Monday, February 6, 2023

Allahabad High Court grants relief to UPSRTC driver dismissed in 1991

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The Allahabad High Court has ordered the Managing Director (MD) of Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) to grant relief including 40 per cent backwages to a driver who was dismissed in 1991.

A single-judge bench of Justice Ajay Bhanot passed this order while hearing  a petition filed by Lahari Singh.

In this petition, domestic enquiry proceedings were taken out against the petitioner on two charges.

The substance of the charges as enumerated in the impugned award of the labour court is extracted thus:      

On March 8, 1990 the petitioner was taking a UPSRTC bus from Khurja to Aligarh. The petitioner was driver of the bus while Dinesh Kumar was the conductor. An investigation team boarded the bus and found that 21 passengers were without tickets. The bill did not contain any details of 15 passengers who had boarded  the bus between Khurja and Aligarh. The petitioner and the conductor Dinesh Kumar created impediments in the investigation by inciting the passengers. The petitioner, as well as the conductor, declined to put their signatures to the way bill and the inspectors encountered difficulties in making entries in the way bill.

The second charge against the petitioner is this. On March 8, 1990, the scheduled distance of the bus journey was 306 km. However, the petitioner and the conductor travelled a distance of only 26 km causing financial loss to the UPSRTC.

The domestic enquiry officer submitted his report on April 12, 1991. The enquiry officer found credence in the defence of the petitioner that the conductor and not the petitioner was responsible for issuance of tickets to the passengers. On this footing, the enquiry officer exonerated the petitioner of the charge of permitting ticket-less passengers in the bus. However in regard to creating impediments in the conduct of the investigation, the petitioner was found guilty by the enquiry officer. The inspecting team members testified that the petitioner had instigated the passengers and the team members had to flee for their lives. The petitioner prevented the inspection team from completing the investigation against him and the conductor. The enquiry officer believed the testimonies of the members of the inspecting team and indicted the petitioner. 

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As regards the second charge, the defence of the petitioner was that the conductor had taken ill during the course of journey and was not medically fit to travel any further. The medical certificate of the conductor Dinesh Kumar was proved before the enquiry officer.

The stand of the petitioner was also corroborated by Dinesh Kumar. Lahari Singh testified before the enquiry officer that he had got the conductor admitted to a hospital, and also provided the supporting medical certificate. These facts were also stated in the duty slip, which was marked and duly proved before the enquiry officer. 

Vedpal, who accompanied the petitioner to the depot, deposed that he had taken the conductor to the doctor. Ali Sher, Chowkidar testified that Vedpal and the petitioner arrived together at the bus stop. The medical condition of the conductor Dinesh Kumar was duly intimated to the competent authority through one Udaiveer Singh. However, the authorities failed to send a relieving conductor. In the absence of a conductor, the bus could not continue its onward journey to the final destination. The enquiry report found that the credibility of the said witnesses could not be impeached by the employer during the enquiry proceedings. The enquiry officer on the aforesaid material concluded that the second charge against the petitioner that he had caused financial loss to the Corporation was not proved. The petitioner was exonerated on this score. 

Upon submission of the enquiry report, a show cause notice was issued to the petitioner. The petitioner tendered his reply to the notice which was not found satisfactory by the disciplinary authority. The services of the petitioner were terminated on September 17, 1991.

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An industrial reference was made in regard to the validity of the termination of the petitioner by the order dated September 17, 1991. The labour court adjudicated the aforesaid reference and passed the impugned award dated December 2, 2006 upholding the termination of the petitioner. The labour court in the award recorded the fact that the petitioner was working as a temporary driver in the respondent Corporation w.e.f 1976 till his termination in the year 1991. After noticing the charges laid out against the petitioner, the labour court entered upon a consideration of the controversy on merits. The labour court found that the enquiry was conducted in consonance of principles of natural justice and no procedural impropriety therein could be established.

The Court noted,

“It is noteworthy that the enquiry officer found the petitioner guilty of the part of charge no 1 which was of instigating the passengers against the inspection team and threatening their lives and preventing them from discharging their duties. The domestic enquiry found that the applicant impeded the inspection team and precluded them from completing the enquiry. The inspection team escaped with their lives after being threatened by the passengers instigated by the petitioner. The aforesaid finding was based on materials in the record and supported by reasons. There is no infirmity in the finding. No material to establish illegality in the said finding of the domestic enquiry was referred to the Court either from the award or the record of the case. The said finding by the domestic enquiry officer remains unrebutted and has to be upheld.

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As regards the second charge laid out against the petitioner of causing loss to the Corporation, the petitioner had clearly deposed before the labour court that he could not traverse the entire route as the conductor Dinesh Kumar had fallen ill during the course of journey. No relieving conductor was sent by the employer despite communication having been sent to the depot. The health condition of conductor Dinesh Kumar was communicated to the competent   authority by the petitioner through Udaiveer. The witness who had  appeared on behalf of the employer testified before the labour court that the petitioner had informed him that the conductor of his bus had fallen ill.

The Court further noted that the report of B. P Singh, Senior Station Master, contains a recital that the petitioner and the conductor were required to traverse 306 km from Khurja, Aligarh to Delhi. The conductor and the driver only traversed 26 km and abandoned the vehicle. There was no technical fault in the vehicle. The petitioner and the conductor were responsible for causing financial loss to the Corporation. The labour court relying only upon the report of B.P. Singh concluded that the second charge stood established by evidence. Finding for the employer it was held that both the charges laid out against the petitioner stood proved and declined to interfere in the punishment of dismissal. 

The labour court in the award failed to consider the evidence of the petitioner, the employer witness Vedpal who had deposed regarding the illness of the conductor and failure of the authorities to send a reliever. 

In the opinion of the Court domestic enquiry findings were reasonable and made upon due consideration of the evidence in the record. The labour court clearly erred in law by neglecting to consider such vital pieces of evidence. 

The Court held that,

The labour court is enjoined by law to consider the domestic enquiry and cannot overlook the findings returned in such enquiry. The labour court was under an obligation of law to determine the validity and findings of the domestic enquiry on their merits. The labour court was also enjoined by law to reverse findings of the domestic enquiry which according to it are vitiated. Further it was required to enter independent findings on the relevant issues.

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The labour court award is arbitrary, illegal and vitiated. The award passed by the labour court dated December 02, 2006 is liable to be set aside and is set aside.  The findings of the domestic enquiry are upheld.

“Admittedly from the material in the record the first charge against the petitioner stands established. The charge is of a serious nature. The petitioner was dismissed from service in the year 1991. The labour court award was passed on December 2, 2006. No purpose will be served by remitting the matter to the authorities and sending the parties into another orbit of litigation. Interests of justice will be served by deciding the matter finally and bring the controversy to a litigative rest. The petitioner has long superannuated from service, relief of reinstatement in service cannot be granted at this stage. In view of the indictment of the petitioner on the first charge, which is a major misconduct, the petitioner cannot get away scot free. The appropriate relief in this case would be to grant 40% backwages to the petitioner. However all other terminal dues shall be paid without deduction,”

-the Court observed.

The Court directed the Managing Director, UPSRTC, to ensure that the aforesaid benefits is disbursed to the petitioner or his legal heirs within a period of four months from the date of receipt of a copy of the order downloaded from the official website of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad. 

Accordingly, the Court allowed the writ petition. 

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