Section 33(2)(b) ID Act- SC Explains Scope Of Enquiry By Labour Court While Granting/Refusing Approval For Discharge/Dismissal Of Workman [Read Judgment]
The Supreme Court has observed that a Labour Court or Tribunal while holding enquiry under Section 33(2)(b) of the Industrial Disputes Act cannot invoke the adjudicatory powers vested in them under Section 10(i)(c) and (d) of the Act.
They also cannot dwell upon the proportionality of punishment in the process of formation of their prima facie view under Section 33(2)(b), the bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Surya Kant observed .
In John D'Souza vs. Karnataka SRTC, the court was concerned with the scope and ambit of the enquiry to be held by a Labour Court or Industrial Tribunal while granting or refusing approval for the discharge or dismissal of a workman under Section 33(2)(b) of the Act. The bench said:
Section 33(2)(b) of the Act, thus, in the very nature of things contemplates an enquiry by way of summary proceedings as to whether a proper domestic enquiry has been held to prove the misconduct so attributed to the workmen and whether he has been afforded reasonable opportunity to defend himself in consonance with the principles of natural justice. As a natural corollary thereto, the Labour Court or the Forum concerned will lift the veil to find out that there is no hidden motive to punish the workman or an abortive attempt to punish him for a nonexistent misconduct.
The Labour Court/Tribunal, nevertheless, while holding enquiry under Section 33(2)(b), would remember that such like summary proceedings are not akin and at par with its jurisdiction to adjudicate an `industrial dispute' under Section 10(1)(c) and (d) of the Act, nor the former provision clothe it with the power to peep into the quantum of punishment for which it has to revert back to Section 11A of the Act. Where the Labour Court/Tribunal, thus, do not find the domestic enquiry defective and the principles of fair and just play have been adhered to, they will accord the necessary approval to the action taken by the employer, albeit without prejudice to the right of the workman to raise an `industrial dispute' referrable for adjudication under Section 10(1)(c) or (d), as the case may be.
The court made it clear that an order of approval granted under Section 33(2)(b) has no binding effect in the proceedings under Section 10(1)(c) and (d) which shall be decided independently while weighing the material adduced by the parties before the Labour Court/Tribunal.
Referring to Mysore Steel Works Pvt. Ltd. v. Jitendra Chandra Kar and Lalla Ram v. D.C.M. Works Ltd, the bench said:
Firstly, the Labour Court/Tribunal will consider as to whether or not a prima facie case for discharge or dismissal is made out on the basis of the domestic enquiry if such enquiry does not suffer from any defect, namely, it has not been held in violation of principles of natural justice and the conclusion arrived at by the employer is bona fide or that there was no unfair labour practice or victimisation of the workman. This entire exercise has to be undertaken by the Labour Court/Tribunal on examination of the record of enquiry and nothing more. In the event where no defect is detected, the approval must follow. The second stage comes when the Labour Court/Tribunal finds that the domestic enquiry suffers from one or the other legal ailment. In that case, the Labour Court/Tribunal shall permit the parties to adduce their respective evidence and on appraisal thereof the Labour Court/Tribunal shall conclude its enquiry whether the discharge or any other punishment including dismissal was justified.
Though the Labour Court or the Tribunal while exercising their jurisdiction under Section 33(2)(b) are empowered to permit the parties to lead evidence in respect of the legality and propriety of the domestic enquiry held into the misconduct of a workman, such evidence would be taken into consideration by the Labour Court or the Tribunal only if it is found that the domestic enquiry conducted by the Management on the scale that the standard of proof required therein can be `preponderance of probability' and not a `proof beyond all reasonable doubts' suffers from inherent defects or is violative of principles of natural justice. In other words, the Labour Court or the Tribunal cannot without first examining the material led in the domestic enquiry jump to a conclusion and mechanically permit the parties to lead evidence as if it is an essential procedural part of the enquiry to be held under Section 33(2)(b) of the Act.