Rajasthan High Court: A Division Bench of S. Muralidhar, CJ and R.K. Pattanaik J. dismissed the petition and upheld the judgment by CGIT, Bhubaneshwar declining the prayer of the Petitioner as regards the maintainability of the dispute before it.
The facts of the case are such that Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Ltd. filed the instant petition questioning an order dated 24-01-2011 passed by the Central Government Industrial Tribunal, Bhubaneswar (CGIT) deciding the preliminary issue of maintainability against the Petitioner and in favour of Opposite Party 2-Workers’ Union. The present dispute has its origins in an order dated 14th September 1992 passed by the Central Government referring the dispute in regard to the benefit of special TA/DA and in the matter of holidays or festivals.
Counsel for the petitioner Mr. N.K. Mishra submitted that Section 7-B (1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (ID Act) which sets out the conditions under which the Central Government “may, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute one or more National Industrial Tribunals for adjudication of the industrial disputes”. The two conditions are that (i) the dispute should involve questions of national importance or (ii) are of such a nature that the industrial establishment situated in more than one State is likely to be interested in or effected by such disputes. According to Mr. Mishra the nature of the dispute referred for adjudication by the Central Government in the present case satisfies both the above requirements. Thus, the word ‘may’ occurring in Section 7-B ID Act should be read as ‘shall’.
It was further submitted by the petitioner’s counsel that Section 7-B of the ID Act should be read with Section 10 (1-A) of the ID Act which states that if an industrial dispute involves question of national importance or is of such nature that industrial establishment situated in more than one State are likely to be interested in or affected by such dispute, the Central Government “may, whether or not it is the appropriate Government in relation to that dispute, at any time, by order in writing referred the dispute for any matter appearing to be connected with, or relevant to, the dispute, whether it relates to any matter specified in the Second Schedule or the Third Schedule, to a National Tribunal for adjudication”.
The Court observed that the expression used both in Section 7-A as well as Section 10 (I-A) of the ID Act is ‘may’ as qualifying what the Central Government can do. It is not mandatory for the Central Government, even if the twin conditionality are satisfied, to refer the disputes for adjudication to a National Tribunal. It may so happen that because of the placement of the parties, the dispute can well be adjudicated by a geographically proximate Tribunal. For instance, in the present case, although the Union which is espousing the workmen’s cause is located in Ranchi, the Petitioner has its Offices in all over India and therefore, vis-à-vis both the parties, a CGIT at Bhubaneswar would be proximate and convenient for them to adjudicate the dispute.
The Court remarked in the present day and age, when there are virtual courts, it is now possible for a Tribunal in Bhubaneswar to examine witnesses virtually all over the country, and therefore that inconvenience is a thing of the past and secondly, this dispute has been pending for more than three decades now and the Court does not consider it expedient at this stage to require the dispute to be referred to a National Tribunal for parties to start all over again before that Tribunal. That would be most inconvenient to all the parties.
The Court further observed that in terms of Section 7-B of the ID Act read with Section 10 (1-A) thereof it is not mandatory for the Central Government to make a reference of a dispute which is of national importance to a National Tribunal.
The Court held “the Court is not persuaded that in the present case, the CGIT has erred in declining the prayer of the Petitioner as regards the maintainability of the dispute before the CGIT, Bhubaneswar.” [Om Prakash Kumawat v. Hero Housing Finance Ltd., S.B. Civil Writ Petition No. 6199/2022, decided on 11-05-2022]
For Petitioner(s): Mr. Prahlad Sharma
For Respondent(s): Mr. Pramod Kumar