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Madhya Pradesh HC imposes cost on Labour Commissioner

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The Madhya Pradesh High Court has observed that since the Labour Commissioner has compelled a low-paid employee to knock the door of this Court by initiating an avoidable litigation and imposed Rs 5,000 cost on the respondents to be paid to the petitioner.

A single-judge bench of Justice Sheel Nagu allowed the Petition of a Workman  assailing  the order dated 12.02.2019 passed by Section Officer, Government of India, Ministry of Labour/Shram Mantralaya, New Delhi whereby the dispute raised by the petitioner / workman, of termination of service  01.05.2017, has been declined to be forwarded for adjudication to the Tribunal.

Raunak Yadav, the counsel for the petitioner, by relying upon the decision of the High Court in Zila Satna Cement Steel Foundry Khadan Kaamgar Union vs Union of India and Others, (2019) 1 MPLJ 561 submitted that the Labour Commissioner while declining to refer the dispute for adjudication, has travelled beyond his jurisdiction by entering into the merits of the dispute which function is exclusively reserved for adjudicatory authority i.e. Tribunal.  

On the other hand, the counsel for  Section Officer and Union of India submitted that since the workman had tendered his resignation on 30.04.2017 and had accepted the amount of gratuity due to him, his conduct reveals that he has given up his claim and, therefore, there was no dispute, either existing or apprehended.

After hearing learned counsel for rival parties, the High Court is unable to sustain the impugned order dated 12.02.2019 for the reasons infra: 
(I) The Labour Commissioner while passing the impugned order has assigned following reasons while refusing to refer the dispute for adjudication: 
(i) The workman was engaged as a casual labourer on 01.10.2010. 
(ii) The claim that the workman had worked for at least 240 days or more in the previous calendar year does not appear to be correct. 
(iii) The workman has tendered his resignation on 30.04.2017 and has accepted the amount of gratuity due to him.  

For the  first and second reason, the Bench held that the workman being a casual labourer and having not completed 240 days in the previous calendar year, was not within the jurisdictional purview of the Labour Commissioner to deal with. These issues clearly lie within the exclusive domain of the adjudicatory authority i.e. the Tribunal constituted under the relevant labour legislation. As regards, the last reason for resignation, the Court held that the Labour Commissioner has presumed without proving that the termination was actually a resignation. This issue is fraught with disputed questions of fact which cannot be gone into by the Conciliation Officer (Labour Commissioner) and should have been left for the adjudicatory authority to dwell upon.

“The jurisdictions of Labour Commissioner as Conciliation Officer u/S. 10 and that of the adjudicatory authority i.e. the Tribunal constituted under the relevant labour legislation, are clearly distinct. It seems that the Labour Commissioner has stepped into the shoes of the adjudicatory authority’, observed the Court.
Accordingly, the  petition stands allowed by the Court  with following directions : 
(i) The impugned order dated 12.02.2019 passed by respondent No.3/Section Officer, Government of India, Ministry of Labour/Shram Mantralaya, New Delhi declining to refer the dispute to the adjudicatory authority stands quashed. 
(ii) The appropriate Government i.e. the Government of India is directed to refer the dispute to the appropriate adjudicatory authority as early as possible preferably within a period of three months for adjudication.

“9. Since the Labour Commissioner has evidently travelled beyond his jurisdiction, compelling the low paid employee to knock the door of this Court, by initiating this avoidable piece of litigation, the respondents ought to be saddled with cost. Accordingly, the petitioner is entitled to cost of Rs 5,000 which shall be paid by respondents to the petitioner through digital transfer in his bank account within a period of 30 days. 
10. The respondents are directed to file a compliance report of deposit of cost with the Registry within 60 days, failing which this case be listed under the caption of “Direction” as PUD for execution qua cost,” the order reads. 

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