At, Before the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court
By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE K. CHANDRU
For the Petitioners : T. Ravichandran, Advocate. For the Respondents: S. Arunachalam, Advocate.
(Writ Petition (MD) No.515 and 516 of 2004 filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to issue a Writ of Certiorari calling for the records of the 1st respondent in Industrial Dispute 25/97, 26/27 quash his award dated 22.3.2004.)
Writ Petition (MD) Nos.7415 and 7416 of 2005 filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to issue a Writ of Certiorarified Mandamus calling for the records pertaining to the preliminary award dated 21.10.2003 and also the final award dated 22.3.2004 passed by the first respondent in I.D.No.25/97 and 26/97 respectively insofar as holding that the charges against the petitioners were proved and on that ground, denying him back wages and other attendant benefits and to quash the same and for a direction to the second respondent to reinstate him with continuity of service, back wages and all other attendant benefits and award costs.
Writ Petition (MD) No.515 of 2004 has been filed by the petitioner management (hereinafater referred to as "the management") against the Award of the first respondent/Labour Court made in I.D.Nos.25/2007 dated 22.3.2004 by which the second respondent/ P.Balasubramani(hereinafter referred to as "the workman") was directed to be reinstated with continuity of service and other attendant benefits but without back wages.
2. W.P.(MD)No.7415 of 2005 has been filed by the workman P.Balasubramani against the very same Award in denying back wages to him.
3. W.P.(MD)No.516 of 004 has been filed by the writ petitioner Management against the Award dated 22.3.2004 of the 1st respondent Labour Court in I.D.No.26/1997 in granting relief to one P.Muniyappan (hereinafter referred to as "the workman") insofar as the grant of relief of continuity of service and other attendant benefits but without backwages.
4. In W.P.(MD)No.7416 of 2005, the said workman P.Muniyappan challenges the very same Award in I.D.No.26/1997 insofar as denial of backwages to him.
5. In view of the interconnectivity between the two Industrial Disputes as well as the Writ Petitions, all the Writ Petitions are taken up together for disposal and a common order is being passed.
6. Heard the arguments of Mr. T.Ravichandran, learned counsel for the Management and Mr. S.Arunachalam, learned counsel for the workmen and have perused the records.
7. It is seen from the records that before filing of the Writ Petitions, the management offered employment to the workmen by letters dated 2.7.2004 but it was in a Windmill owned by the management in Kethanur in Coimbatore District and in case of workman P.Muniyappan, it was also in a Windmill at Nagercoil. The workmen refused to accept the same because there is no question of going to work at a place where they were not previously employed.
8. Subsequently, by an order dated 9.3.2005 in W.P.M.P.(MD)Nos.969 and 970 of 2005 in W.P.No.515 and 516 of 2004, this Court ordered payment under Section 17-B of the I.D.Act to be paid to the workmen. As against the said order the management filed W.A.(MD)Nos.202 and 203 of 2005 wherein a Division Bench of this Court directed the management to provide work to the workmen in a similar cotton industry.
9. Since the Writ Petitions are being heard on merits, this Court is not inclining to go into the allegations as to whether the workmen were genuinely offered employment or the workmen were not inclined to accept the offer and that that is relegated to a future dispute between the parties.
10. A preliminary Award was passed by the first respondent/Labour Court on 21.10.2003 by holding that the enquiry conducted against the second respondent workmen have been held properly and there is no infirmity in the procedure adopted by the petitioner. Even though in W.P.(MD)No.7415 and 7416 of 2005, the preliminary Awards were under challenge, Mr. S.Arunachalam, learned counsel for the workmen did not seriously press his claim in attacking the preliminary Award and he concentrated more on sustaining the merits of the two Awards.
11. In terms of the relief granted to the workmen, it is seen from both the cases that the workmen were charge sheeted by an order dated 3.8.1996 and they were marked as Ex.M.2 by the Labour Court. The graveman of the charge against the two workmen were that they prevented co-workers from attending to their work and they threatened them that should they defy bombs would be thrown at them. But, this relates to an incident dated 22.7.1996 and it is not explained as to why the management took 12 days for framing the charge sheet considering the gravity of the charge.
12. However, the learned counsel for the workmen brought to the notice of this Court that in a reply dated 3.8.2006 sent to the workmen's notice, there was no whisper that the workmen have indulged in grave misconducts as alleged in the charge-memo dated 3.8.1996. The first respondent Labour Court on an analysis of the evidence came to the conclusion in I.D.Nos.25/1997 and 26/1997 dated 22.3.2004 that charges levelled against the workmen were proved. But, however, that immediately after the incident that took place on 22.6.1996, the workmen were not placed under suspension. Even the management witness, M.W.2 did not mention any thing about the threat of throwing bombs if the workers had attended to their duty. It was also held that the delay in framing charge sheet throws suspicion. If the workmen had used some abusive words that cannot be taken as threatening words and it is not such a serious allegation so as to inflict the punishment of dismissals. It also categorically found that the management had exaggerated an ordinary incident and magnified it to appear as a serious misconduct. It also held that the withholding of back wages can be a sufficient punishment.
13. However, the first respondent Labour Court did not apply the correct position of law. In para 10 of the Award, after referring to the decisions of the Calcutta High Court, it held that the Court cannot re-appraise the evidence as if it is a original Court or an Appellate Court and the jurisdiction is that of a revisional jurisdiction. After holding that the enquiry is proper and the findings are not perverse and the evidence let in during the course of domestic enquiry cannot be reappreciated. It also went to the extent of stating that the management allowing another co-worker by name Gopal, a similarly charge sheeted workman, cannot be taken advantage by these two workmen.
14. All the three findings of the Labour Court are completely at variance with the decision rendered by the Supreme Court while interpreting Section 11-A of the I.D.Act. In fact, the Labour Court in deciding the preliminary issue is only entitled to go into the fairness of the enquiry and mostly procedural aspect of the enquiry. Once it is held that the enquiry is fair and proper, then the Labour Court had to act like an appellate Court and it has been given the power to re-appreciate the evidence already recorded and come to a different conclusion [see Firestones' [1973(1) LLJ 278]. In the same way, the finding that another workman similarly charge sheeted cannot be a relevant factor in considering the discrimination meted out by the management while charge sheeting the workmen. However, going into the details of these issues for the present are not relevant.
15. This Court is of the opinion that the Award of the Labour Court does not suffer from any illegality or infirmity. The Labour Court has correctly come to the conclusion that the charge against the workmen were exaggerated and the management was at fault by not framing a charge sheet as the earliest point of time and for the charge relating to threatening with throwing of bombs was not made proved even as per the oral evidence of MW.2. But insofar as the charge that the workmen
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prevented the co-workers from going to work, the finding of the Labour Court is that the charge was found proved but it warrants only a lesser punishment. The Labour Court depriving the back wages is a sufficient punishment for the proven charges. 16. Therefore, this Court has no hesitation in rejecting the arguments of both the learned counsel for the management and the workmen. All the Writ Petitions deserve to be dismissed and accordingly, dismissed. No costs. Interim stay already granted is vacated and the connected Miscellaneous Petitions are closed. The writ petitioner/management is hereby directed to reinstate the workmen in the same place and the posts in which they were working at the time of their dismissal and also pay wages from the date of Award till the reinstatement after giving due credit to the payments if any made under Section 17-B of the I.D.Act.