Tata Oil Mills Co. Ltd. Vs. Its
Workmen  INSC 99 (31 March 1964)
31/03/1964 GAJENDRAGADKAR, P.B. (CJ)
GAJENDRAGADKAR, P.B. (CJ) WANCHOO, K.N.
GUPTA, K.C. DAS
CITATION: 1965 AIR 155 1964 SCR (7) 555
R 1969 SC 30 (6) R 1972 SC 136 (23) F 1972
SC1343 (11) F 1975 SC2025 (7) R 1978 SC1004 (7) RF 1984 SC 289 (10) R 1984
SC5050 (18) R 1988 SC2118 (5) RF 1991 SC1070 (6)
Industrial Dispute-Assault on
co-employee-Whether Standing Order 22(viii) attracted-Domestic enquiry-Findings
binding unless shown to be perverse or evidence lacking-Criminal Trial also
pending-Failure to stay enquiry, if vitiates enquiry-Standing Order 22(viii).
On a report that R and M, both employees of
the appellant waylaid A, another employee and assaulted him outside the
factory, the appellant held an enquiry and sought approval for the dismissal of
R and M from the Industrial Tribunal, before which an industrial dispute was
pending. The Tribunal approved the dismissal of R but not that of M.
Thereupon R was dismissed. The respondent
raised an industrial dispute in regard to the propriety and validity of the
said dismissal. On reference of this dispute, the Industrial Tribunal held that
the assault could be treated as a private matter between R and A with which the
appellant was not concerned and as a result Standing Order 22(viii) could not
be invoked against R, and it ordered the reinstatement of R. On appeal by
Held: (i) that It would be unreasonable to,
include within Standing Order 22(viii) any riotous behaviour without the
factory which was the result of purely private and individual dispute and in
course of which tempers of both the contestants become hot. In order that
standing order 22(viii) may be attracted, the appellant should be able to show
that the disorderly or riotous behaviour had some rational connection with the
employment of the assailant and the victim.
(ii) In the present case the assault by R on
A was not a purely private or individual matter but was referable to the
difference of opinion between the two in regard to the introduction of
incentive bonus scheme and that cannot be said to be outside the purview of
standing order 22(viii).
(iii) The Tribunal was in error in coming, to
the conclusion that the enquiry suffered from the infirmity that it was
conducted contrary to the principles of natural justice.
It is true that if it appears that by
refusing to adjourn.
the hearing at the instance of charge-sheeted
workmen, the Enquiry Officer failed to give the said workmen a reasonable
opportunity to lead evidence, that may in a proper case, be considered to
introduce an element of infirmity in the enquiry; but in the circumstances of
this case, it would not be possible to draw such an inference.
(iv) The finding of the Tribunal that the
dismissal was malafic, cannot possibly be sustained.
The Tribunal has completely overlooked an
elementary principle of judicial approach that even if a judge or Tribunal may
reach an erroneous conclusion either of fact or of law, the mere error of the
conclusion does not make the conclusion malafide.
556 (v) Since the domestic enquiry had been
fairly conducted, and the findings recorded therein were based on Evidence
which was believed, there was no justification for the Industrial Tribunal to
consider the same facts for itself.
Findings properly recorded at such enquiries
are binding on parties, unless, of course, it is shown that such findings are
perverse or are not based on any evidence.
Phulbari Tea Estate v. Its Workmen,  1
S.C.R. 32, referred to.
(vi) The Industrial Tribunal was in error
when it characterised the result of the domestic enquiry as malafide partly
because the enquiry was not stayed pending criminal proceedings against R.
It is desirable that if the incident giving
rise to a charge framed against a workman in a domestic enquiry is being tried
in a criminal court, the employer should stay the domestic enquiry pending the
final disposal of the criminal case. It would be particularly appropriate to
adopt such a course when the charge is of a grave character because it would be
unfair to compel the workman to disclose the, defence which he may take before
the criminal court. But to say that domestic enquiries may be stayed pending
criminal trial is very different from saying that if an employer proceeds with
the domestic enquiry inspire of the fact that the criminal trial is pending,
the enquiry for that reason alone is vitiated and the conclusion arrived at in
such, an enquiry is either bad in law or malafide.
Delhi Cloth & General Mills Ltd. v.
Kishan Bhan  3 S.C.R. 227, referred to.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 51.7 of 1963.
Appeal by special leave from the Award dated
September 28, 1960 of the Industrial Tribunal, Ernakulam, in Industrial Dispute
No. 81 of 1958.
G. B. Pai, J. B. Dadachanji, O. C. Mathur and
Ravinder Narain, for the appellant.
P. Govinda Menon, M. S. K. Iyengar and M. R.
K. Pillai, for respondent No. 1.
March 31, 1964. The Judgment of the Court was
delivered by GAJENDRAGADKAR, C. J.-This appeal by special leave raises a short
question about the validity of the order passed by the Industrial Tribunal,
Ernakulam, directing the appellant, the Tata Oil Mills Co. Ltd., to reinstate
its workman K. K.
Raghavan whom it had dismissed with effect
from the 14th of November, 1955. The appellant is a public limited concern
engaged in the industry of soaps and toilet articles. It owns three factories
in addition to 12 sales offices. One of these factories is located at Tatapuram,
Ernakulam, in the State of Kerala. Mr. Raghavan was working with the appellant
at its factory at Tatapuram. It was reported to the appellant that on the 12th
November, 1955, Mr. Raghavan and another employee of the appellant, Mr. Mathews
by name, waylaid Mr. C. A. Augustine, the Chargeman of the 557 Soap Plant of
the company's factory at Tatapuram while he was returning home after his duty
in the second shift and assaulted him. That is why charge-sheets were issued
against both Messrs Raghavan and Mathews on the 14th November, 1955. Pursuant
to the service of the chargesheets, two officers were appointed by the
appellant to hold an enquiry, but the respondent Union represented to the
appellant that justice would not be done to Raghavan and Mathews unless
somebody outside Tatapuram was invited to hold the enquiry. Thereupon, the
General Manager of the appellant appointed Mr. Y. D. Joshi, who is a Law
Officer of the appellant in the Head Office, to hold the enquiry. Mr. Joshi
held the enquiry from the 27th to 30th December, 1955, and subsequently, he
made his report to the General Manager of the appellant on the 7th January,
1956. At that time, an industrial dispute was pending between the appellant and
its employees, and so, the appellant applied to the Industrial Tribunal for
approval of the dismissal of Messrs Raghavan and Mathews. The Tribunal approved
of the dismissal of Raghavan, but did not accord its approval of the dismissal
of Mathews. Acting in pursuance of the approval accorded by the Tribunal, the
appellant dismissed Raghavan with effect from the 14th November, 1955. Not
satisfied with the order of dismissal, the respondent raised an industrial
dispute in regard to the propriety and validity of the said dismissal of
Raghavan and that has become the subject-matter of the present reference which
was ordered on the 3rd of December, 1958. It is on this reference that the
Industrial tribunal has held that the appellant was not justified in dismissing
Raghavan, and so, has ordered his reinstatement. This is the order which has
given rise to the present appeal by special leave.
The first point which calls for our decision
in this appeal is whether the Tribunal was right in holding that the facts
proved against Raghavan did not attract the provisions of Standing Order
22(viii) of the Certified Standing Orders of the appellant. The said standing
order provides that without prejudice to the general meaning of the term
"misconduct", it shall be deemed to mean and include, inter alia,
drunkenness, fighting, riotous or disorderly or indecent behaviour within or
without the factory. It is common ground that the alleged assault took place
outside the factory, and, in fact, at a considerable distance from it. The
Tribunal has held that the assault in question can be treated as a purely
private matter between Raghavan and Augustine with which the appellant was not
concerned and as a result of which standing order 22(viii) cannot be invoked
against Raghavan. Mr. Menon who has appeared for the respondent before us, has
558 contended that in construing standing orders of this character, we must
take care to see that disputes of a purely private or individual type are not
brought within their scope. He argues that on many occasions, individual
employees may have to deal with private disputes and sometimes, as a result -of
these private disputes, assault may be committed. Such an assault may attract
the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, but it does not fall under
standing order 22(viii). In our opinion, this contention is well-founded. It
would, we think, be unreasonable to include within standing order 22(viii) any
riotous behaviour without the factory which was the result of purely private
and individual dispute and in course of which tempers of both the contestants
became hot. In order that standing order 22(viii) may be attracted, the
appellant should be able to show that the disorderly or riotous behaviour had
some rational connection with the employment of the assailant and the victim.
In the present case, however, it is quite
clear that the assault committed by Raghavan on Augustine was not a purely
private or individual matter. What the occasion for this assault was and what
motive actuated it, have been considered by the domestic Tribunal and the findings
of the domestic Tribunal 'on these points must be accepted in the present
proceedings, unless they are shown to be based on no evidence or are otherwise
perverse. Now, when we look at the report of the Enquiry Officer, it is clear
that on the evidence given by Mr. M. M. Augustine and K. T. Joseph it appeared
that the assault was committed by Raghavan on C. A. Augustine, because he was
in favour of the introduction of the Incentive Bonus Scheme. It appears that
the introduction of this incentive bonus scheme was approved by one set of
workmen and was 'opposed by another, with the result that the two rival unions
belonging to these two sets respectively were arrayed against each other on
that question. The evidence of the two witnesses to whom we have just referred
clearly shows that when Raghavan assaulted C.
A. Augustine, he expressly stated that
Augustine was a black-leg (Karinkali) who was interested in increased
production in the company with a view to obtain bonus-, and the report further
shows that the Enquiry Officer believed this evidence and came to the
conclusion that the assault was motivated by this hostility between Raghavan
and C. A. Augustine. In fact, the charge framed clearly suggested that the
assault was made, for that motive. It was alleged in the charge that Augustine
was assaulted to terrorise the workmen who had been responsible for giving
increased production under the incentives bonus scheme. According to the
charge, such acts were highly subversive of discipline.
The Enquiry Officer has held that in the
light of the evidence given by M. M. Augustine and 559 K. T. Joseph, the charge
as framed had been proved. This finding clearly means that the assault was not
the result of a purely individual 'or private quarrel between the assailant and
his victim, but it was referable to the difference of opinion between the two
in regard to the introduction of the incentive bonus scheme on which the two
unions were sharply divided. Therefore, if Raghavan assaulted Augustine solely
for the reason that Augustine was supporting the plea for more production, that
cannot be said to be outside the purview of standing order 22(viii).
The next point which needs to be considered
arises out of a plea which has been strenuously urged before us by Mr. Menon
that the Tribunal was justified in holding that the Enquiry Officer did not
conduct the enquiry in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and
so, the Tribunal was entitled to go into the evidence itself and decide
whether, Raghavan's dismissal was justified or not. The legal position in this
matter is not in doubt. If it appears that the domestic enquiry was not
conducted in accordance with the principles of the natural justice and a
reasonable opportunity was not, for instance, given to Raghavan to lead
evidence in support of his defence, that would be a valid ground on which the
Tribunal can discard the finding of the domestic enquiry and consider the
matter on the merits uninfluenced by the said finding. Unfortunately for the
respondent, however, on the material on record it is very difficult to sustain
the finding of the Tribunal that the Enquiry Officer did not conduct the
enquiry in accordance with the principles of natural justice.
The whole of this contention is based on the
fact that Raghavan wanted to examine two witnesses, -Messrs M. P. Menon and
Chalakudi. It appears that Raghavan told the Enquiry Officer that he wanted to
examine these two witnesses and he requested him to invite the said two
witnesses to give evidence. The Enquiry Officer told Raghavan that it was
really not a part of his duty to call the said two witnesses and that Raghavan
should in fact have kept them ready himself. Even so, in order to assist
Raghavan, the Enquiry Officer wrote letters to the two witnesses. Mr. Menon
replied expressing his inability to be present before the Enquiry Officer, and
the Enquiry Officer communicated this reply to Raghavan, so that for Raghavan's
failure to examine Menon no blame can be attributed to the enquiry officer at
all. In regard to Chalakudi, it appears that he sent one letter addressed to
the Enquiry Officer and it reached him on the 31st December, 1955, the day on
which he was leaving for Bombay. This letter was not signed, and so, the
Enquiry Officer took no action on it and gave no time to Chalakudi to appear
three or four days later as had been 560 suggested in that unsigned letter. The
Tribunal thought that this attitude on the part of the Enquiry Officer was
unsympathetic and that introduced an element of Unfairness in the enquiry
itself. We are unable to appreciate how such a conclusion can follow on facts
which are admitted. We do not think the Enquiry Officer was called upon to
accept an unsigned letter and act upon it. Besides, the Enquiry Officer had
gone to Ernakulam from Bombay for holding this enquiry, because the respondent
Union itself wanted that the enquiry should be held by some other officer
outside the local station and it was known that the Bombay Officer would go
back as soon as the enquiry was over. In such a case, if Raghavan did not take
steps to produce his witnesses before the Enquiry Officer, how can it be said
that the Enquiry Officer did not conduct the enquiry in accordance with the
principles 'of natural justice? Mr. Menon has suggested that the Enquiry
Officer should have taken steps to get the witnesses M. P. Menon and Chalakudi
brought before him for giving evidence. This suggestion is clearly untenable.
In a domestic enquiry, the officer holding the enquiry can take no valid or
effective steps to compel the attendance of any witness; just as the appellant
produced its witnesses before the officer, Raghavan should have taken steps to
produce his witnesses. His witness Menon probably took the view that it was
beneath his dignity to appear in a domestic enquiry, and Chalakudi was content
to send an unsigned letter and that too so as to reach the Enquiry Officer on
the day when he was leaving Ernakulam for Bombay. It would be unreasonable to
suggest that in a domestic enquiry, it is the right 'of the charge-sheeted
employee to ask for as many adjournments as he likes. It is true that if it
appears that by refusing to adjourn the hearing at the instance of the
charge-sheeted workman, the Enquiry Officer failed to give the said workman a
reasonable opportunity to lead evidence, that may, in a proper case, be
considered, to introduce an element of infirmity in the enquiry; but in the
circumstances of this case, we do not think it would be possible to draw such
an inference. The record shows that the Enquiry Officer went out of his way to
assist Raghavan; and if the witnesses did not turn up to give evidence in time,
it was not his fault.
We must accordingly hold that the Tribunal
was in error in coming to the conclusion that the enquiry suffered from the
infirmity that it was conducted contrary to the principles of natural justice.
Let us then consider whether the dismissal of
Raghavan is actuated by malafides, or amounts to victimisation. In regard to
the plea of victimisation, the Tribunal has definitely found against the
respondent. "I do not for a moment believe", says the Tribunal,
"that the management foisted a 561 case against the ex-worker. Regarding
the allegation of victimisation, there is no sufficient evidence in the case
that the management 'or its Manager Mr. John was motivated with victimisation
or unfair labour practice". This finding is quite clearly in favour of the
appellant. The Tribunal, however, thought that because the Enquiry Officer did
not give an adjournment to Raghavan to examine his witnesses that introduced an
element of malafides. It has also observed that since the case against Raghavan
did not fall within the purview of standing order 22(viii) and yet, the
appellant framed a charge against Raghavan under that standing order, that
introduced another element of malafides. It is on these grounds that the
conclusion as to malafides recorded by the Tribunal seems to rest.
In regard to the first ground, we have
already held that the Tribunal was not justified in blaming the Enquiry Officer
for not adjourning the case beyond 31st December, 1955. In regard to the second
ground, we are surprised that the Tribunal should have taken the view that
since in its opinion, standing order 22(viii) did not apply to the facts of
this case, the framing of the charge under the said standing 'order and the
finding of the domestic Tribunal in favour of the appellant on that ground
showed malafides. It seems to us that the Tribunal has completely overlooked an
elementary principle of judicial approach that even if a judge or Tribunal may
reach an erroneous conclusion either of fact or of law, the mere error of the
conclusion does not make the conclusion malafiedes. Besides, as we have just
indicated, on the merits we are satisfied that the Tribunal was in error in
holding that standing order 22(viii) did not apply.
Therefore, the finding of the Tribunal that
the dismissal of Raghavan was malafide, cannot possibly be sustained.
There is one more point which has been
press-Id before us by Mr. Menon. In Phulbari Tea Estate v. Its Workmen,(1) this
Court has held that even if a domestic enquiry is found to be defective, the
employer may seek to justify the dismissal of his employee by leading evidence
before the Tribunal to which an industrial dispute arising out of the impugned
dismissal has been referred for adjudication. Mr. Menon contends that by parity
of reasoning, in cases where the employee is unable to lead his evidence before
the domestic Tribunal for no fault of his own, a similar opportunity should be
given to him to prove his case in proceedings before the Industrial Tribunal.
In our opinion, this contention is not well-founded. The decision in the case
of Phulbari Tea Estate (supra) proceeds on the basis which is of basic
importance in industrial adjudication that findings properly recorded in (1)
 1 S.C.R. 32.
562 domestic enquiries which are conducted
fairly, cannot be reexamined by Industrial adjudication unless the said
findings are either perverse, or are not supported by any evidence, or some
other valid reason 'of that character. In such a case, the fact that the
finding is not accepted by the Industrial Tribunal would not necessarily
preclude the employee from justifying the dismissal of his employee on the
merits, provided, of course, he leads evidence before the Industrial Tribunal
and persuades the Tribunal to accept his case. That, however, is very
-different from a case like the present. In the case before us, the enquiry has
been fair, the Enquiry Officer gave Raghavan ample opportunity to lead his
evidence. If at reasonable opportunity had been denied to the employee, that
would have made the enquiry itself bad and then, the employer would have been
required to prove his case before the Industrial Tribunal, and in dealing with
the dispute, the Industrial Tribunal would have been justified in completely
ignoring in the findings of the domestic enquiry. But if the enquiry has been
fairly conducted, it means that all reasonable opportunity has been given to
the employee to prove his case by leading evidence. In such a case, how can the
court hold that merely because the witnesses did not appear to give evidence in
support of the employee's case, he should be allowed to lead such evidence
before the Industrial Tribunal. If this plea is upheld, no domestic enquiry
would be effective and in every case, the matter would have to be tried afresh
by the Industrial Tribunal. Therefore, we are not prepared to accede to Mr.
Menon's argument that the Tribunal was justified in considering the merits of
the dispute for itself in the present reference proceedings.
Since the enquiry has been fairly conducted,
and the findings recorded therein are based on evidence which is believed,
there would be no justification for the Industrial Tribunal to consider the
same facts for itself. Findings properly recorded at such enquiries are binding
on the parties, unless, of course, it is known that the said findings are
perverse, or are not based on any evidence.
There is yet another point which remains to
The Industrial Tribunal appears to have taken
the view that since criminal proceedings had been started against Raghavan, the
domestic enquiry should have been stayed pending the final disposal of the said
As this Court has held in the Delhi Cloth and
General Mills Ltd. v. Kushal Bhan,(1) it is desirable that if the incident
giving rise to a charge framed against a workman in a domestic enquiry is being
tried in a criminal court, the employer, should stay the domestic enquiry
pending the final disposal of the criminal case. It would be particularly
appropriate to (1)  3 S.C.R. 227.
563 adopt such a course where the charge
against the workman is of a grave character, because in such a case, it would
be unfair to compel the workman to disclose the defence which he may take
before the criminal court. But to say that domestic enquiries may be stayed
pending criminal trial is very different from saying that if an employer
proceeds with the domestic enquiry in spite of the fact that the criminal trial
is pending, the enquiry for that reason alone is vitiated and the conclusion
reached in such an enquiry is either bad in law or malafide. In fairness, we
ought to add that Mr. Menon did not seek to justify this extreme position.
Therefore, we must hold that the Industrial Tribunal was in error when it
characterised the result of the domestic enquiry as malafide partly because the
enquiry was not stayed pending the criminal proceedings against Raghavan. We
accordingly hold that the domestic enquiry in this case was properly held and
fairly conducted and the conclusions of fact reached by the Enquiry Officer are
based on evidence which he accepted as true. That being so, it was not open to
the Industrial Tribunal to reconsider the same questions of fact and come to a
The result is, the appeal is allowed. The
order passed by the Industrial Tribunal is set aside and the reference made to
it is answered in favour of the appellant. Before we part with this appeal, we
ought to add that Mr. Pai for the appellant has fairly offered to pay ex gratia
Rs. 1,000/to Raghavan in addition to the amount which has already been paid to
him by the appellant in pursuance of the order of this Court granting stay to
the appellant pending the final disposal of the present appeal. There would be
no order as to costs.