Report No. 122
2.16. Since the abolition of the Labour Appellate Tribunal, award of the Labour Court and Industrial Tribunal is challenged either by invoking the jurisdiction of the High Court under Articles 226-227 of the Constitution or by special leave petition to the Supreme Court of India under Article 136 of the Constitution.
Even occasionally they are questioned by a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution to the Supreme Court of India. Article 141 of the Constitution provides that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts, including tribunals and Government, within the territory of India. Obviously, therefore, Supreme Court can bring about uniformity in the matter of industrial relations.
2.17. Industrial disputes occur very frequently. There are a number of statutes which, directly or indirectly, deal with industrial relations. Numerous laws have been enacted for ameliorating the conditions of service of industrial labour. All these statutes provide a fruitful ground for litigation. Undoubtedly some of the statutes provide a mechanism and forum for resolution of disputes under the statute as well as an appellate forum. However, the desirability of introducing uniformity in industrial relations throughout the length and breadth of this country must be kept in view.
On the abolition of the Labour Appellate Tribunal, that function reverted to the Supreme Court. Now if the Supreme Court can deliver the goods expeditiously, the raison d'etre for this report may disappear. If Labour Appellate Tribunal could have justified its existence and continued to be alive, it would not have become necessary to think anew about the subject. There was, of course, one primary defect in the Act setting up the Labour Appellate Tribunal. Unquestionably, the Tribunal under the Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950, was a Tribunal within the meaning of the expression in Articles 136 and 227 of the Constitution.
The Appellate Tribunal held sittings in various States. The constitutional outcome of this situation was that each High Court within whose jurisdiction the Appellate Tribunal held a sitting would have jurisdiction under Article 227 to examine the legality and correctness of its award. A piquant situation arose because of this position.
While all the decisions of the Labour Appellate Tribunal would be binding on the Industrial Tribunal and Labour Court and the expression "Industrial Tribunal" was widely defined by section 2(c) of the Act, yet once the High Court had jurisdiction to interfere, different High Courts took irreconcilable view and the national uniformity again got disturbed and disrupted. While setting up Labour Appellate Tribunal having all-India jurisdiction, it was then not considered advisable to exclude the jurisdiction of the High Court which can now be done under Article 323B(3)(d) of the Constitution.
This glaring lacuna proved counter-productive in as much as while the Labour Appellate Tribunal was intended to bring about uniformity in industrial relations by bringing different awards of different tribunals to a common denominator, yet the High Court, in exercise of its extraordinary jurisdiction, could successfully disrupt the uniformity leaving it again to the Supreme Court to re-introduce the same.
2.18. Thus the question looms large whether the faith reposed in the Supreme Court to bring about uniformity throughout the length and breadth of this country has been fulfilled. Under successive plans, the pace of industrialisation accelerated, and as its necessary corollary, the industrial disputes multiplied. Public sector in this respect behaved almost in the same manner as the private sector and there was phenomenal proliferation of industrial disputes. Conflicting awards multiplied emergence of industrial disputes.
The Supreme Court, with its widest possible jurisdiction, had to deal with this large number of awards by different Industrial Tribunals and even conflicting decisions of the High Courts to bring about a semblance of uniformity in the field of industrial relations. If the Supreme Court had done it expeditiously, no further question could have been raised.
But the phenomenal backlog of cases in the Supreme Court has considerably thwarted the disposal of labour cases by the Supreme Court which alone could bring about uniformity. The greater the delay in disposing of labour cases, the greater the proportionate rise in industrial disputes year after year; and the delay in disposal of labour cases by the Supreme Court is gradually increasing.
Appeals under the labour laws not involving any constitutional interpretation that are coming to the Supreme Court by way of special leave petitions under Article 136 are pending from the year 1973 and the total pendency is 690 as on 1st October, 1987. (See Appendix III, Part A). 953 appeals under labour laws were pending as on 1-1-1986 (See Appendix III, Part B). By the end of 1985, the pendency of cases under the labour laws in the High Courts, except four High Courts, namely, Madras, Calcutta, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, aggregated to 14,818. (See Appendix V).
Some of these matters are over a decade old. Is it to be assumed that during this period of ten years, no industrial dispute of a similar nature arose anywhere else? Can it be kept pending for ten years till the Supreme Court finds time to pronounce its decision on it which may be binding on all Tribunals and Courts so as to bring about uniformity in industrial relations ? Some instance of a revealing nature may be set out here.
A wage board for revising emoluments of working and non-working journalists under Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, was set up under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice Palekar, retired Judge of the Supreme Court in June, 1975. The wage board gave its award on 12-8-1980. It was challenged by some newspaper establishments in the Supreme Court in the year 1980. The writ petition is awaiting disposal in the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, a new wage board has been constituted on 11-7-85 under the Chairmanship of Bachawat, J. The award of the present wage board will supersede the earlier award which is under challenge. What guidance will the present wage board get from the Supreme Court in this situation ? There is such inordinate delay in disposal of all cases, including cases under the labour laws, coming before the Supreme Court that the faith reposed in it that it will expeditiously pronounce its verdict and help in introducing uniformity has been belied.
And, in the absence of the Supreme Court, on the abolition of the Labour Appellate Tribunal, all the labour courts and Industrial Tribunals almost enjoyed finality of their award save under some State statutes. The result is a tremendous lack of uniformity in the awards of the Industrial Tribunals and multiplicity of litigation and proliferation of industrial disputes which very often threaten industrial peace and harmony dislocating the goal set up in the plan documents.
2.19. Industrial sickness has acquired a high visibility. Thousands of units are closed. Textile industry, the fulcrum of the economic activity of Gujarat, is in ruins. Thousands of workmen have been rendered jobless. Can the situation be remedied by a judicial or, say, quasi-judicial process? The entire enquiry in this behalf is for the Ministry of Labour to undertake. Only one limb of it can be examined here, namely, to devise a machinery for bringing about uniformity in industrial relations by setting up a body having an all-India perspective and jurisdiction below the Supreme Court so that industrial strife can be minimised.
2.20. There is almost near unanimity on the question of providing a forum having an all-India jurisdiction and perspective to which an appeal may lie or which may also enjoy some original jurisdiction so that much desired uniformity in industrial relations can be brought about. Since the abolition of the Labour Appellate Tribunal, numerous awards were challenged in the Supreme Court by invoking jurisdiction under Article 136. Decades after, appeals arising out of the special leave petition were heard.
Time, on an average, of two years taken by Labour Appellate Tribunal in disposing of an appeal before it has paled into insignificance when one views the delay in the Supreme Court on which the protagonists of the abolition of Labour Appellate Tribunal reposed faith for expeditious disposal of cases under the labour laws so as to provide the much needed uniformity. Truth has dawned upon them that the Supreme Court will not be able to deliver the goods.
In fact, Supreme Court was not meant to be a regular forum for appeal. Even when Article 136 confers jurisdiction of widest amplitude on the Supreme Court, yet it was to be exercised to deal with legal formulations of general public importance. It was a cryptic saying that even where a point of law is of vital importance to the two parties to the dispute, that by itself would not be sufficient to invite the Supreme Court to entertain the special leave petition. Every question of law cannot be clothed with the garb of an important question of law.
Not only the question of law must be important but it must be of general public importance vital to the community which alone would permit the Supreme Court to entertain a petition for special leave. Undoubtedly, this jurisdiction of widest amplitude was conferred on the Supreme Court so that, without being trammelled by technical arguments as to want of jurisdiction it can reach every nook and cranny to render justice where rank injustice appears to have been perpetrated.
But in a country of India's dimensions and its litigious traditions which have acquired a high visibility profile,1 if the Supreme Court, merely on the feeling that there is some injustice to the party by an award of the Industrial Tribunal, agrees and undertakes to examine the same, it was inherent in the situation that the delay in disposing of the cases coming before it would be inordinate and would accordingly be counter-productive.
That is the present situation. Therefore, there is a revival for the demand of an appellate forum over the Industrial Tribunals having an all-India jurisdiction. In a well-ordered judicial system, it is considered absolutely essential to provide for one appeal as of right with safeguards of a further possible appeal by leave in appropriate cases.
The International Labour Organisation had recommended that workman whose service is terminated must have a right of appeal to a neutral body.2 Supreme Court cannot be a forum for regular appeals as a matter of right. Therefore, an intermediate appellate forum is the need of the day. There is a renewed interest in either devising such a forum, if not the revival of the Labour Appellate Tribunal.
1. Rajiv Dhawan Litigation Explosion in India.
2. I.L.O. Resolution No. 119 of June 1963.
2.21. The first Law Commission recommended that the Legislature should provide for an adequate right of appeal in labour matters either by reviving the Labour Appellate Tribunal or by empowering the High Court to hear appeal in suitable cases.1 Empowering the High Court to hear appeals in labour matters would be a remedy worse than the disease. The High Court did enjoy the jurisdiction to entertain a writ petition against the award of the Industrial Tribunal or even the Labour Appellate Tribunal. The outcome is there for everyone to see. The problem got further accentuated.
1. LCI, Fourteenth Report.
2.22. The representatives of the All-India Trade Union Congress, while conceding in principle the setting up of an all-India forum for entertaining appeals against the award of the Industrial Tribunal, simultaneously submitted that the jurisdiction of the High Court should be excluded. It even went to the extent of suggesting that the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court may be excluded. That would be rather inappropriate. It also expressed an opinion that statute setting up such a forum must provide a time-limit within which the appeals coming before such forum must be disposed of.
2.23. The Indian National Trade Union Congress was of the opinion that at least one appeal should be allowed either to the special Bench of the Supreme Court or to the revived Labour Appellate Tribunal. In any event, the INTUC was in the forefront for demand of the abolition of the Labour Appellate Tribunal, which, having seen the developing scenario, has reconsidered its stand and is in favour of an appellate forum having an all-India jurisdiction and perspective.
2.24. The Law Commission approaches the problem from two different angles. The Law Commission is primarily interested in decentrialisation of administration of justice with a view to reducing the burden on the High Courts and the Supreme Court. Simultaneously, it is of the opinion that matters arising under the labour laws require specialist knowledge of industrial relations, humanities, social sciences, goals of planned economy, targets of planning and, above all, the attainment of the goals of the Constitution as hereinbefore set out.
As pointed out earlier, if lawyers are becoming increasingly specialised, such as labour lawyers, tax lawyers, patent lawyers, even tort lawyers, why should this specialisation be not reflected in the judicial fora and hierarchy ? The notion that most people want the black-robed Judges, well-dressed lawyers and panelled court rooms for the resolution of disputes is a myth. People with problems like people with pain want relief and they want it as quickly as possible.1 This report aims at attaining all the three objectives, keeping in view the present depressing and distressing situation.
1. Chief Justice Burger of the Supreme Court of America in his famous speech "Arbitration, Not Litigation".