Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation vs Dilip Uttam Jayabhay

 REPORTABLE IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO.7403 OF 2021 Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation      ..Appellant (S) Versus Dilip Uttam Jayabhay                    ..Respondent (S) J U D G M E N T  M. R. Shah, J. 1. Feeling   aggrieved   and   dissatisfied   with   the   impugned judgment and order dated 23.01.2020 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Bombay in Writ Petition No.8401 of 2003, by which the High Court has dismissed the said writ petition preferred by the appellant – Maharashtra State Road   Transport   Corporation   (hereinafter   referred   to   as “MSRTC”) in which it challenged the order passed by the 1 Industrial   Court   in   Revision   Application   (ULP)   No.13   of 2002, directing reinstatement of respondent without back wages   but   with   the   continuity   of   service,   original   writ petitioner – MSRTC has preferred the present appeal.  2. The respondent herein was serving as a driver and plying passenger buses. That on 23.10.1992 when he was driving the bus, it met with an accident with a jeep coming from the opposite direction. It appears that instead of taking the bus to the left side, he took the bus to the extreme right which was the wrong side and as a result, the jeep and the bus   collided.   The   accident   resulted   in   death   of   four passengers on the spot and six passengers were seriously injured. The jeep was completely damaged with its radiator and engine board broken and damaged and the inside of the   jeep   was   completely   crushed.   The   impact   of   the collision was so high that the jeep was pushed back by about 25 feet. The bumper of the bus was also crushed. The   driver   of   the   jeep   also   sustained   injuries.   The respondent   was   subjected   to   disciplinary   enquiry.   On conclusion of enquiry he was dismissed from service. He 2 was also prosecuted for the offence under Section 279 of IPC. However, he came to be acquitted. (his acquittal shall be dealt with herein below). The respondent challenged the order of dismissal before the Labour Court. The Labour Court   upheld   the   order   of   dismissal.   In   a   revision application   the   Industrial   Tribunal   considering   the acquittal of the respondent in criminal proceedings and observing   that   the   drivers   of   both   the   vehicles   were negligent (contributory negligence), the Industrial Tribunal exercised powers under item No.1(g) of Schedule­IV of the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, 1971. (“MRTU” and “PULP Act, 1971” for short), and held that the order of dismissal is disproportionate to the misconduct proved. Before the Industrial Tribunal the respondent/workman did not press for the back wages. The Industrial Tribunal directed his reinstatement without back wages but with continuity of service. 3. Feeling   aggrieved   and   dissatisfied   with   the   order   dated 31.07.2003   passed   by   the   Industrial   Tribunal   ordering 3 reinstatement without back wages but with continuity of service,   the   appellant   preferred   writ   petition   before   the High Court. By the impugned judgment and order the High Court has not only dismissed the writ petition preferred by the appellant, but has also directed appellant to pay to the respondent   back   wages   with   effect   from   01.11.2003   to 31.05.2018 i.e. which is the date of his superannuation. The High Court has also directed that the respondent shall also be entitled to retiral benefits on the basis of continuity of service with effect from date of his dismissal and till his superannuation.   4. Feeling   aggrieved   and   dissatisfied   with   the   impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court, dismissing the writ petition and confirming the order passed by the Industrial Tribunal setting aside the order of dismissal and ordering reinstatement with continuity of service and back wages, the MSRTC has preferred the present appeal. 5. Ms. Mayuri Raghuvanshi, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant – MSRTC has vehemently submitted 4 that   in   the   facts   and   circumstances   of   the   case,   the Industrial Court committed a grave error in interfering with the order of dismissal passed by the disciplinary authority on the ground that the same is shockingly disproportionate to the misconduct proved. 5.1 It is submitted that both, the High Court as well as the Industrial   Court   have   not   at   all   considered   and/or appreciated the difference between the disciplinary enquiry and the criminal proceedings.  5.2 It is submitted that the High Court as well as the Industrial Court had erred in relying upon the acquittal of respondent in criminal case. It is submitted that the Industrial Court and   the   High   Court   have   failed   to   appreciate   that   the acquittal has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as the standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and have   different   objectives.   Reliance   is   placed   on   the decisions of this Court in cases of Samar Bahadur Singh Vs. State of U.P. & Ors., (2011) 9 SCC 94 and Union of 5 India & Ors. Vs. Sitaram Mishra & Anr., (2019) 20 SCC 588.  5.3 It is further submitted that in fact the Labour Court rightly held that acquittal in the criminal case would not come to the   rescue   of   the   respondent   as   the   acquittal   in   the criminal   case   is   on   the   failure   of   the   prosecution   to examine investigating officer, panch for spot panchnama, etc., and to prove their case beyond doubt. It is submitted that on the other hand in the departmental proceedings misconduct has been proved. It is therefore submitted that the Industrial Court and the High Court ought not to have given undue importance to the acquittal of the respondent in the criminal case.  5.4 It is further submitted that even otherwise in the facts and circumstances of the case when in the vehicle accident four persons   died   due   to   the   negligence   on   the   part   of   the respondent in driving the vehicle carelessly and negligently and during his three years’ tenure he was punished four times earlier, it cannot be said that the punishment of 6 dismissal was shockingly disproportionate. It is submitted that in the facts and circumstances of the case, the case would not fall under item No.1(g) of Schedule­IV of the MRTU and PULP Act, 1971. 5.5 It   is   further   submitted   that   even   the   Industrial   Court specifically observed in the order that the misconduct is not   of   a   minor   or   technical   character.   It   is   further submitted   that   the   Industrial   Court   also   observed   that there   is   no   victimization   and   the   action   of   the   MSRTC cannot be said to be not in good faith. The Industrial Court also   observed   that   the   MSRTC   has   neither   falsely implicated   the   complainant   –   respondent   nor   has   it dismissed the respondent for patently false reasons and therefore   respondent   failed   to   prove   the   alleged   unfair labour practice as per the MRTU and PULP Act, 1971. It is submitted that however the Industrial Court has interfered with the order of punishment/dismissal imposed by the disciplinary authority invoking clause 1(g) of Schedule­IV of MRTU and PULP Act, 1971.  7 5.6 It is further submitted that even the respondent admitted that   he   was   gainfully   employed   after   his   dismissal. Therefore, the order of reinstatement was not warranted at all.  5.7 It is further submitted by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant that even otherwise the directions issued by the High Court in the impugned judgment and order in para 8 directing the appellant – MSRTC to pay to the respondent back wages with effect from 1st November, 2003 to 31st May, 2018, could not have been passed in a petition filed by the appellant – MSRTC. It is submitted therefore that such an order is as such beyond the scope of the writ petition before the High Court.     6. Making the above submissions, it is prayed to allow the present appeal.  7. Shri Nishanth Patil, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the   respondent   has   supported   the   judgment   and   order passed by the Industrial Court and confirmed by the High Court. 8 7.1 It is submitted that in the facts and circumstances of the case   when   the   Industrial   Court   found   the   order   of dismissal disproportionate to the misconduct proved, the same can be said to be an unfair labour practice as per item No. 1(g) of Schedule­IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971. Thus the Industrial Court rightly interfered with the order of dismissal and the same is rightly confirmed by the High Court. 7.2 It is contended that in the present case as such it was not the fault on the part of the respondent – driver. That the jeep driver coming from the opposite side was on the wrong side of the road and the respondent tried to avoid the accident. It is submitted that the criminal court found that even the jeep driver was also negligent and considering the fact the criminal court acquitted the respondent – driver, the judgment and order passed by the Industrial Court, ordering   reinstatement   without   back   wages   but   with continuity of service does not warrant any interference. It is submitted therefore that the High Court rightly did not 9 interfere   with   the   judgment   and   order   passed   by   the Industrial   Court   ordering   reinstatement   without   back wages.  8. Making the above submissions, it is prayed to dismiss the present appeal.  9. We have heard the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respective parties at length.  10. At   the   outset,   it   is   required   to   be   noted   that   in   the departmental proceedings the misconduct alleged against the respondent – driver of driving the vehicle rashly and negligently due to which the accident occurred in which four   persons   died   has   been   proved.   Thereafter,   the disciplinary   authority   passed   an   order   of   dismissal, dismissing the respondent – workman from service. The Labour Court did not interfere with the order of dismissal by   giving   cogent   reasons   and   after   re­appreciating   the entire evidence on record including the order of acquittal passed   by   the   criminal   court.   However,   the   Industrial Court though did not interfere with the findings recorded 10 by the disciplinary authority on the misconduct proved, interfered with the order of dismissal solely on the ground that punishment of dismissal is disproportionate to the misconduct proved and the same can be said to be to be unfair labour practice as per item No.1(g) of Schedule­IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971. The same is not interfered with by the High Court.  10.1 Therefore,   the   short   question   which   is   posed   for   the consideration of this Court is whether in the facts and circumstances of the case the punishment of dismissal can be said to be an unfair labour practice on the ground that the same was disproportionate to the misconduct proved and   therefore   the   Industrial   Court   was   justified   in interfering   with   the   order   of   dismissal   and   ordering reinstatement with continuity of service. 10.2 Having gone through the findings recorded by the enquiry officer in the departmental enquiry and the judgment and order passed by the labour court as well as the Industrial Court and even the judgment and order of acquittal passed by the criminal court, it emerges that when the respondent 11 was driving the vehicle it met with an accident with the jeep coming from the opposite side and in the said accident four persons died. From the material on record it emerges that the impact of the accident with the jeep coming from the opposite side was such that the jeep was pushed back 25 feet. From the aforesaid facts it can be said that the respondent – workman was driving the vehicle in such a great   speed   and   rashly   due   to   which  the   accident   had occurred in which four persons died. Even while acquitting the accused – respondent – driver who was facing the trial under   Sections   279   and   304(a)   of   IPC   Criminal   Court observed   that   the   prosecution   failed   to   prove   that   the incident occurred due to rash and negligent driving of the accused – respondent herein only and none else. Therefore, at the best even if it is assumed that even driver of the jeep was   also   negligent,   it   can   be   said   to   be   a   case   of contributory   negligence.   That   does   not   mean   that   the respondent – workman was not at all negligent. Hence, it does not absolve him of the misconduct.   12 10.3 Much stress has been given by the Industrial Court on the acquittal of the respondent by the criminal court. However, as such the Labour Court had in extenso considered the order of acquittal passed by the criminal court and did not agree   with   the   submissions   made   on   behalf   of   the respondent – workman that as he was acquitted by the criminal court he cannot be held guilty in the disciplinary proceedings.   10.4 Even from the judgment and order passed by the criminal court   it   appears   that   the   criminal   court   acquitted   the respondent  based on  the hostility of  the witnesses; the evidence   led   by   the   interested   witnesses;   lacuna   in examination of the investigating officer; panch for the spot panchnama of the incident, etc. Therefore, criminal court held   that   the   prosecution   has   failed   to   prove   the   case against the respondent beyond reasonable doubt. On the contrary in the departmental proceedings the misconduct of driving the vehicle rashly and negligently which caused accident and due to which four persons died has been established and proved. As per the cardinal principle of law 13 an acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as the standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and with different objectives. Therefore, the Industrial Court has erred in giving much stress on the acquittal of the respondent by the criminal court. Even otherwise it is required to  be noted that  the Industrial Court has not interfered with the findings recorded by the disciplinary   authority   holding   charge   and   misconduct proved in  the  departmental  enquiry,  and  has interfered with the punishment of dismissal solely on the ground that same is shockingly disproportionate and therefore can be said to be an unfair labour practice as per clause No.1(g) of Schedule­IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971.  10.5 Now so far as the order passed by the Industrial Court ordering   reinstatement   with   continuity   of   service   by invoking   clause   No.1(g)   of   Schedule­IV   of   the   MRTU   & PULP Act, 1971 is concerned, as per clause No. 1(g) only in a case where it is found that dismissal of an employee is for misconduct of a minor or technical character, without 14 having   any   regard   to   the   nature   of   the   particular misconduct or the past record of service of the employee, so   as   to   amount   to   a   shockingly   disproportionate punishment. Clause No.1 of Schedule­IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971  reads as under:­ “Schedule IV 1. To discharge or dismiss employees­ (a) by way of victimisation; (b) not in good faith, but in the colourable exercise of the employer’s rights; (c) by falsely implicating an employee in a criminal case on false evidence or on concocted evidence; (d) for patently false reasons; (e) on untrue or trumped up allegations of absence without leave; (f) in utter disregard of the principles of natural justice in the conduct of domestic enquiry or with undue haste; (g) for   misconduct   of   a   minor   or   technical character,   without   having   any   regard   to   the nature of the particular misconduct or the past record   of   service   of   the   employee,   so   as   to amount   to   a   shockingly   disproportionate punishment.” Applying clause No.1(g) of Schedule­IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971, to the present case it cannot be said that the dismissal of the respondent was for misconduct of a minor or technical character, without having any regard to 15 the nature of the misconduct.  The respondent – workman has been held to be guilty for a particular charge and particular misconduct. Even the past record of service of the respondent has not been considered by the Industrial Court.   As   per   case   of   the   appellant   –   MSRTC   the respondent – workman was in service for three years and during three years’ service tenure he was punished four times.   Therefore,   it   cannot   be   said   that   the   order   of dismissal was without having any regard to the past record of the service of the respondent. Therefore, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the Industrial Court wrongly invoked clause No.1(g) of Schedule­IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971.    11. Even   otherwise   in   the   facts   of   the   case   when   in   the departmental enquiry, it has been specifically found that due to rash and negligent driving on the part of the driver – respondent, the accident took place in which four persons died,   when   the   punishment   of   dismissal   is   imposed   it cannot   be   said   to   be   shockingly   disproportionate punishment. In the departmental proceedings every aspect 16 has been considered. At the cost of repetition, it is observed that even the Industrial Court has not interfered with the findings   recorded   by   the   enquiry   officer   in   the departmental   proceedings.   Therefore,   in   the   facts   and circumstance of the case, the Industrial Court committed a grave   error   and   has   exceeded   in   its   jurisdiction   while interfering   with   the   order   of   dismissal   passed   by   the disciplinary   authority,   which   was   not   interfered   by   the Labour Court. 12. It is also required to be noted that before the Industrial Court the respondent – workman – driver admitted that after the order of dismissal he has been gainfully employed. Therefore also the reinstatement in service with continuity of service was not warranted.  13. Even the directions issued by the High Court in para 8 in the impugned judgment and order directing the appellant to pay wages to the respondent – workman for the period from 01.11.2003 to 31.05.2018 also could not have been passed by the High Court in a writ petition filed by the appellant. It was not the petition filed by the workman – 17 respondent. Therefore, even otherwise the directions issued in para 8 of the impugned judgment and order cannot be sustained as the same is beyond the scope and ambit of the controversy before the High Court.  14. In view of the above and for the reasons stated above, the present Appeal Succeeds. The judgment and order passed by the Industrial Court in Revision Application (ULP) No.13 of 2002 and the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court in Writ Petition No.8401 of 2003 are hereby quashed   and   set   aside   and   the   judgment   and   Award passed by the Labour Court in Complaint (ULP) No.96 of 1993 is hereby ordered to be restored. Consequently, the order   of   dismissal   passed   by   the   disciplinary   authority dismissing   the   respondent   –   workman   from   service   is hereby   upheld.   The   present   appeal   is   allowed   to   the aforesaid extent.  There shall be no order as to costs. …………………………………J.                 (M. R. SHAH) …………………………………J.   (B. V. NAGARATHNA) New Delhi,  January  03, 2022 18

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