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World Vision of India, rep by its Group Director-Corporate Solutions v/s The Presiding Officer, EPF Appellate Tribunal & Another

    W.P.No.13698 of 2010 & M.P.No.1 of 2010
    Decided On, 31 October 2011
    At, High Court of Judicature at Madras
    For the Petitioner: Sanjay Mohan, M/s. S. Ramasubramaniam & Associates, Advocates. For the Respondents: R2 - K. Ramu, Advocate.

Judgment Text
(Prayer: This writ petition is preferred under Article 226 of the Constitution of India praying for the issue of a writ of certiorari to call for the records connected with the order ref.No.D4/TN/48874/Enf/Regl/2000, dated 05.12.2000 made by the second respondent which was subsequently confirmed by the first respondent vide his order dated 02.02.2010 in A.T.A.No.40(13)2001 and quash the same.)

1. The petitioner is the management of a Non Governmental Organization called as World Vision of India represented by its Group Director. The petitioner body has come forward to file the present writ petition seeking to challenge an order of the second respondent, dated 5.12.2000 passed by the second respondent Assistant Provident Fund Commissioner, Office of the Regional Commissioner, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry States and confirmed by the first respondent EPF Appellate Tribunal made in A.T.A.No.40(13)2001, dated 02.02.2010.

2. The writ petition was admitted on 29.6.2010. Pending the writ petition, this court had granted an interim stay for a limited period. On notice from this court, the second respondent has entered appearance through his counsel and has also filed a counter affidavit, dated 1.7.2011. The petitioner has filed a reply affidavit, dated 28.7.2011 together with additional typed set of papers.

3. The case of the petitioner was that it is the humanitarian organization working for bringing lasting change in the lives of children, families and communities living in poverty and injustice. It was established in the year 1976 as a legal entity. It is a registered society under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, 1975. It is working in 174 locations and 5306 communities across the country. They are also the members of various Governmental bodies and committees. In the petitioner's programme, there are 2,50,000 children are covered. Various activities of the petitioner organization are set out in the affidavit filed in support of the writ petition. It is unnecessary to reproduce the same. It is suffice to state that there are about 1584 employees as on April, 2010 working as a full time permanent staff across the country. Their average monthly salary is Rs.28,800/-. There were about 135 staff employed on contract basis with an average monthly salary of Rs.13,200/-. They are also granted recognition by the Commissioner of Income Tax on 1.7.1985 to start its own provident fund trust. The rules and regulations were also framed for the provident fund trust.

4. It was stated that during 1991, the second respondent Inspectors had inspected the petitioner's office and gave a pro-forma to be filled up. They had also requested further documents and replies. It was the stand of the petitioner that the PF Act will not apply as it was not involved in the activities of imparting knowledge or training and that it is a charitable institution. Notwithstanding the same, by an order dated 5.12.2000, the second respondent under Section 7A of the PF Act had held that the Act covers the petitioner establishment in respect of the support staff engaged by them. Aggrieved by the said order, the petitioner organization has filed an appeal under Section 7-I of the PF Act. The appeal was taken on file as ATA No.40(13)2001. The Tribunal however by a cryptic order dated 2.2.2010 had dismissed the appeal. The Tribunal had held that the annual reports showed that they were imparting education to street children and that even the report for the year 1995-1996 showed that they were imparting training to different people. Therefore, the notification in SO-2368, dated 26.7.2005 and the notification in SO-986, dated 19.2.1982 will apply to any establishment which is imparting knowledge of training in a systematic manner and therefore, the appeal was dismissed.

5. In the typed set filed by the petitioner, they have enclosed the exemption granted by the Income Tax Department as well as the bylaws of the petitioner including the abstracts from the annual reports. The second respondent also relying upon the same held that the petitioner is covered by the provisions of the PF Act and they were directed to implement the provisions with effect from 1.3.2000. Thereafter, they were advised to submit an appropriate application for exemption.

6. In the memo of grounds of appeal filed, the petitioner has stated that it is not an educational institution and that the various training programmes show that it was not a systematic activity. It is a welfare organization meant for downtrodden. Along with the grounds of appeal, they have also enclosed abstracts from various annual reports, which were made use of by the tribunal to reject their case. It was also pointed out that in an identical circumstance one India Bible Literature was granted an exemption by holding that it was an establishment which was a charitable religious institution eligible for exemption in terms of the Government notification, dated 10.6.2003.

7. It was contended by Mr.Sanjay Mohan, learned counsel for M/s.S.Ramasubramaniam and Associates that the order of the Tribunal clearly showed the non application of mind and that no argument addressed by the petitioner was taken note of.

8. In the counter affidavit filed by the second respondent it was stated that all the projects of the society was accomplished by educational counselling and training and counselling of people and society at large. Therefore, it is covered by the Act. The notification dated 26.7.2005 clearly states that any college, education or any scientific institutions imparting knowledge or training carried on against charges of fees from the students/mass, such activities shall not be exempted from the EPF Act. It was also stated that the Madurai unit of the petitioner had voluntarily come forward to implement the provisions of the PF Act under Section 1(4). This submission of the second respondent is denied in the reply affidavit by stating that their headquarters is at Chennai and that the projects are taken up all over the Country. Therefore, no unit could have made any application.

9. In the present case, both respondents did not consider the activities of the petitioner organization as a NGO conducting training programmes for different sections of people on voluntary basis. Whereas the notification dated 26.7.2005 only states that college, education or any scientific institutions imparting knowledge or training carried on against charges of fees cannot be exempted from the PF Act. But, it does not automatically make every institution which activities are imparting knowledge and training, if systematically carried on, will cover even the NGO doing such training programmes not in a systematic manner and also occasionally doing such works apart from carrying on the main activities of rendering social service. When a specific ground was raised in an appeal memo, instead of deciding the same the Tribunal had erred in relying upon certain programmes described in the annual reports to justify the rejection of the appeal. On the other hand, these annual reports were not even taken note of by the second respondent while passing the order dated 05.12.2000.

10. In any event, when specific grounds were raised, the Tribunal being a quasi judicial authority was bound to consider each one of the objections and to pass a comprehensive order in respect of the various contentions made by the parties. However, both the orders of the second as well as the first respondents showed total non application of mind. Merely because the petitioner NGO was imparting some training programmes and that too without charging any fee, that by itself will not make it as an institution imparting education. The two notifications are entirely intended to cover different activities with which the petitioner NGO was not related. In the absence of a clear application of mind on the issues raised and without rendering a concrete finding on the status of the petitioner organization, the superficial order passed by the second respondent and confirmed by the Tribunal cannot be countenance

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d by this court. 11. Under these circumstances, this court is obliged to interfere with both the impugned orders, dated 05.12.2000 passed by the second respondent and confirmed by the order of the first respondent Tribunal, dated 2.2.2010. Accordingly, both the impugned orders will stand set aside. The matter is remanded back to the second respondent to pass an appropriate order after giving an opportunity to the petitioner. He must also refer to each one of the contentions raised by the petitioner including the documents if any produced by them. 12. Accordingly, the writ petition will stand allowed. The matter is remitted back to the second respondent for a fresh disposal in accordance with law. The second respondent is directed to keep in mind the directions given above. However, there will be no order as to costs. Consequently, connected miscellaneous petition stands closed.