Ramnagar Cane and Sugar Co. Ltd. Vs.
Jatin Chakravorty & Ors  INSC 106 (5 May 1960)
GUPTA, K.C. DAS
CITATION: 1960 AIR 1012
CITATOR INFO :
D 1969 SC 306 (11) R 1978 SC 828 (13) R 1980
SC 115 (46)
Subversive Activity-Public utility
concern-Strike by workmen pending conciliation with rival union-Settlement, if
binding on all workmcn-Legality of strike-West Bengal Security Act, 1950 (W. B.
XIX of 1950), S. 2(g)(e), Expl.
(ii)-Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (14 Of
18(3)(d), 22(1)(d), 24(1)(1).
Where two rival unions of workmen in a public
utility concern, a sugar industry, present demands covering the entire body of
workmen and while one of them carries on conciliation proceedings with the
employer the other commences a strike, any settlement, arrived at in such
conciliation proceedings must bind all the employees under S. 18(3)(d) of the Industrial
Disputes Act, 1947, and the strike must, on a reasonable construction of the
provisions of S. 22(1)(d) of the Act, amount to a contravention of it and must
be illegal under S. 24(1)(1) of the Act.
It was not necessary, in order to bind the
workmen to the settlement arrived at before the conciliator, to show that they
belonged to the union which took part in the conciliation proceedings, since
the policy underlying s. 18 of the Act is to give an extended operation to such
The Associated Cement Company Ltd., Porbandar
v. Their Workmen, [196O] 3 S.C.R. 57 and M/s. New India Motors (P) Ltd. v. K.
T. Morris,  3 S.C.R. 350, referred to.
Consequently, where the courts below, on an
erroneous view of the law, acquitted certain workmen of the offence of
subversive activity for joining an illegal strike under s. 11 of the West
Bengal Security Act, 1950, on the ground that the rival union to which they
belonged was not a party to the conciliation proceedings, such acquittal must be
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 96 of 1959.
Appeal by special leave from the judgment and
order dated August 19, 1957, of the Calcutta High Court in Criminal Revision
No. 1577 of 1956, arising out of the judgment and order dated August 3, 1956,
of the Magistrate, First Class, at Krishnagar, Nadia, in G. R. Case No. 69 of
C. K. Daphtary, Solicitor-General of India
and P. K. Chatterjee, for the appellant.
The respondent did not appear.
969 1960. May 5. The Judgment of the Court
",as delivered by GAJENDRAGADKAR, J.-This appeal by special leave raises a
short question about the construction and effect of the provisions of s.
22(1)(d) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 14 of 1947, (hereinafter called the
Act). The appellant, Ramnagar Cane & Sugar Co. Ltd., Calcutta, is a company
incorporated under the Indian Companies Act and carries on the business of
manufacturing sugar which is an essential commodity in its factory at Plassev
in the District of Nadia. The appellant was declared a public utility concern
or service by a notification duly issued in that behalf on October 8, 1953. The
appellant employs in its business about 545 permanent men and 703 seasonal men
excluding casual labourers. A majority of the workmen employed by the appellant
belong to the Ramnagar Cane & Sugar Co. Employees' Union (hereinafter
called the Employees' Union), whereas a minority of workmen belong to the rival
Union called Ramnagar Sugar Mill Workers' Union (hereinafter called the
Workers' Union). It appears that on December 9, 1953, the Workers' Union
presented a charter of demands to the appellant. This was followed by a similar
charter of demands by the Employees' Union on January 20,1954. On the same day
the Workers' Union served a notice of strike on the appellant. On February 1,
1954, a meeting was held before the Conciliation Officer which was attended by
the Employees' Union and the appellant. A notice of the said meeting had been
served on the Workers' Union as well. On February 2,1954, the appellant
suggested to the conciliation officer that it should discuss the matter
separately with the representatives of the two Unions but to this suggestion
the Workers' Union took an objection. Thereupon the said Union informed the
conciliation officer that it assumed that the conciliation had failed.
Consequently on February 3, 1954, the conciliation officer sent his report
under s. 12, sub-s. (4) of the Act about the failure of conciliation with the
Workers' Union only. On February 25, 1954, the appellant and the Employees'
Union arrived at a settlement, and it was recorded in the form of a memo 970 of
settlement which was duly signed by both the parties.
Meanwhile, on February 13, 1954, the Workers'
Union commenced a strike. As a result of this strike a criminal complaint was
filed against the eleven respondents under s. 11 of the West Bengal Security
Act, XIX of 1950, and a charge was subsequently framed against them.
The case as formulated in the charge against
the said respondents was that on or about February 13, 1954, at Plassey each
one of them did commit subversive acts which were intended or likely to impede,
delay or restrict the work of Ramnagar Cane & Sugar Co. Ltd., which was a
public utility concern for production of sugar, an essential commodity. The
respondents pleaded not guilty to the charge substantially on the ground that
the strike in question was not illegal. It was not denied that they had gone on
strike on February 13, 1954; it was, however, urged that since the strike was
lawful the offence charged could not be said to be proved. The learned
magistrate upheld the respondents' plea and acquitted the respondents. The
appellant challenged the correctness of the said order of acquittal by
preferring a revisional application before the Calcutta High Court. Its
revisional application, however, failed since the High Court held that the
strike was not illegal and agreed with the conclusion of the trial magistrate. The
appellant then applied for a certificate before the said High Court but its
application was dismissed. Then the appellant applied for and obtained special
leave from this Court; and the only point which is raised on its behalf before
us is that in coming to the conclusion that the strike in question was not
illegal the Courts below have misconstrued the provisions of s. 22(1)(d) of the
Before we consider this point it is relevant
to refer to the relevant provisions of the West Bengal Security Act.
Section 11 of this Act provides Chat if any
person commits any subversive act he shall be punish. able with imprisonment
for a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both. Section
2(9)(e) defines a subversive act as meaning any act which is intended or is
likely to impede, delay or restrict971 (i) any work or operation, or (ii) any
means of transport or locomotion,-necessary for the production, procurement,
supply or distribution of any essential commodity, except in furtherance of an industrial
dispute as defined in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Explanation (ii) to
this definition provides that an illegal strike or an illegal lock-out as
defined in s. 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, shall not be deemed to
be an act in furtherance of an industrial dispute for the purposes of sub-el.
(e). It is thus clear that if the impugned strike is held to be illegal it
would constitute a subversive act as defined by s. 2(9)(e) of the West Bengal
Security Act. This position has been accepted in the courts below. That is why
the only question which arises for our decision is whether the strike in
question is an illegal strike under s. 24 of the Act.
Section 24 of tile Act provides, inter alia,
that a strike shall be illegal if it is commenced or declared in contravention
of s. 22 or s. 23. That takes us to the provisions of s. 22, and we have to
find out whether in commencing the strike on February 13, 1954, the respondents
had contravened the provisions of s. 22(1)(d) of the Act, Section 22(1)(d) lays
down that no person employed in a public utility service shall go on strike in
breach of contract during the pendency of any conciliation proceedings before a
conciliation officer and seven days after the conclusion of such proceedings.
The effect of this provision is clear. If a strike is declared in a public
utility service during the pendency of a conciliation proceeding it is illegal.
Was any conciliation proceeding pending between the appellant and the
respondents at the relevant time ? That is the question which calls for an answer
in the present appeal. The respondents contend that the Workers' Union to which
they belonged had left the conciliation proceedings on February 2,1954, and
that in fact the conciliation officer had submitted his failure report to that
effect on February 3, 1954; and so, between the Workers' Union and the
appellant no conciliation proceeding was pending after February 5, 1954, in any
case when the Government received the failure report of the 972 conciliation
officer. On the other hand, the appellant contends that conciliation
proceedings with the Employees' Union continued until February 25, 1954, and in
fact settlement was arrived at between the parties on that date and duly signed
by them. The appellant's argument is that the pendency of the conciliation proceedings
between the appellant and the Employees' Union makes illegal the strike in
which the respondents joined on February 13, 1954. The High Court has held that
since it is not shown that the respondents belong to the Employees' Union it
would not be possible to hold that any conciliation proceedings was pending
between them and the appellant. It is the correctness of this view that is
challenged before us.
In appreciating the merits of the rival
contentions thus raised in this appeal it is necessary to bear in mind the
scheme of the Act. It is now well settled that an industrial dispute can be
raised in regard to any matter only when it is sponsored by a body of workmen
acting through a union or otherwise. When an industrial dispute is thus raised and
is decided either by settlement or by an award the scope and effect of its
operation is prescribed by s. 18 of the Act. Section 18(1) provides that a
settlement arrived at by agreement between the employer and the workman
otherwise than in the course of conciliation proceeding shall be binding on the
parties to the agreement; whereas s.
18(3) provides that a settlement arrived at
in the course of conciliation proceedings which has become enforceable shall be
binding on all the parties specified in cls. (a), (b), (c) and (d) of sub-s.
(3). Section 18(3)(d) makes it clear that, where a party referred to in cl. (a)
or (b) is composed of workmen, all persons who were employed in the
establishment or part of the establishment, as the case may be, to which the dispute
relates on the date of the dispute and all persons who subsequently become
employed in that establishment or part, would be bound by the settlement. In
other words, there can be no doubt that the settlement arrived at between the
appellant and the Employees' Union during the course of conciliation
proceedings on February 25, 1954, would bind not only the members of the said
Union but all workmen 973 employed in the establishment of the appellant at
That inevitably means that the respondents
would be bound by the said settlement even though they may belong to the rival
Union. In order to bind the workmen it is not necessary to show that the said
workmen belong to the Union which was a party, to the dispute before the
conciliator. The whole policy of s. 18 appears to be to give an extended
operation to the settlement arrived at in the course of conciliation
proceedings, and that is the object with which the four categories of persons
bound by such settlement are specified in s. 18, sub-s. (3). In this connection
we may refer to two recent decisions of this Court where similar questions
under s. 19(6) and s. 33 (1)(a) of the Act have been considered. (Vide: The
Associated Cement Companies Ltd., Porbandar v. Their Workmen(1) and Messrs. New
India Motors (P.) Ltd. v. K. T. Morris (2) ).
This position has an important bearing on the
construction of s. 22(1)(d). When the said provision refers to the pendency of
any conciliation proceedings it must reasonably be construed to mean any
conciliation proceedings which may lead to a settlement before the conciliation
officer and which settlement may bind all the workmen concerned; in other
words, if a conciliation proceeding is pending between one union and the
employer and it relates to matters concerning all the employees of the
employer, the pendency of the said conciliation proceeding would be a bar
against all the employees of the employer employed in a public utility service
to go on a strike during the pendency of the said proceeding under s. 22 (1)(d).
In our opinion, this construction would be consistent with the specific
provisions as to the effect of conciliation settlements prescribed by s.
18(3)(d) and is harmonious with the general policy of the Act; otherwise, it
would unnecessarily disturb industrial peace, if one union employed in a public
utility service is allowed to go on strike even though demands common to the
members of the said union as well as the rest of the workmen are being
considered in conciliation proceedings between the said employer and his other
employees (1)  2 S.C.R. 974.
126 (2)  3 S.C.R. 350.
971 represented by another union. It would be
another matter if the conciliation proceedings in question are confined to
specific demands limited to a specified class of employees.
In such a case it may be contended that the
other workmen who are not interested in the said demands may not be bound by
the said proceedings. That, however, is another aspect of the matter with which
we are not concerned in the present appeal. We have seen the charter of demands
submitted by both the Unions to the appellant, and it is clear that the said
demands cover all employees of the appellant and not only one section of them;
in other words, both the charters have made demands the benefit of which was intended
to accrue to all the workmen of the appellant; they are not demands by one
section of the workmen belonging to one separate part of the establishment run
by the appellant.
The demands made are no doubt by two Unions
but they cover the same ground and in effect they represent the demands made by
the whole body of workmen. In fact the conciliation settlement reached between
the appellant and the Employees' Union has benefited the members of the
Workers' Union as much as those of the Employees' Union. That being so we think
the courts below were in error in putting an unduly narrow and restricted
construction on the provisions of s.
22(1)(d) of the Act. In our opinion, the
pendency of the conciliation proceedings between the appellant and the
Employees' Union attracts the, provisions of s. 22(1)(d) to the strike in
question and makes the said strike illegal under s. 24 (1)(1) of the Act. If
the strike is illegal it follows that the respondents have taken part in a
subversive activity as defined by s. 2(9)(e) of the West Bengal Security Act
and as such have committed an offence punishable under s. 11 of the said Act.
We would accordingly set aside the order of
acquittal passed by the High Court in favour of the respondents and convict
them of the offence charged. The Solicitor-General hag fairly told us that the
appellant has come to this Court not so much for the purpose of pressing for
the conviction of, and a heavy sentence against, the respondents but for
obtaining a decision 975 on the important question of law in regard to the
construction of s. 22 (1)(d) of the Act. Under the circumstances of this case
we think the ends of justice, would be met if we convict the respondents of the
offence charged and direct that each one of them should pay a fine of rupee