Kumari Estate Workers’ Union, … vs Modaile Easwari Estate, … on 11 February, 1991

Madras High Court
Kumari Estate Workers’ Union, … vs Modaile Easwari Estate, … on 11 February, 1991
Equivalent citations: (1991) IILLJ 500 Mad
Bench: S Ramalingam


JUDGMENT

1. The petitioner is a union which espouses the cause of three workers herein. The three workers are employed tappers by the 1st respondent management. Their services were terminated after an ex parte enquiry on the charges of misconduct, by an order date March 27, 1981. The said three workers filed O.S. No. 338/81 for an order of injunction restraining the management from interfering with the right of the plaintiff from doing tapping work. In the said suit they have specifically pleaded that the orders of termination were invalid and therefore they had right to continue in service. In the written statement, the management took a plea that the civil suit was not maintainable and the relief of reinstatement in service which in effect would be the relief if the suit is decreed cannot be granted, by a civil court. According to the petitioner, on advice, they did not prosecute the suit. Consequently the suit was dismissed for default. In the meanwhile the petitioner raised an industrial dispute regarding the non-employment of the workmen. The Government made a reference u/s 10(1)(c) of the Industrial Disputes Act in G.O.Ms. No. 2098, Labour and Employment Department dated November 30, 1981, to the Labour Court, Madurai to decide the following two issues :

(1) Whether the non-employment of Tvl. C. Alexander, M. Augustine and V. Satyadoss is justified, if not to what relief they are entitled ?

(2) To compute the relief, if any, awarded in terms of money if it can be so computed ?

2. The Labour Court, took the reference on its file on January 17, 1982. The management raised a preliminary objection regarding the maintainability of the reference on the ground that when the concerned workers had voluntarily chosen to file a civil suit on the file of the Addl. District Munsiff Court, Padhmanbhapuram, for a permanent injunction restraining the management from interfering with the right of the plaintiffs (the workers) from doing the tapping works in the 1st respondent estate, the Government cannot make a reference to the Labour Court on the very same issue of non-employment of the workers and in supports of its contention, the management relied upon Premier Automobiles Ltd. v. Kamalakar Shantharam Wadke (1975-II-LLJ-445) and Sukhi Ram v. State of Haryana 1982 (45) FLR. According to the Labour Court, the Civil Court was competent to entertain the suit and grant the relief of reinstatement in service with back wages and therefore for an identical relief a reference cannot be made by the Government. In challenging the correctness of the order of the Labour Court, the present writ petition has been filed.

3. According to the learned counsel for the petitioner the Civil Court was not competent to entertain such a suit to grant the relief of reinstatement with back wages, and therefore, the suit for injunction is barred under Sec. 14 of the Specific Relief Act, and in any way the Civil Court can grant only damages for wrongful dismissal of the workers concerned. In support of the above argument, the learned counsel relied upon Premier Automobiles Ltd. v. Kamalakar Shantharam (supra) and Jitendra Nath Biswas v. M/s. Empire of India & Ceylon Tea Co. (1989-II-LLJ-572). The learned counsel judgment respondents relied on the very same judgment relied on by the Labour Court to sustain the order of the Labour Court.

4. In Jitendra Nath Biswas v. M/s. Empire of India & Ceylon Tea Co., (supra) the Supreme Court posed the question in respect of the jurisdiction of the Civil Court to entertain a suit that was filed against the respondent/defendant. The facts were that the plaintiff was in employment of the respondent/company and after a domestic enquiry he was dismissed from service. Against the dismissal, the plaintiff (workman) filed a suit on the file of the District Munsif Court for injunction and for backwages. The Management took a plea that the suit was not maintainable on the ground that the proper relief for the plaintiff was to seek a relief under the Industrial Disputes Act for an adjudication before the Labour Court. The Learned District Munsif decreed the suit. On appeal, the High Court held that the Civil Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit as the relief sought for could be granted only under the Industrial Disputes Act. The matter was taken to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court held (pp. 574, 577) :

“The manner in which the relief has been framed by the appellant plaintiff, although he seeks a declaration and injunction, but in substance it is nothing but the relief of reinstatement and backwages – the relief which could be available to a workman only under the Industrial Disputes Act.

……. …….. ………

It is, therefore, clear that the Act i.e. Industrial Disputes Act not only confers the right on a worker for reinstatement and backwages if the order of termination or dismissal is not in accordance with the standing orders but also provides a detailed procedure and machinery for getting this relief. Under these circumstances, therefore, there is an apparent implied exclusion of the jurisdiction of the civil court.

……. …….. ………

It is, therefore, clear that the scheme of the Industrial Disputes Act clearly excludes the jurisdiction of the civil court by implication in respect of remedies which are available under this Act and for which a complete procedure and machinery has been provided in this Act.”

5. Following the ratio of the Supreme Court, it is clear that the dismissal of the civil suit filed by the three workers makes no difference because the Civil Court has no jurisdiction even to entertain the suit, as the proper remedy for the workers is to seek relief under the Industrial Disputes Act. The Government had rightly made a reference of the dispute for an adjudication before the Labour Court and the Labour Court erred in law in dismissing that reference on the ground that the reference was not proper.

6. Hence, the impugned order is quashed and the writ petition is allowed. The Labour Court will restore the case on its file and dispose of the same on merits in accordance with law on or before September 30, 1991.

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