Tribunal to adjudicate the dispute on merit. Under Section 33(2)(b) of 'the Act' the jurisdiction of the tribunal is limited to the enquiry as to whether a prima -facie case has been made out by the employer against the employee or not. The Labour Court is only to consider as to whether material at the disposal of the enquiry officer was such that it was possible to reach the conclusion that the dismissal was based on some material, on the basis of which a reasonable person could reach the conclusion that the order of dismissal was justified. It is also to consider as to whether the principles of natural justice have been violated or not and whether on the material the management was justified in reaching the conclusion adverse to the workman.

(3.)IN short, jurisdiction of the Labour Court acting under Section 33(2)(b) is confined to: (a) whether an appropriate domestic enquiry in accordance with the relevant Standing Order or Rules was made and whether the principles of natural justice were observed; (b) whether a prima -facie case for dismissal based on material before the Tribunal was made out or not; (c) whether the employer had come to bona fide conclusion that the employee was guilty and it was not a case of victimisation; (d) whether the employer had paid, offered to pay, wages for one month to the employee and whether the employer had simultaneously or within such reasonable short time as to form a past of the same transaction applied to the authorities for approval of the action taken under Section 33(2)(b).

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