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Writ Petition Relation To Industrial Dispute To Not Be Listed Unless 'Exceptional Circumstances' Disclosed In Synopsis, Opening Paragraphs: Delhi HC [Read Judgment]

Mehal Jain
21 Sep 2020 10:05 AM GMT
Writ Petition Relation To Industrial Dispute To Not Be Listed Unless Exceptional Circumstances Disclosed In Synopsis, Opening Paragraphs: Delhi HC [Read Judgment]
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The Delhi High Court has held that a writ petition relating to an industrial dispute shall not be listed unless it discloses 'exceptional circumstances' in the synopsis and in its opening paragraphs.

Justice J. R. Midha was hearing the writ petitioners' challenge to the retrenchment of 297 employees by the Press Trust of India on 29th September, 2018. The petitioners sought the quashing of the retrenchment notices, their reinstatement with back wages and consequential benefits. The preliminary issue was whether the writ petitions should be entertained in view of the statutory remedy available to the retrenched employees under the Industrial Disputes Act.
Relying on several Supreme Court authorities, the Single Judge summarised that Industrial Disputes Act is a complete Code in itself which provides the remedies to the employees in respect of all industrial disputes. All industrial disputes, in the first instance, have to be adjudicated by the Industrial Tribunal under the Industrial Disputes Act and the awards of the Industrial Tribunal are amenable to the writ jurisdiction of this Court. This is the legislative policy and intendment underlying the Industrial Disputes Act.

"The law is well settled by the Supreme Court that a writ petition should not be entertained in respect of industrial disputes for which a statutory remedy is available under the Industrial Disputes Act unless 'Exceptional circumstances' are made out. The Supreme Court further held that if the writ involves disputed questions of fact, the writ petition should not be entertained. The writ jurisdiction is a discretionary jurisdiction and the discretion should not ordinarily be exercised, if there is an alternative remedy available to the petitioner", appreciated the Single Bench.

The bench inferred that the Sole Test laid down by the Supreme Court for entertaining a writ petition relating to an industrial dispute is the existence of 'Exceptional circumstances'. If the Court is satisfied on the existence of 'Exceptional circumstances', then and only then, the Court shall proceed to ascertain whether the writ involves disputed questions of fact. If the Court finds 'Exceptional circumstances' but the writ involves disputed questions of fact, then the writ petition shall not be entertained, meaning thereby that the writ petition may be entertained only if the Court is satisfied firstly, on the existence of 'Exceptional circumstances' and secondly, the writ petition does not involve disputed questions of fact.

"If there are no 'Exceptional circumstances' for exercise of writ jurisdiction, the writ petition is liable to be dismissed on this ground alone. The Second Test as to whether the writ involves disputed questions of fact is to be applied if the First Test is satisfied and the writ involves 'Exceptional circumstances' meaning thereby that if there are no 'Exceptional circumstances', the writ Court is not required to consider whether the writ involves disputed questions of fact or not. To clarify it further, if there are no 'Exceptional circumstances', the writ petition in respect of an industrial dispute cannot be entertained even if the writ involves undisputed questions of fact", deciphered the bench.

As examples of what has been deemed to be an "exceptional circumstance" for invoking the writ jurisdiction by the court instead of alternate statutory remedy, the bench cited the following cases: The claim for compensation against the Railways where in the middle of the night, a goods train broke the dead end of the railway track and thereafter, hit the boundary wall of Old Delhi Railway Station whereupon the boundary wall fell down and the three persons sleeping on the pavement were crushed under the boundary wall; another claim for payment of compensation to a citizen who sacrificed his life in saving two MTNL workmen stuck in a man-hole; compensation on the death of workmen hired by the contractor of CPWD for cleaning the septic tank at a CRPF Camp, etc.

"The petitioners have challenged the retrenchment of 297 employees by the respondent on 29th September, 2018. However, 78 out of 297 retrenched employees have accepted their retrenchment and have applied for withdrawal of their statutory benefits including gratuity etc. during the pendency of these writ petitions", noted the bench.

Justice Midha opined that the retrenched employees have a statutory remedy to raise an industrial dispute under the Industrial Disputes Act- "The petitioners have based their claims on the alleged violation of the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, but there are no exceptional circumstances for exercise of the writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution in these writ petitions"

According to the senior counsel for the petitioner, the writ jurisdiction should be exercised because two years have passed after the filing of this writ petition. However, the bench found no merit in this contention as the respondent raised the preliminary objections to the maintainability of the writ petition at the very threshold of the commencement of arguments and these cases were pending due to lengthy arguments of counsels for both the parties. Further, according to the petitioners, the High Court had issued notice in the writ petition after considering the respondent's objection to the maintainability of the writ petition and the detailed interim order was passed in favour of the petitioners. It was submitted that these petitions cannot now be dismissed on the ground of alternative remedy. In response to this, Justice Midha noted that the Supreme Court has held in clear terms that a writ petition can be dismissed on the ground of alternative remedy even after it has been admitted and interim order has been passed.

"Both these writ petitions involve disputed questions of facts which cannot be resolved by this Court in writ jurisdiction. This Court is of the view that the affidavits and documents filed by the parties are not sufficient to decide the questions of fact without evidence", said the bench, stating that the disputed questions of fact have to be adjudicated on the basis of the evidence to be led by the parties before the Industrial Tribunal.

"The Courts are required to maintain uniformity in applying the law. The principles of uniformity and predictability are very important principles of jurisprudence. If this writ petition with such complicated questions of fact and law is entertained then on what ground a writ petition of simple retrenchment or termination can be declined. Most of the retrenchment cases are simpler than the present case but the writ jurisdiction is not exercised as the law is clear and well settled that the rights under the Industrial Disputes Act have to be agitated before the Industrial Tribunal", the bench opined.

The bench recommended that subject to the approval of the Chief Justice, the Registry may incorporate the following column in the check list of writ petitions:-

"Whether the writ petitioner has an alternative remedy? If so, disclose the "Exceptional circumstances" which may warrant the exercise of writ jurisdiction in the Synopsis as well as in the opening paras of the writ petition?"

The bench said that if the writ petitioner does not disclose the "Exceptional circumstances" in the writ petition, the Registry shall return the writ petition under objections to enable the writ petitioner to disclose the "Exceptional circumstances" in the Synopsis as well as in the opening paras of the writ petition.

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