Sanghatana (K.V) Mumbai Vs. State of Maharashtra and Others  Insc 1190 (28 November 2007)
K. Thakker & Markandey Katju
APPEAL NO 5458 OF 2007 [Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No.
15199/2007] MARKANDEY KATJU, J.
This appeal has been filed against the impugned judgment dated 16.8.2007 passed
by the High Court of Bombay in Writ Petition No. 1240 of 2007.
Heard learned counsel for the parties and perused the record.
Respondent No. 3, Century Industries Textiles Limited, is a company registered
under the Indian Companies Act, 1956. It had about 7500 employees in its
textile mill at Mumbai which suffered heavy loss due to high increase in the
cost of production and competition both in the domestic as well as
international market. With the object to reduce its operational cost,
agreements dated 6.7.2004 and 5.9.2005 were entered into by the company with
its recognized union for reducing the workforce through an offer of Voluntary
Retirement Scheme (hereinafter in short 'VRS').
there was hardly any success in this exercise, and only about 800 employees
opted for the VRS which left with 6700 employees still on its roll. Finally, a
highly upgraded VRS was offered to the employees unilaterally by the
respondent-company on 13.11.2006 which offer was valid till 12.12.2006. There
was an overwhelming response to the said VRS and more than 6300 employees opted
for the new VRS, and were accordingly relieved from service on payment of VRS
benefits and all other legal dues.
about 275 employees did not accept the abovementioned VRS and 230 of these were
the petitioners before the High Court.
respondent-company further alleged that its manufacturing activities in its
textile mill came to an end on 13.12.2006 since it was left with only 275
workers. All supervisors and departmental heads had left after taking the VRS.
In these circumstances, the respondent-company was constrained to file an
application seeking permission for closure under Section 25-O of the Industrial
Disputes Act (hereinafter in short 'the Act') vide application dated 13.2.2007.
Before the aforesaid application under Section 25-O could be decided, the
respondent-company received a letter dated 5.4.2007 from the Deputy
Commissioner of Labour, Mumbai, a copy of which is Annexure P-1 to this appeal.
This letter states that as per the directions of the Hon'ble Minister for Labour,
Maharashtra Government, a meeting has been convened for discussing the matter
in dispute at 11.00A.M. on 9.4.2007 in the Chambers of the Hon'ble
Minister in Vidhan Bhavan.
response, the respondent-company wrote a letter to the Hon'ble Minister for Labour
dated 11.4.2007 stating that it was willing to discuss the matter in dispute
and would attend the meeting. However, in the same letter dated 11.4.2007 the
respondent-company also mentioned that under Section 25-O(3) of the Industrial
Disputes Act, an application under Section 25-O(1) has to be decided within 60
days, otherwise it would be deemed to have been allowed. Since the application
was made on 13.2.2007, the 60 days' limitation was shortly about to expire and
then the application would be deemed to have been allowed. However, in order to
create a conducive atmosphere for discussing the problems of the remaining
employees who had not taken VRS, the respondent-company was withdrawing its
application under Section 25-O(1), but reserving its right to move fresh
application under Section 25-O as and when necessary. Accordingly, the Commissioner
of Labour, Mumbai by his order dated 12.4.2007 allowed the respondent-company
to withdraw its application under Section 25-O (1).
respondent-company alleged that it could have very easily pretended to discuss
the matter with the workers' Union and bided
its time till 13.4.2007 and then claimed the benefit of deemed grant of
permission for closure. But, instead of doing so, the respondent-company
decided to bona fide explore the possibility of an overall settlement with the
remaining employees. Since that could not have been done within the remaining 4
days, the respondent- company withdrew its application under Section 25-O(1) so
that an attempt for settlement could be made. Thus, the respondent-company
alleged that its conduct was bona fide in seeking withdrawal of its closure
appears, however, that the effort for an amicable settlement failed.
the respondent-company filed fresh application under Section 25- O(1) on
11.5.2007 before the Commissioner of Labour, Mumbai.
appellant, which represents the workmen concerned, opposed the very
entertainment of the second closure application under Section 25-O on the
ground that the first application was withdrawn but without liberty from the
concerned authority to file a fresh application. The appellant filed a writ
petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Bombay High Court
praying that the Deputy Commissioner of Labour should be directed not to take
any further proceedings in relation to the closure application dated 11.5.2007
under Section 25-O. Since that writ petition was dismissed, hence this appeal
by way of Special Leave Petition.
Learned counsel for the appellant has strongly relied on the decision of this
Court in Sarguja Transport Service vs. State Transport Appellate Tribunal, Gwalior
and others AIR 1987 SC 88. He has submitted that in that decision this Court
has laid down that if a writ petition filed in a High Court is withdrawn
without permission to file a fresh writ petition, a second writ petition for
the same relief is barred. Learned counsel for the appellant submitted that in
the order of the Labour Commissioner dated 12.4.2007, a copy of which is
Annexure P-4 to this appeal, it is only mentioned that the applicant company is
allowed to withdraw its application under Section 25- O(1) seeking permission
for closure of its textile mill, but there is no mention in the said order that
the Company is given liberty or permission to file a fresh application under
Section 25-O(1). Accordingly, he submitted that the decision of Sarguja
Transport case (supra) squarely applies to the present case. He submitted that
although the decision in Sarguja Transport case (supra) related to a writ
petition, the ratio of that decision was based on public policy, and hence it
was also application to proceedings under Section 25-O of the Industrial
have carefully examined the decision of the Sarguja Transport Service case
(supra). In the said decision it is mentioned in paragraph 8 as follows:
is common knowledge that very often after a writ petition is heard for some
time when the petitioner or his counsel finds that the Court is not likely to
pass an order admitting the petition, request is made by the petitioner or by
his counsel, to permit the petitioner to withdraw the writ petition without
seeking permission to institute a fresh writ petition. A Court which is unwilling to admit the
petition would not ordinarily grant liberty to file a fresh petition while it
may just agree to permit the withdrawal of the petition."
paragraph 9 of the said decision, it is also mentioned as follows:
we are of the view that the principle underlying R.1 of O. XXIII of the Code
should be extended in the interest of administration of justice to cases of
withdrawal of writ petition also, not on the ground of res judicata but on the
ground of public policy as explained above. It would also discourage the
litigant from indulging in bench-hunting tactics.
are of the opinion that the decision in Sarguja Transport case (supra) has to
be understood in the light of the observations in paragraphs 8 & 9 therein,
which have been quoted above. The said decision was given on the basis of
public policy that, if while hearing the first writ petition the Bench is
inclined to dismiss it, and the learned counsel withdraws the petition so that
he could file a second writ petition before what he regards as a more suitable
or convenient bench, then if he withdraws it he should not be allowed to file a
second writ petition unless liberty is given to do so. In other words,
bench-hunting should not be permitted.
often happens that during the hearing of a petition the Court makes oral
observations indicating that it is inclined to dismiss the petition. At this
stage the counsel may seek withdrawal of his petition without getting a verdict
on the merits, with the intention of filing a fresh petition before a more
convenient bench. It was this malpractice which was sought to be discouraged by
the decision in Sarguja Transport case (supra).
the subject of precedents Lord Halsbury, L.C., said in Quinn v. Leathem, 1901
before discussing the case of Allen v. Flood (1898) AC 1 and what was decided
therein, there are two observations of a general character which I wish to
make, and one is to repeat what I have very often said before, that every
judgment must be read as applicable to the particular facts proved, or assumed
to be proved, since the generality of the expressions which may be found there
are not intended to be expositions of the whole law, but are governed and
qualified by the particular facts of the case in which such expressions are to
be found. The other is that a case is only an authority for what it actually
decides. I entirely deny that it can be quoted for a proposition that may seem
to follow logically from it.
mode of reasoning assumes that the law is necessarily a logical Code, whereas
every lawyer must acknowledge that the law is not always logical at all."
agree with the above observations.
Ambica Quarry Works vs. State of Gujarat & others (1987) 1 SCC 213 (vide paragraph 18) this Court observed:-
"The ratio of any decision must be understood in the background of the
facts of that case. It has been said a long time ago that a case is only an
authority for what it actually decides, and not what logically follows from
Bhavnagar University vs. Palitana Sugar Mills Pvt. Ltd (2003) 2 SCC 111 (vide
paragraph 59), this Court observed:- "It is well settled that a little
difference in facts or additional facts may make a lot of difference in the precedential
value of a decision."
held in Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. & another vs. N.R.Vairamani &
another (AIR 2004 SC 4778), a decision cannot be relied on without disclosing
the factual situation. In the same Judgment this Court also observed:-
"Courts should not place reliance on decisions without discussing as to
how the factual situation fits in with the fact situation of the decision on
which reliance is placed.
of Courts are neither to be read as Euclid`s theorems nor as provisions of the
statute and that too taken out of the context. These observations must be read
in the context in which they appear to have been stated. Judgments of Courts
are not to be construed as statutes. To interpret words, phrases and provisions
of a statute, it may become necessary for judges to embark into lengthy
discussions but the discussion is meant to explain and not to define. Judges
interpret statutes, they do not interpret judgments. They interpret words of
statutes; their words are not to be interpreted as statutes.
London Graving Dock Co. Ltd. vs. Horton (1951 AC 737 at page 761), Lord Mac
matter cannot, of course, be settled merely by treating the ipsissima vertra of
Willes, J. as though they were part of an Act of Parliament and applying the
rules of interpretation appropriate thereto. This is not to detract from the
great weight to be given to the language actually used by that most
Home Office vs. Dorset Yacht Co. (1970 (2) All ER 294) Lord Reid said,
"Lord Atkin`s speech . is not to be treated as if it was a statute
definition; it will require qualification in new circumstances." Megarry,
J. in (1971)1 WLR 1062 observed:
must not, of course, construe even a reserved judgment of Russell L. J. as if
it were an Act of Parliament."
in Herrington v. British Railways Board (1972 (2) WLR 537) Lord Morris said:
is always peril in treating the words of a speech or judgment as though they
are words in a legislative enactment, and it is to be remembered that judicial
utterances are made in the setting of the facts of a particular case."
flexibility, one additional or different fact may make a world of difference
between conclusions in two cases. Disposal of cases by blindly placing reliance
on a decision is not proper. The following words of Lord Denning in the matter
of applying precedents have become locus classicus:
case depends on its own facts and a close similarity between one case and
another is not enough because even a single significant detail may alter the
entire aspect, in deciding such cases, one should avoid the temptation to
decide cases (as said by Cardozo, J. ) by matching the colour of one case
against the colour of another. To decide therefore, on which side of the line a
case falls, the broad resemblance to another case is not at all decisive."
*** *** "Precedent should be followed only so far as it marks the path of
justice, but you must cut the dead wood and trim off the side branches else you
will find yourself lost in thickets and branches.
plea is to keep the path of justice clear of obstructions which could impede it."
have referred to the aforesaid decisions and the principles laid down therein,
because often decisions are cited for a proposition without reading the entire
decision and the reasoning contained therein. In our opinion, the decision of
this Court in Sarguja Transport case (supra) cannot be treated as a Euclid's formula.
the present case, we are satisfied that the application for withdrawal of the
first petition under Section 25-O(1) was made bona fide because the
respondent-company had received a letter from the Deputy Labour Commissioner on
5.4.2007 calling for a meeting of the parties so that an effort could be made
for an amicable settlement. In fact, the respondent- company could have waited
for the expiry of 60 days from the date of filing of its application under
Section 25-O(1), on the expiry of which the application would have deemed to
have been allowed under Section 25- O(3). The fact that it did not do so, and
instead applied for withdrawal of its application under Section 25-O(1), shows
its bona fide. The respondent- company was trying for an amicable settlement,
and this was clearly bona fide, and it was not a case of bench hunting when it
found that an adverse order was likely to be passed against it. Hence, Sarguja
Transport case (supra) is clearly distinguishable, and will only apply where
the first petition was withdrawn in order to do bench hunting or for some other
mala fide purpose.
agree with the learned counsel for the appellant that although the Code of
Civil Procedure does not strictly apply to proceedings under Section 25-O(1) of
the Industrial Disputes Act, or other judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings
under in any other Act, some of the general principles in the CPC may be
applicable. For instance, even if Section 11 of the CPC does not in terms
strictly apply because both the proceedings may not be suits, the general
principle of res judicata may apply vide Pondicherry Khadi & Village
Industries Board vs. P. Kulothangan and another 2004 (1) SCC 68. However, this
does not mean that all provisions in the CPC will strictly apply to proceedings
which are not suits.
Learned counsel for the appellant has relied on an observation in the decision
of this Court in U.P. State Brassware Corporation Ltd. vs. Uday Narain Pandey
2006(1) SCC 479, in paragraph 38 of which it is stated:
7 Rule 7 of the Code of Civil Procedure confers powers upon the court to mould
relief in a given situation. The provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure are
applicable to the proceedings under the Industrial Disputes Act.
may be noted that the observation in the aforesaid decision that the provisions
of the CPC are applicable to proceedings under the Industrial Disputes Act was
made in the context of Order 7 Rule 7 of the Code of Civil Procedure which
confers powers upon the court to mould relief in a given situation. Hence, the
aforesaid observation must be read in its proper context, and it cannot be
interpreted to mean that all the provisions of the CPC will strictly apply to
proceedings under the Industrial Disputes Act.
doubt, Order XXIII Rule Rule 1(4) CPC states that where the plaintiff withdraws
a suit without permission of the court, he is precluded from instituting any
fresh suit in respect of the same subject matter.
in our opinion, this provision will apply only to suits. An application under
Section 25-O(1) is not a suit, and hence, the said provision will not apply to
such an application.
Learned counsel for the appellant has relied upon Section 25-O (5) of the Act
which states :
order of the State Government granting or refusing to grant permission shall,
subject to the provisions of sub-section (6), be final and binding on all the
parties and shall remain in force for one year from the date of such
Leaned counsel submitted that the order of the Labour Commissioner dated
12.4.2007 allowing the respondent-company to withdraw its closure application
dated 1.2.2007 should be deemed to be an order refusing to grant permission,
and hence a fresh application under Section 25-O(1) could not be filed before
the expiry of one year from the date of the said order. We do not agree. In our
opinion, Section 25-O(5) only applies when an order is passed on merits either
granting or refusing to grant permission for closure.
in the present case no order on merits was passed, but only an order permitting
withdrawal of the closure application was passed, Section 25-O(5) has no
For the reasons given above this appeal fails and is hereby dismissed.
shall be no order as to costs.
Since it has been alleged by the respondent-company that it is suffering a
liability of Rs. 2.84 lakhs per day although the Mill is lying closed and the
concerned workers are getting wages for doing nothing for a long time, we
direct that the petitioner's application dated 11.5.2007 be decided very
expeditiously by the concerned authority in accordance with law, preferably
within a period of two months of production of copy of this order to it.