Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed seeking to quash or set aside the impugned award and declare that respondent 1 is not entitled for any relief much less the relief granted by impugned award wherein the Labour Court directed the reinstatement of the respondent workman, along with full back wages and continuity of services. Chandra Dhari Singh, J., upheld the decision of the Labour Court in favor of the respondent workman based on evidence supporting the respondent workman’s claim of continuous service preceding the termination of employment.

Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute (petitioner) is an institute financed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It primarily focuses on research in chest and allied diseases and provides medical facilities. A workman (respondent) worked as a casual and daily wager pump operator at the petitioner hospital since 1985, with a last drawn salary of Rs. 1300/- per month. Allegedly, the respondent’s services were illegally terminated on 10-05-1991. In response to the alleged illegal termination, the respondent workman raised an industrial dispute by issuing a demand notice on 06-06-1991. Eventually, on 20-08-1992, the dispute was referred to the Labour Court, Karkardoama, Delhi for adjudication. During the proceedings, the petitioner Hospital contested the maintainability of the dispute, arguing that it cannot be considered an industry under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (ID Act). Following the completion of the proceedings, the Labour Court passed an award in favor of the respondent workman on 29-07-2002, directing the petitioner hospital to reinstate the respondent with full back wages and continuity of services. As the petitioner hospital failed to implement the award, the respondent workman served a demand notice on 11-09-2002, requesting implementation, which went unanswered. Subsequently, the respondent workman filed an application under Section 33C(1) of the ID Act for execution of the award. A recovery certificate was issued on April 4, 2003, for Rs. 3,03,554 covering the period from 10-05-1991 to 30-09-1992. Displeased with the award dated 29-07-2002, the petitioner hospital filed a petition before the court seeking to quash the award.

Counsel for petitioner challenged the jurisdiction of the Labour Court in adjudicating the dispute. It was contended that the Hospital, being a medical institution, does not qualify as an industry under the Industrial Disputes Act (ID Act), thus rendering the Labour Court’s decision invalid. Additionally, it was argued that the dispute was referred by the State Government instead of the appropriate authority, the Union of India, further questioning the legality of the referral. The petitioner also raised concerns regarding the respondent workman’s absence from duty, alleging that notifications were issued regarding the matter, which were allegedly denied by the respondent during the proceedings. Furthermore, the petitioner highlighted the respondent’s failure to report for duty until 2003, suggesting that the respondent’s primary interest lies in monetary recovery rather than reinstatement. Finally, the petitioner disputed the Labour Court’s directive for reinstatement, asserting that the respondent failed to substantiate claims of having worked for more than 240 days preceding the alleged termination.

Counsel for respondent challenged the validity of the petition itself, citing a significant delay of two years in its filing and the absence of substantial legal questions raised therein. The respondent argued that the Labour Court’s decision was based on a proper appreciation of facts and records, without any legal irregularities. It was further contended that efforts were made to resolve the dispute amicably, but the petitioner’s lack of cooperation necessitated the filing of the claim. Additionally, the respondent pointed out that the petitioner’s own witness admitted to not issuing any letter calling for the respondent’s resumption of duty. Therefore, the respondent asserted that the petition lacked merit and legal standing, urging the court to dismiss it accordingly.

Relying on Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage Board v. A. Rajappa, (1978) 2 SCC 213, the Court noted that the hospitals, despite being non-profit institutions, qualify as part of an industry under the Industrial Disputes Act due to the services they render, based on the interpretation of Section 2(j) of the ID Act, which defines “industry” broadly enough to encompass entities providing services, such as hospitals. The court noted that while a previous ruling on a similar matter is under review by a larger bench, until a new decision is made, the original ruling stands as the law of the land. This observation underscores the importance of adhering to existing legal precedents until they are overturned or modified through due process. The court examined the validity of the State Government’s authority to refer disputes for adjudication. It observes that this authority is supported by a notification issued by the Union of India in 1975, entrusting State Governments with the power to refer disputes. Furthermore, the court cites previous legal judgments upholding the validity of such notifications, confirming the legitimacy of the State Government’s actions in this regard.

The court delved into the respondent workman’s continuous service preceding the termination of employment. It noted that despite the petitioner Hospital’s contention that the burden of proof lies with the respondent, evidence such as attendance records from the relevant period supported the respondent’s claim of continuous service. This observation highlighted the importance of assessing the evidence presented in determining the outcome of disputes. The court acknowledged the significant delay in resolving the case, spanning over two decades. It expressed concern over the impact of this delay on economically disadvantaged litigants, emphasizing the importance of timely access to justice. This observation underscored the need for efficient judicial processes to uphold the rights of all citizens and maintain public trust in the legal system.

The Court upheld the validity of the State Government’s authority to refer the dispute for adjudication citing a notification issued by the Union of India entrusting such powers to the State Governments, which had been upheld by previous legal judgments. Thus, the Court found no illegality with the impugned award dated 29-07-2002, passed by the Labour Court.

[Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute v. Nishikesh Tyagi, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 1214, decided on 01-02-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. M.K. Singh, Advocate for petitioner

Mr. Jawahar Raja, Ms. Meghna De, Ms. L.Gangmei and Ms. Aditi, Advocates for respondents

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