MANAGEMENT OF CHANDRAMALAI ESTATE ERNAKULAM Vs. ITS WORKMEN
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA (FROM: KERALA)
MANAGEMENT OF CHANDRAMALAI ESTATE,ERNAKULAM
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DAS GUPTA -
(1.), J. : On 9/08/1955, the Union of the workmen of the Chandramalai Estate submitted to the Manager of the Estate a memorandum containing fifteen demands. Though the Management agreed to fulfil some of the demands the principal demands remained unsatisfied. On 29/08/1955, the Labour Officer, Trichur, who had in the meantime been apprised of the position by both the management of the Estate as well as the Labour Union advised mutual negotiations between the representatives of the management and workers. Ultimately the matter was recommended by the Labour Officer of the Conciliation Officer Trichur for conciliation. The Conciliation Officer's efforts proved in vain. The last meeting for Conciliation appears to have been held on 30/11/1955. On the following day the Union gave a strike notice and the workmen went on a strike with effect from 9/12/1955. The strike ended on 5/01/1956. Prior to this, on January 5, the Government had referred the dispute as regards five of the demands for adjudication to the Industrial Tribunal, Trivandrum. Thereafter by an order dated 11/06/1956, the dispute was withdrawn from the Trivandrum Tribunal and referred to the Industrial Tribunal, Ernakulam. By its award dated 17/10/1957, the Tribunal granted the workmen's demands on all these issues. The present appeal has been preferred by the management of the Chandramalai Estate against the Tribunal's award on three of these issues. These three issues are stated in the reference thus :
"1. Was the price realised by the management for the rice sold to the workers after decontrol excessive; and if so, are the workers entitled to get refund of the excessive value so collected?
(2.)ARE the workers entitled to get cumbly allowance with retrospective effect from the date it was stopped and what should be the rate of such allowance?
Are the workers entitled to get wages for the period of the strike?"
2. On the first issue the workmen's case was that after the control on rice was lifted by the Travencore-Cochin Government in April, 1954, the management which continued to sell rice to the workmen, charged at the excessive rate of 12 annas per measure for rice bought in excess of a quota for 1 1/2 measure per head. This according to the workmen was improper and unjustified and they claimed refund of the excess which they have been made to pay. The management's case was that the workmen were not bound to buy rice from the Estate's management and secondly, that only the actual cost price and not any excess had been charged. The tribunal held on a consideration of oral and documentary evidence that the management had charged more than the cost price and held that they were bound to refund the same.
3. The second issue was in respect of a claim for cumbly allowance. Chandramalia Tea Estate is situated at a high altitude. It is not disputed that it had been customary for the Estates in this region to pay blanket allowance to workmen to enable them to furnish themselves with blankets to meet the rigours of the weather and that it had really become a part of the terms and conditions of service. But in spite of it the management of this Estate stopped payment of the allowance from 1949 onwards and resumed payment only in 1954. The management's defence was that any dispute not having been raised about this till 9/08/1955, there was no reason for raising it at this late stage. The Tribunal rejected this contention, and awarded cumbly allowance of Rs. 39 per workman - made up of Rs. 7 per year for the years 1949, 1950 and 1951 and Rs. 9 per year for the years 1952 and 1953.
On the third issue while the workmen pleaded that the strike was justified the management contended that it was illegal and unjustified. The Tribunal held that both parties were to blame for the strike and ordered the management to pay workers 50 per cent of their total emoluments for the strike period.
(3.)ON the question of excess price of rice having been collected the appellant's contention before us is limited to the question of fact, whether the Tribunal was right in its conclusion that more than cost price was realised. The Tribunal has based its conclusion as regards the price realised by the management on entries made in the management's own documents. As regards what such rice cost the management it held that for the months of April, July and August and September the price was shown by the management's documents while for May and June these documents did not disclose the price. For these two months the Tribunal held the market price of rice as proved by the workers' witness No. 6 to have been the price at which the Estate's management procured their rice. We are unable to see anything that would justify us in interfering with these conclusions of facts. Indeed the documents on which the Tribunal has based its conclusion were not even made part of the Paper-Book so that even if we had wanted to consider this question ourselves it would be impossible for us to do so. We are satisfied that the Tribunal was right in its conclusions as regards the cost price of rice to the management and the price actually realised by the management from workmen. The management's case that the workmen were charged only the cost price of rice has rightly been rejected by the Tribunal. The fact that workmen were not compelled to purchase rice from the management is hardly material; the management had opened the shop to help the workmen and if it is found that it charged excess rates, in fairness, the workmen must be reimbursed. The award in so far as it directed refund of the excess amount collected on the basis of the figures found by the Tribunal cannot therefor be successfully challenged.
On the question of the cumbly allowance it is important to note that the only defence raised was that the demand had been made too late. The admitted fact that it had been regularly paid year after year for many years till it was stopped in 1949 is sufficient to establish the workmen's case that payment of a proper cumbly allowance had become a part of their conditions of service. We do not think that the mere fact that the workmen did not raise any dispute on the management's refusal to implements this condition of service till 9/08/1955, would be a sufficient reason to refuse them such payment. The management had acted arbitrarily and illegally in stopping payment of these allowances from 1949 to 1954. They cannot now be heard to say that they should not be asked to pay it merely because the years have already gone by. It is reasonable to think that even though the management did not pay the allowance the workmen had to provide blankets for themselves at their own expense. The Tribunal has acted justly in directing payment of the allowances to the workmen for the years 1949 to 1953. The correctness of the rates awarded by the Tribunal is not challenged before us. The Tribunal's award on this issue also is therefore maintained.
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