Supreme Court Orders Reinstatement Of Watchman Who Was Wrongfully Terminated 20 Years Ago
A Supreme Court Bench of Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat has ordered reinstatement of a watchman who was wrongfully terminated twenty years ago.
The Court heard an appeal against an order passed by the Gujrat High Court. Quashing the order, the Court observed, "...the direction to substitute the relief of reinstatement with one for lumpsum payment was not warranted in the circumstances of this case."
Counsel Mehmood Umar Faruqui appeared for the Appellant.
In this case, aggrieved by the termination from employment, the Appellant raised an industrial dispute, which was referred to the Labour Court. The Appellant was appointed as a Watchman by the Respondent society in 1992. As rendering continuous employment, the Appellant was terminated from the services in 2002, for no cause, without notice and without following the procedure prescribed by the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
The Respondent society disputed the claim on the basis that the Appellant worked on a purely temporary basis and could not claim the benefit of Section 25B of the Industrial Disputes Act,1947 as he had not worked for a continuous period of 240 days in any given year. However, his employment as a workman since 1992 was not denied.
In 2010, the Labour Court held that the Appellant's termination was illegal and directed his reinstatement with continuity but without back wages.
The Respondent society challenged the order before the High Court. The Single Judge of the High Court upheld the order of the Labour Court by an order passed in 2011.
The Respondent society appealed to the Division Bench of the High Court. The Bench rejected the appeal initially in 2014, but then the Respondent society approached the Court by Special Leave Petition in 2016. The Supreme Court remitted the matter for fresh consideration.
The High Court set aside the direction to reinstate the Appellant workman and instead awarded lumpsum compensation of 1 lakh. The Appellant then approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court was of the opinion that the Appellant could not have been made to suffer on account of the Respondent society's obdurate attempt to have the relief set aside. Further, the Court opined that since the Division Bench's impugned judgment did not interfere with the factual findings, the direction to substitute the relief of reinstatement with one for lumpsum payment was not warranted in the circumstances of the case.
Providing relief to the Appellant, the Supreme Court held that "this court finds no perversity or unreasonableness on the part of the Labour Court and the single judge in directing the appellant's reinstatement. Had the respondent management chosen to accept the verdict, the appellant would have been spared the agony of waiting for more than 10 years. In such circumstances, the denial of back wages, has resulted in punishing him, although the delay is attributable to the judicial process. However, the respondent management cannot be absolved of the primary responsibility in its litigative proclivity. In these circumstances, the appellant shall be entitled to back wages for a period of two years immediately preceding, i.e., from 01.01.2020 to 01.01.2022".
Therefore, the order of the Division Bench of the High Court was set aside and the Supreme Court directed that the Appellant workman must be reinstated in services of the Respondent society within 6 weeks from the date of the order. The Supreme Court also restored the direction of the Labour Court and Single Judge towards continuity of service.
Cause Title - Jeetubha Khansangji Jadeja v. Kutchh District Panchayat