State of Karnataka
& ANR. Vs. Ravi Kumar  INSC 266 (10 February 2009)
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO.845 OF 2009 (arising out
of SLP(C)No.20453 of 2007) STATE OF KARNATAKA & ANR. ... APPELLANTS VERSUS
ORDER Leave granted. Heard the learned counsel.
The respondent claims
that he was appointed as a cleaner on daily wage basis on 26.10.1979 in the
office of the Assistant Executive Engineer, MLB Canal Ramdurg Sub-Divison.
According to him he continued as a daily wager till 14.11.1984 when his
services were dis-continued without any written order.
The respondent did
not protest nor challenge the alleged termination. After 14 years he filed a
writ petition before the High Court seeking a declaration that his termination
from service was in violation of Section 25-F of the Industrial Disputes Act,
1947('Act' for short) and for re-instatement as a cleaner with back wages from
the date of his termination till date of reinstatement with continuity of
service and other consequential benefits. The learned Single Judge of the High
Court by order dated 16.3.1998 dismissed the writ petition as not maintainable,
with an observation that the respondent may give a representation to the State Government
and the State 2 Government may consider whether the dispute should be referred
under Section 10(1) (c) of the Act.
Taking advantage of
the said observation, respondent sought reference and the State Government made
a reference to the Labour Court, Hubli. The respondent filed a claim before the
Labour Court reiterating the reliefs claimed in the writ petition. The State
Government was not a party before the Labour Court. The Asstt.
who was the sole respondent inter alia contended that the reference was stale
having been made after 14 to 15 years and denied that respondent had served in
his office. The Labour Court rejected the reference by its award dated
30.07.2001. The said award has been set aside by the High Court in a writ petition
filed by the respondent, by order dated 23.03.2006 with a direction to the
State Government and the Asstt. Executive Engineer to reinstate the respondent
without any back wages. The said order is under challenge in this appeal by
This Court has
repeatedly held that stale claims should not be referred - vide Nedungadi Bank
Ltd. vs. K.P. Madhavankutty and others - 2000(2) SCC 455 and Assistant
Executive Engineer,Karnataka vs. Shivalinga-2002(10)SCC 167. We may also refer
to the decision in Regional Provident Fund Commissioner vs. K.T.
Rolling Mills - 1995
(1) SCC 181 wherein this Court observed that when a power is conferred by
statute without mentioning the period within which it could be invoked, the
same has to be done within reasonable period, as all powers must be exercised
reasonably, and exercise of the same within reasonable period would be a facet
3 In this case the
respondent did not choose to challenge the termination for 14 years. Merely
because some other daily wagers had got some relief, he belatedly approached
the High Court in 1998. The writ petition was dismissed with an observation
that the respondent was at liberty to make an application seeking reference.
The contention of the respondent that reference was made on the direction of
the High Court is not therefore correct. As the reference was stale, it ought
to have been rejected on that ground alone. It is not possible to expect the
Asstt. Executive to prove after 14 years that the daily wager did not work or
that he did not work for 240 days in a year or that the daily wager voluntarily
left the work. Further when the State Government was not a party before the
Labour Court, the respondent could not implead the State Government as a party
in the writ petition challenging the award, nor can the High Court grant any
relief against the State Government.
We, therefore, allow
this appeal and set aside the impugned order of the High Court and restore the
order of dismissal by the Labour Court, though on different grounds.
( R.V. RAVEENDRAN )
( MARKANDEY KATJU )