Calcutta High Court emphasises adherence to competent court’s order; set asides Tribunal decision on appeal’s maintainability

calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a writ petition challenging the order passed by the Central Government Industrial Tribunal cum Labour Court, Asansol (the Tribunal) dismissing the petitioners’ appeal on the ground of limitation, a single-judge bench comprising of Raja Basu Chowdhury,* J., sets aside the Tribunal’s order, allowing the appeal to be heard on merits in compliance with the High Court’s direction. The Court held that challenging the maintainability of the appeal at this stage would be impermissible since both parties accepted and acted upon the orders of the High Court.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the petitioners, engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling steel TMT bars, steel blades, etc., challenged the order dated 30-03-2023, passed by the Tribunal, dismissing their appeal on grounds of limitation.

The petitioners had filed a writ petition before the High Court challenging determinations under Sections 7A and 7Q of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 (the Act) for the period June 2008 to March 2012. The High Court, by an order dated 29-03-2022, granted liberty to appeal within a fortnight, conditionally staying the demand, subject to depositing Rs. 17,04,560/-. The petitioners complied, and the appeal was filed before the Tribunal on 13-04-2022. The Tribunal, lacking territorial jurisdiction, returned the appeal. The petitioners refiled it on 09-02-2023, resulting in the impugned order of 30-03-2023.

Moot Point

  1. Whether the Tribunal has the power to condone the delay in filing an appeal beyond 120 days?

  2. Whether the Tribunal properly considered the direction issued by the High Court and the circumstances leading to the delay?

Parties’ Contentions

The petitioners argued that the Tribunal had the power to condone the delay beyond 120 days under Rule 7(2) of the Employees Provident Fund Appellate Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 1997. The petitioners emphasised the High Court’s direction to hear the appeal on merits and cited precedents supporting the Tribunal’s power to condone delays. The respondents contended that the Tribunal correctly dismissed the appeal, highlighting the absence of a proper explanation for condoning the delay and arguing the Tribunal lacked power beyond 120 days.

Court’s Assessment

The Court acknowledged the compliance with previous orders and the Tribunal’s dismissal based on a wrong question regarding the applicability of Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963. The Court, considering the circumstances, found the Tribunal’s focus on Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 misplaced and noted that Section 14, not Section 5, was applicable. The Court observed that the Tribunal overlooked the direction issued by the High Court, which both parties had accepted, and Rule 21 of the said Rules could have been applied to ensure compliance with the High Court’s direction. The Court held that the Tribunal erred in ignoring the High Court’s direction and should have applied Rule 21 for compliance.

The Court, relying on Consolidated Engineering v. Irrigation Department, (2008) 7 SCC 169, clarified that while the Tribunal couldn’t extend the limitation period, it could consider special circumstances and adhere to the High Court’s directions.

The Court held that challenging the maintainability of the appeal at this stage would be impermissible since both parties accepted and acted upon the orders of the High Court. The Court, considering the bonafide conduct of the petitioners, set aside the Tribunal’s order and directed the Tribunal to hear the appeal on merits.

Court’s Decision

The writ petition is allowed, and the orders dated 30-03-2023 dismissing the appeal and the connected application are set aside. The appeal before the Central Government Administrative Tribunal shall be heard on merits. No costs were awarded.

[Amit Metaliks Ltd. v. Central Government Industrial Tribunal-Cum-Labour Court, 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 5551, order dated 22-12-2023]]

*Judgment by Justice Raja Basu Chowdhury

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. Surojit Dasgupta, Ms. Tanishka Khandelwal and Ms. Sanchari Chakraborty, Counsel for the Petitioners

Ms. Aparna Banerjee, Counsel for the Respondents

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