Das Gupta, J. -
(1.)When the management of an industry holds an enquiry into the charges against a workman for the purpose of deciding what action if any, should be taken against him, has the workman a right to be represented by a representative of his Union at the enquiry That is the principal question raised in this appeal. The 14 appellants, all workmen in M/s. Tata Locomotives Engineering Co., Ltd., Jamshedpur, were dismissed under the orders of the company's management on the result of an enquiry held against them. As industrial disputes between these workmen and the company were at that time pending before the Industrial Tribunal, Bihar, the company filed applications purporting to be under S. 33 of the industrial Disputes Act praying for approval of the action taken by it against the workmen. Workmen also filed application under S. 33A of the Industrial Disputes Act complaining of the action taken against them by the company. The applications of the company under S. 33 were however ultimately held to have become infructuous and the applications under S. 33A were only considered and disposed of by the Labour Court. The applications of these 14 appellants were however dismissed. Against that order the appellant have preferred this appeal after having obtained special leave for the purpose.
(2.)The common contention urged on behalf of the appellants was that the enquiry on the results of which the orders of dismissal were based was not a proper and valid enquiry inasmuch as the workmen were not allowed to be represented at the enquiry by a representative of the Jamshedpur Union to which these workmen belonged. It has been urged that fair play demands that at such an enquiry the workman concerned should have reasonable assistance for examination and cross-examination of the witnesses and for seeing that proper records are made of the proceedings. It has been argued that a representative of the workmen's Union is best suited to give such assistance and in the absence of such assistance the workman does not get a fair chance of making his case before the Enquiry Officer. It appears that when on June 5, 1953, requests were made on behalf of the several workmen that they should be allowed to be represented by a representative of the Jamshedpur Mazdoor Union at the enquiry to conduct the same on workmen's behalf, the management rejected this request but informed the workmen that they could, if they so desired, be represented by a coworker from the workmen's own department at the enquiry. The question which arises therefore is whether this refusal of the workmen's request to be represented at the enquiry by a representative of their Union vitiated the enquiry.
(3.)Accustomed as we are to the practice in the courts of law to skilful handling of witnesses by lawyers specially trained in the art of examination and cross-examine of witnesses, our first inclination is to think that a fair enquiry demands that the person accused of an act should have the assistance of some person, who even if not a lawyer may be expected to examine and cross-examine witnesses with a fair amount of skill. We have to remember however in the first place that these are not enquiries in a court of law. It is necessary to remember also that in these enquiries, fairly simple questions of fact as to whether certain acts of misconduct were committed by a workman or not only fall to be considered, and straightforward questioning which a person of fair intelligence and knowledge of conditions prevailing in the industry will be able to do will ordinarily help to elicit the truth. It may often happen that the accused workman will be best suited, and fully able to cross-examine the witnesses who have spoken against him and to examine witnesses in his favour.