The Supreme Court bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Deepak Gupta, on May 6, held that the prescribed authority under the Payment of Wages Act(PWA) is not an appellate authority in the disciplinary proceedings and therefore it has no right to sit in appeal and to set aside the order of withholding of increments passed in the disciplinary proceedings.
In the instant case, the respondent, Jaswinder Singh, was a conductor with the Punjab Roadways, which withheld his wages in disciplinary proceedings in 1984 and 1985. The Authority under the PWA accepted his application for direction to the Punjab Roadways to refund his delayed/deducted wages from his salary, and held the orders passed by the Roadways as illegal, and void ab initio.
On an appeal by the State, the Punjab and Haryana High Court too found that although the remedy for the respondent was to file a statutory appeal or a civil suit, the State did not follow due procedure and violated the principle of natural justice by withholding increments etc.
The Supreme Court, applying the precedent, State of Punjab v Baldev Singh (1998), set aside the High Court order, and upheld the withholding of wages during the pendency of the disciplinary proceedings.
That the Supreme Court’s order, was delivered on an appeal from the State, in the case of a poor bus conductor, 33 years after the withholding of his salary, that too, on a technical point, shows the State’s litigation policy in a poor light.
Curiously, the bench appears to have applied its 1998 ruling retrospectively, to the facts of this case, although when the Authority under the PWA had ruled in favour of the respondent, before the SC’s 1998 ruling. The High Court, while delivering its order in 2007, did not find this precedent binding.
Read the Order here.