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S. 7-B, Industrial Disputes Act | Government Is Not Mandated To Refer Matters Of National Importance To National Tribunal: Orissa High Court

Jyoti Prakash Dutta
11 May 2022 4:32 AM GMT
S. 7-B, Industrial Disputes Act | Government Is Not Mandated To Refer Matters Of National Importance To National Tribunal: Orissa High Court
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The Orissa High Court has held that it is not mandatory for the Central Government to refer a matter of national importance to the National Industrial Tribunal for adjudication even if it satisfies the twin conditions mentioned under Section 7-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Radha Krishna Pattanaik...

The Orissa High Court has held that it is not mandatory for the Central Government to refer a matter of national importance to the National Industrial Tribunal for adjudication even if it satisfies the twin conditions mentioned under Section 7-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Radha Krishna Pattanaik observed,

"It is not mandatory for the Central Government, even if the twin conditionalities are satisfied, to refer the disputes for adjudication to a National Tribunal. It may so happen that because of the placement of the parties, the dispute can well be adjudicated by a geographically proximate Tribunal."

Factual Background:

The present dispute had its origins in an order dated 14th September 1992 passed by the Central Government referring the dispute for adjudication to the State Government Industrial Tribunal at Bhubaneswar. A written statement was filed by Opposite Party No. 2, i.e. Workers' Union before the Tribunal raising the issue concerning all workers working in the drilling camps of M/s Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Ltd. (CMPDI) all over the country in regard to the benefit of special TA/DA and in the matter of holidays or festivals.

At one stage, the case was transferred to the Industrial Tribunal, Rourkela, but the Union for some reasons did not participate and the reference had to be returned to the Central Government. Ultimately, the case was transferred to the Central Government Industrial Tribunal, Bhubaneswar (CGIT). On 29th November 2004, the present petitioner prayed for taking up the issue of maintainability first. Later, it filed a writ petition before the High Court in which an order was passed on 9th February 2006 directing the CGIT to dispose of the issue of maintainability first. By the impugned order dated 24th January 2011, the CGIT held the reference to be maintainable.

CMPDI has filed this petition questioning the said order dated 24th January 2011 passed by the CGIT. While directing notice to issue in the present petition on 20th December 2011, the Court permitted the petitioner to file an application for adjournment of the main case before the CGIT and that interim order has continued for eleven years now.

Contentions:

Mr. N.K. Mishra, Senior Advocate for the petitioner pointed out to the Court to Section 7-B(1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (ID Act) which sets out the conditions under which the Central Government "may, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute one or more National Industrial Tribunals for adjudication of the industrial disputes".

The two conditions are that (i) the dispute should involve questions of national importance; or (ii) are of such a nature that the industrial establishment situated in more than one State are likely to be interested in or effected by such disputes. According to Mr. Mishra the nature of the dispute referred for adjudication by the Central Government in the present case satisfies both the above requirements. Thus, he submitted that the word 'may' occurring in Section 7-B of the ID Act should be read as 'shall'.

He urged that Section 7-B of the ID Act should be read with Section 10(1-A) of the ID Act which states that if an industrial dispute involves question of national importance or is of such nature that industrial establishment situated in more than one State are likely to be interested in or affected by such dispute, the Central Government "may, whether or not it is the appropriate Government in relation to that dispute, at any time, by order in writing refer the dispute for any matter appearing to be connected with, or relevant to, the dispute, whether it relates to any matter specified in the Second Schedule or the Third Schedule, to a National Tribunal for adjudication".

He put emphasis on the expression "at any time" and stated that notwithstanding that the present dispute may have been pending before the CGIT, Bhubaneswar for over two decades, even now the Central Government can refer the dispute for adjudication to a National Tribunal. According to him, it will be more convenient for all the parties, if a National Tribunal is constituted which could even have its sittings in Bhubaneswar.

Court's Observations:

The Court was not impressed with the above argument for the reason that first, the expression used both in Section 7-A as well as Section 10 (I-A) of the ID Act is 'may' as qualifying what the Central Government can do. It is not mandatory for the Central Government, even if the twin conditionalities are satisfied, to refer the disputes for adjudication to a National Tribunal.

Further, it observed that it may so happen that because of the placement of the parties, the dispute can well be adjudicated by a geographically proximate Tribunal. For instance, in the present case, although the Union which is espousing the workmen's cause is located in Ranchi, the petitioner has its Offices in all over India and therefore, vis-à-vis both the parties, a CGIT at Bhubaneswar would be proximate and convenient for them to adjudicate the dispute.

The Court then went on to observe that,

"Moreover, in the present day and age, when there are virtual courts, it is possible to have witnesses examined even at remote locations. The earlier apprehensions regarding inconvenience of parties would have to be re-visited. It is now possible for a Tribunal in Bhubaneswar to examine witnesses virtually all over the country, and therefore that inconvenience is a thing of the past."

Secondly and most importantly, the Court held that the dispute has been pending for more than three decades now and it is not expedient at this stage to require the dispute to be referred to a National Tribunal for parties to start all over again before that Tribunal. That would be most inconvenient to all the parties.

The Court also perused the order passed by the CGIT denying the above contentions of the petitioner. Consequently, the Court held that it has been rightly noticed, on the strength of the decisions of the Bombay High Court in Life Insurance Corporation of India v. All India Insurance Employees' Association, (1995) III LLJ Supp. 797 (Bom) and the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Indian Banks Association v. Workmen of Syndicate Bank, (1998) 1 LLJ 233 (AP) that in terms of Section 7-B read with Section 10 (1-A) of the ID Act, it is not mandatory for the Central Government to make a reference of a dispute which is of national importance to a National Tribunal.

Accordingly, the petition was dismissed and the CGIT was requested to proceed with the adjudication as expeditiously as possible.

Case Title: M/s. Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Ltd. v. The Presiding Officer, Central Government Industrial Tribunal, Bhubaneswar & Anr.

Case No.: W.P.(C) No. 30779 of 2011

Order Dated: 09 May 2022

Coram: Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Radha Krishna Pattanaik

Order Authored By: Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar

Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. N.K. Mishra, Senior Advocate

Counsel for the Respondents: Mr. P.K. Parhi, A.S.G. for Union of India, Mr. J.M. Pattanaik, Advocate for Opposite Party No. 2

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ori) 59

Click Here To Read/Download Order


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