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The Royal Printing Works, Represented By Its Sole Proprietor, P. Radhakrishnan v/s The Industrial Tribunal, Madras, & Another

    W.P. No. 374 of 1958

    Decided On, 08 April 1959

    At, High Court of Judicature at Madras


    For the Petitioner: T.M. Krishnaswami Aiyar, M.P. Sundararajan, Advocate. For the Respondents: The Addl. Government Pleader, S. Mohan Kumaramangalam, K.V. Sankaran, Advocates.

Judgment Text

(Prayer: Petition (disposed of on 8-4-1959) under Art. 226 of the Constitution of India praying that in the circumstances stated therein and in the affidavit filed therewith the High Court will be pleased to issue a writ of certitorari calling for the records in I.D. No. 2 of. 1958 dated 14-2-1958 on the file of the Industrial Tribunal Madras; and quash the said order.)

The proprietor of the Royal Printing Works, a printing establishment on Mount Road is the petitioner. In October 1957 he passed an order dismissing one Manickam, a watchman then in his employ. In December 1957 he dismissed another Kuppuswami who was working in the composing section. In respect of both these matters and certain others, industrial disputes were raised which were referred by the Government of Madras for adjudication to the Industial Tribunal, Madras. So far as Manikam and Kuppuswami are concerned, the Tribunal passed an order on 14th February 1958 directing their reinstatement. The present petition has been filed for the issue of an appropriate writ to quash this order of the Tribunal.

The case relating to Manickam may be first disposed of. He was a watchman in the printing establishment of the petitioner from January 1957. On 27th September 1957 another employee named Balaraman reported to the proprietor that he had seen Manickam taking an aluminium vessel from the machine section and hiding it near a wall and, that it was subsequently taken away by a woman. Manickam was therefore suspected of having removed some property belonging to the press. On 5th October 1957 charges were framed against him to the effect that he had removed some type material in that vessel. The enquiry was posted for 15th October 1957 and the management wrote to Manickam telling him that the enquiry had been fixed for that date. On that date Manickam wrote to say that he had not received a copy of the charges. The management then sent a memo of charges by registered post fixing 25th October 1957 as the date for the enquiry. But that letter was returned by the post office. On 25th October 1957 Manickam did not appear at the enquiry. The management threupon dismised him. The Tribunal observed:

'It will thus be seen that Manickam had no knowledge of the enquiry; and further during the enquiry, there was utterly no evidence to show that Manickam was guilty of theft.'

The Management did not find that Manickam had evaded the receipt of the notice sent to bin by registered post. Nor was there any evidence to that effect. The conclusion of the Tribunal, therefore, that Manickam had been dismissed without a proper enquiry cannot be disturbed. The writ petition so far as he is concerned must be dismissed.

I now go to Kuppuswami. He had been working in the Royal Printing Works for seven years, and, at the relevant time, he was in charge of the job section. On 28th September 1957 the management framed three charges against him. The University of Madras had placed an order with this firm for printing hall tickets for the intermediate examination. The first charge against Kuppuswami was that on these hall tickets instead of printing the conditions relating to the Intermediate Examination, conditions relating to the Pre-University Examination were printed. The second charge was that instead of printing only on one side of the paper the 'tabulated result forms' of the University, he had them printed on both sides. The third charge was that while printing 'cheque covering-letters' on behalf of the Udipi Hotel a mistake was made, Udipi Hotel being printed at the top and States Hotel at the bottom.

On 1st October 1957 Kuppuswami submitted his explanation. The proprietor held an enquiry on 4th October 1957 and on 11th December 1957 he passed an order terminating the services of Kuppuswami, when the matter went before the Tribunal it recorded the evidence of some witneses and reached the conclusion that there was no material on which Kuppuswami could be found guilty. It also found that the procedure adopted by the management was wrong in various ways.

Mr. T.M. Krishnaswami Aiyar, the learned Advocate for the petitioner, first contended that the Tribunal was in error in treating the matter as though it were itself trying the issue whether Kuppuswami was guilty or not of the charges that had been framed against him and that, it had no jurisdiction to take evidence to decide that question for itself. He referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Messrs. Indian Iron and Steal Co. v. Their Workmen A.I.R. 1958 S.C. 130 at 138., where the scope of the powers and duties of an Industrial Tribunal is a proceeding of this kind has been explained:

'Undoubtedly, the management of a concern has power to direct its own internal administration and discipline; but the power is not unlimited and when a dispute arises, Industrial Tribunals have been given the power to see whether the termination of service of a workman is justified and to give appropriate relief. In cases of dismissal on misconduct, the Tribunal does not, however, act as a Court of appeal and substitute its own judgment for that of the management. It will interfere (i) when there is a want of good faith, (ii) when there is victimisation or unfair labour practice, (iii) when the management has been guilty of a basic error or violation of a principle of natural justice, and (iv) when on the materials, the rinding is completely baseless or perverse.'

Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalem, however, argued that an Industrial Tribunal has jurisdiction to take whatever evidence it considers necessary to decide the issues before it, and, that in taking evidence to decide whether Kuppuswami was guilty of the charges framed against him or not, the Tribunal was not acting in excess of its jurisdiction. I have no doubt that an Industrial Tribunal has jurisdiction to take all the evidence it considers necessary to determine the questions it is called upon to decide. But, in the present case, the Tribunal went far beyond that. What it did was to convert itself into a Court of first instance for disciplinary proceedings. Instead of merely determining whether there was want of good faith on the part of the management or whether Kuppuswami was the victim of unfair labour practice, or whether there had been a violation of any principle of natural justice, or whether on the materials the finding was baseless or perverse, instead of doing this, the Tribunal proceeded as though it were a Court trying the question for the first time. That it had no power to do. If the matter had stopped at this stage I would have been bound to set aside the order of the Tribunal so far as it relates to Kuppuswami. The Tribunal has, however, found that the enquiry against Kuppuswami was defective, and, in that respect its order stands on better ground.

It was explained to me that in the petitioner's business job printing involved these processes. When an order was received the clerk who got it would hand it over to Kuppuswami. Kuppuswami, in his turn, would entrust the work to a compositor. The matter prepared by the compositor, which is called the rough correction proof, would be sent to a person called an examiner. After he had carried out the necessary corrections Kuppuswami would get back the corrected material and send it to the compositor who would prepare a clean proof. That clean proof would be sent to the person who had placed the order. After he had approved of it a third proof would be taken which is called the final strike proof. That again would be sent to the examiner and after any further correction he might make had been incorporated, the strike order would be issued and the material sent to the machine for being printed. The charges framed against Kuppuswami do not show for which of these various processes Kuppuswami was responsible and what the nature of his default was. In the evidence which the petitioner gave before the Tribunal he stated:

'In all the three cases which form the subject matter of charge Kuppuswami did not send the proof to the examiner but sent them to the machine.'

If this was the real charge against Kuppuswami the Tribunal was, right in observing that there was no evidence in support of it. The management did not record the evidence of any of the examiners. Alternatively the various 'proofs' relating to these charges must have been preserved and made available since they would have been in the nature of 'material objects' and shown to some extent at least whether the relevant proofs were sent to the examiner or not. The proprietor admitted.

'these proofs in regard to these three charges are not now available in my office; and Kuppuswami must have preserved them, but I do not find them in the office.'

The position, therefore, is that there was no evidence to support the charge The petition before me must fail in respect of Kuppuswami also.

There are certain passages in the order of the Tribunal which as I under stand them suggest that carelessness on the part of an employee in relation to his work would

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not justify serious punishment. With this view I definitely disagree. Carelessness can often be productive of more harm than deliberate wickedness or malevolence. I shall not refer to the classic example of the sentry who sleeps at his post and allows the enemy to slip through. There are other more familiar instances. A compositor who carelessly places a plus sign instead of a minus sign in a question paper may cause numerous examinees to fail. A compounder in a hospital or chemist's shop who makes up the mixtures or other medicines carelessly may cause quite a few deaths. The man at an air port who does not carefully filter the petrol poured into a plane may cause it to crash. The railway employee who does not set the point carefully may cause a head-on collision. Misplaced sympathy can be a great evil. Carelessness and indifference to duty are not the high roads to individual or national prosperity. In the result, the petition is dismissed, but, there will be no order as to costs.