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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Punishment of dismissal from service is harsh and disproportionate and the same has to be set aside.= CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10125 OF 2014 (Arising out of SLP (Civil) 37619/2012) COLLECTOR SINGH ...Appellant Versus L.M.L. LTD., KANPUR ..Respondent

                                                                  REPORTABLE

                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                       CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10125  OF 2014
                   (Arising out of SLP (Civil) 37619/2012)


COLLECTOR SINGH                                    ...Appellant

                                   Versus

L.M.L. LTD., KANPUR                              ..Respondent



                               J U D G M E N T



R. BANUMATHI, J.



            Leave granted.
2.           Whether  the  punishment  of  dismissal  from  service  of  the
appellant is disproportionate to the act of misconduct  proved  against  the
appellant and whether the concurrent findings of the Courts  below  need  to
be interfered with are the points falling for consideration in this appeal.
3.          Brief facts which led to  the  filing  of  this  appeal  are  as
follows:-  The  appellant  was  working  as  a  semi-skilled  workman  since
15.8.1986 in the respondent-company, namely, M/s.  L.M.L.  Limited  (Scooter
Unit), Kanpur. The appellant was served with  a  charge-sheet  on  18.4.1992
stating that on that date, he threw  jute/cotton  waste  balls  hitting  the
face of Laxman Sharma, Foreman in the said company and on objecting  to  the
same, the appellant is alleged  to  have  further  abused  him  with  filthy
language  and  also  threatened  him  with  dire  consequences  outside  the
premises of  their  factory.   On  25.4.1992,  the  appellant  submitted  an
apology letter stating that he had  thrown  piece  of  jute  which  fell  on
Foreman Laxman Sharma by  mistake  and  seeking  pardon  for  the  same.   A
departmental inquiry was conducted on 25.5.1992 and the appellant was  given
adequate opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses as well as  for  putting
forth his defence. The Enquiry Officer submitted  his  report  finding  that
the appellant was guilty of misconduct and  on  the  basis  of  the  enquiry
report, the appellant was dismissed from the services of the company  by  an
order dated 24.6.1992.
4.          Aggrieved by the order of dismissal,  the  appellant  raised  an
industrial dispute which was registered as Adjudication  No.178/1994  before
the Labour Court, Kanpur.  The  Labour  Court  relied  upon  the  letter  of
apology dated 25.4.1992 and by its award  dated  17.9.1996,  held  that  the
termination of services of the appellant was justified.   Aggrieved  by  the
said order, appellant filed a writ petition before the High Court  and  vide
its order dated 24.9.2012, High Court dismissed the writ petition  upholding
the award passed by the Labour Court.  Aggrieved  by  the  said  order,  the
appellant has filed this appeal by way of special  leave.   This  Court  has
issued notice limited to the question of quantum of punishment.
5.           Learned  counsel  for  the  appellant  submitted  that  charges
against the appellant are minor charges of alleged throwing  of  jute/cotton
waste balls and even assuming that the charges had  been  proved,  dismissal
from  service  for  such  a  minor  act  of   misdemeanor   is   harsh   and
disproportionate and prayed for reinstatement with  consequential  benefits.

6.          The first limb of  contention  advanced  at  the  hands  of  the
learned  counsel  for  the  respondent  was  that  the  discretionary  power
exercised by the Labour Court under Section 11A of the  Industrial  Disputes
Act to set aside  the  punishment  of  discharge  or  dismissal  has  to  be
exercised judiciously with care and caution and before exercising  the  said
discretion, the finding  that  order  of  discharge  or  dismissal  was  not
justified is necessary.  In  support  of  his  contention,  learned  counsel
placed reliance upon the judgment of this Court in Davalsab Husainsab  Mulla
vs. North West Karnataka Road Transport  Corporation,  (2013)  10  SCC  185.
Learned counsel for the respondent then contended that the  appellant  is  a
habitual offender and on a previous occasion,  on  18.7.1988  the  appellant
had misbehaved with a co-worker whereby a warning notice had been issued  to
the appellant and the appellant assured never to repeat such  an  act.    It
was submitted that inspite of such warning the appellant was  again  defiant
and having  regard  to  the  gravity  of  charges,  the  Management  imposed
punishment of dismissal from service and  Labour  Court  rightly  held  that
such punishment was justified.
7.           Yet another argument advanced on behalf of the  respondent  was
that use of abusive language against the Foreman  is  a  serious  misconduct
and punishment of dismissal from service cannot  be  said  to  be  harsh  or
disproportionate.    It  was  submitted  that  any  leniency  towards   such
misconduct would have serious impact on the discipline amongst  the  workmen
in the factory and keeping in view the gravity of the  charges  proved,  the
courts below  have  rightly  declined  to  interfere  with  the  quantum  of
punishment.   To  substantiate  his  contention,  learned   counsel   placed
reliance upon a number of judgments.
8.           We  have  given  our  thoughtful  consideration  to  the  rival
contentions  of  both  parties  and  perused  the  impugned  order  and  the
materials on record.
9.          Insofar as the first limb of contention as to  the  satisfaction
of Labour Court  in  interfering  with  the  discretion  of  the  authority,
considering the findings of the courts below in  our  considered  view,  the
Labour Court and the High Court did not properly  appreciate  tenor  of  the
apology letter.    Courts below appear to  have  proceeded  on  the  premise
that in his apology letter, the appellant has admitted the said incident  on
18.4.1992.  Courts below held that the charges proved  against  the  workman
are not only throwing jute/cotton waste balls on  his  superior  officer/the
Foreman, but for alleged misbehaviour using  filthy  language  and  in  such
circumstance,  punishment  of  dismissal  imposed  by  the   Management   is
justified.   By perusal of the contents of the said apology  letter,  it  is
discerned that the  appellant  has  made  admission  only  with  respect  to
throwing of the jute/cotton waste balls by mistake and further stating  that
such a mistake would not be repeated in future and that he be  pardoned  for
the same.  The letter nowhere states that the appellant was involved in  the
incident of hurling abuses and using filthy language  against  his  superior
officer.  In essence, even the incident of  throwing  of  jute/cotton  waste
balls at the Foreman has been stated as  a  mistake.   As  we  have  already
observed use of abusive language is not established by the  apology  letter.
Therefore, mere act of throwing of jute/cotton waste balls weighing 5 to  10
gms may not  by  itself  lead  to  imposing  punishment  of  dismissal  from
service.  In such a situation, we find it difficult to fathom a  reason  for
placing such excessive  reliance  on  the  apology  letter  by  the  enquiry
officer appointed for the departmental enquiry as well as the  courts  below
for justifying the punishment of dismissal from service.
10.          Jurisdiction  under  Article  136  of   the   Constitution   is
extraordinary  and  interference  with  the  concurrent  findings  of   fact
recorded by the courts below is permissible only in  exceptional  cases  and
not as a matter of course.  Where the appreciation of evidence is  found  to
be wholly unsatisfactory or the conclusion drawn from the same  is  perverse
in nature, in  exercise  of  the  jurisdiction  under  Article  136  of  the
Constitution, this Court may interfere  with  the  concurrent  findings  for
doing complete justice in the case.  In the facts and circumstances  of  the
case, in our view, it is a fit  case  to  exercise  the  jurisdiction  under
Article 136 of the Constitution to interfere  with  the  conclusion  of  the
Labour Court upholding the punishment of dismissal as affirmed by  the  High
Court.
11.         Insofar as the next limb of  contention  at  the  hands  of  the
learned counsel for the respondent as to the quantum of  punishment,  it  is
not necessary for us to refer to the plethora of judgments  relied  upon  by
the respondent.  In those decisions, the termination of  services  was  held
to be justified on the basis of abusive and filthy language in the light  of
the facts and circumstances of those cases.  It is  well  settled  that  the
court or the tribunal will not normally interfere  with  the  discretion  of
the disciplinary authority in imposing of penalty  and  substitute  its  own
conclusion or penalty. But the punishment should be  commensurate  with  the
proved misconduct. However, if the penalty imposed is disproportionate  with
the misconduct committed and proved,  then  the  Court  would  appropriately
mould the relief either by directing the disciplinary/appropriate  authority
to reconsider the penalty imposed or to shorten the litigation,  it  may  in
exceptional cases even impose appropriate punishment with cogent reasons  in
support thereof. This principle was reiterated in various decisions of  this
Court in Dev Singh vs. Punjab Tourism Development Corporation. Ltd. &  Anr.,
     (2003) 8 SCC 9, Om Kumar & Ors. vs. Union of India, (2001) 2  SCC  386,
Union of India & Anr. vs. G.  Ganayutham,  (1997)  7  SCC  463  and  Ex-Naik
Sardar  Singh  vs.  Union of India and Ors.,   (1991) 3 SCC 213.
12.         Considering the scope of  judicial  review  on  the  quantum  of
punishment and referring to various cases in Jai  Bhagwan  vs.  Commissioner
of Police & Ors. (2013) 11 SCC  187,  in  which  one  of  us  (Justice  T.S.
Thakur) was a member, this Court held as under:-
“What  is  the  appropriate  quantum  of  punishment  to  be  awarded  to  a
delinquent is a matter  that  primarily  rests  in  the  discretion  of  the
disciplinary authority.  An authority sitting in appeal over any such  order
of punishment is by all means entitled to examine the  issue  regarding  the
quantum of punishment as much as it  is  entitled  to  examine  whether  the
charges have [pic]been satisfactorily proved. But when  any  such  order  is
challenged before a Service Tribunal or  the  High  Court  the  exercise  of
discretion  by  the  competent  authority  in   determining   and   awarding
punishment is generally respected except where the same is found  to  be  so
outrageously disproportionate to the gravity  of  the  misconduct  that  the
Court considers it be arbitrary in  that  it  is  wholly  unreasonable.  The
superior courts and the Tribunal  invoke  the  doctrine  of  proportionality
which has been gradually accepted as one of the facets of  judicial  review.
A punishment that is so excessive or disproportionate to the offence  as  to
shock the conscience of the Court is seen as unacceptable even  when  courts
are  slow  and  generally  reluctant  to  interfere  with  the  quantum   of
punishment.  The law  on  the  subject  is  well  settled  by  a  series  of
decisions rendered by this Court…..”


13.         Coming to the case  at  hand,  we  are  of  the  view  that  the
punishment of dismissal from service for the misconduct proved  against  the
appellant is disproportionate to the charges.   In Ram Kishan vs.  Union  of
India & Ors., reported in (1995) 6 SCC  157,  the  delinquent  employee  was
dismissed from service for using abusive language against superior  officer.
 On the facts and circumstances of  the  case,  this  Court  held  that  the
punishment was harsh and disproportionate  to  the  gravity  of  the  charge
imputed to the delinquent and  modified  the  penalty  to  stoppage  of  two
increments with cumulative effect.  The Court held as under:-
 “It is next to be seen whether imposition of the  punishment  of  dismissal
from service is proportionate  to  the  gravity  of  the  imputation.   When
abusive language  is  used  by  anybody  against  a  superior,  it  must  be
understood in the environment in which  that  person  is  situated  and  the
circumstances  surrounding  the  event  that  led  to  the  use  of  abusive
language. No strait-jacket formula could be  evolved  in  adjudging  whether
the abusive language in the  given  circumstances  would  warrant  dismissal
from service. Each case has to be considered on its own facts. What was  the
nature of the abusive language used by the appellant was not stated.

On the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of  the  considered  view
that the imposition of punishment of dismissal from  service  is  harsh  and
disproportionate  to  the  gravity  of  charge  imputed  to  the  delinquent
constable. Accordingly, we set aside the dismissal order…….”


Reference may also be made to the decisions of this  Court  in   Rama   Kant
Misra  vs. State of  Uttar  Pradesh  &  Ors.,   (1982) 3  SCC  346  and  Ved
Prakash Gupta vs. Delton Cable India(P) Ltd.; (1984) 2 SCC 569.
14.         The High Court has  relied  on  the  judgment  in  Mahindra  and
Mahindra Ltd. vs. N.B.Narawade,              (2005) 3 SCC 134,  wherein   it
was held  that the penalty  of  dismissal  on  the  alleged  use  of  filthy
language is  not  disproportionate  to  the  charge   as  it  disturbs   the
discipline in the factory. We  are  of  the  view  that  in  the  facts  and
circumstances  of  the  present  case,  the  above  decision  may   not   be
applicable.  Considering the totality of the  circumstances,  in  our  view,
the punishment of dismissal from service is harsh and  disproportionate  and
the same has to be set aside.
15.          Having said that the punishment of dismissal  from  service  is
harsh and disproportionate, this  Court  in  ordinary  course  would  either
order reinstatement modifying the punishment or remit  the  matter  back  to
the disciplinary authority for passing fresh order of  punishment.   But  we
are deliberately avoiding the ordinary course.   We  are  doing  so  because
nearly two decades have passed since his termination and  over  these  years
the appellant must have been gainfully  employed  elsewhere.   Further,  the
appellant was born in the year 1955  and  has  almost  reached  the  age  of
superannuation.   In such  circumstances,  there  cannot  be  any  order  of
reinstatement and award of lump sum compensation  would  meet  the  ends  of
justice.  Considering  the  length  of  service  of  the  appellant  in  the
establishment and his deprivation of the job over the years and his  gainful
employment over the years  elsewhere,  in  our  view,  lump  sum  amount  of
compensation of Rs.5,00,000/- would meet the ends  of  justice  in  lieu  of
reinstatement, back wages,  gratuity and in full quit of  any  other  amount
payable to the appellant.
16.         In the result, the  impugned  Order  of  the  High  Court  dated
24.9.2012 passed in Civil Misc. Writ Petition No.12157/1997  confirming  the
award of the Labour Court is set  aside  and  the  appeal  is  allowed.  The
respondent-management is directed to  pay  the  amount  of  compensation  of
Rs.5,00,000/- to the appellant within a period of six weeks  from  the  date
of receipt of copy of this order failing which,  the said amount is  payable
with interest at the rate of 9% per annum thereon.

                                                                ……………………….J.
                                                               (T.S. Thakur)


                                                                ……………………….J.
                                                              (R. Banumathi)
New Delhi;
November 11, 2014
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