It's not open to government to go into merits of dispute

There is no prescribed time limit for the government to exercise its powers in referring an industrial dispute for enquiry, the Supreme Court has held.

“Law does not prescribe any time limit for the appropriate government to exercise its powers under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act. If any industrial dispute exists or is apprehended, the appropriate government “at any time” refer it to a board or court for enquiry,” said a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan.

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The reference sought by the workman cannot be said to be delayed or suffering from a lapse when law does not prescribe any period of limitation for raising a dispute under Section 10.”

Allowing an appeal in favour of a dismissed workman, the Bench said: “It is not open to the government to go into the merits of the dispute and once it is found that an industrial dispute exists, it is incumbent on the government to make a reference. It is for the appropriate court or forum to decide the same.”

Normally, the government could not decline to make a reference for laches on the part of the workman. “If adequate reasons are shown, the government is bound to refer the dispute to the appropriate court or forum for adjudication.”

In the instant case, the appellant worked in the G.M. Instrument Design, Development and Facilities Centre, Punjab, from October 1990 till November 1991 and again on an ad hoc basis till May 1992, when his services were terminated. He claimed that he had worked for more than 240 days without any break and that his termination was illegal. The labour court rejected his plea and the Punjab and Haryana High Court also turned down the petition on the ground of delay on the part of the government in making the reference for an industrial dispute. The present appeal is directed against this judgment

Workman not to blame

The Bench said: “We do not think that the delay has been so culpable as to disentitle him any relief. We are also satisfied that in view of the details furnished and the explanation offered, the workman cannot be blamed for the delay and he was all along hoping that one day his grievance would be considered by the management or the State government. We order reinstatement of the workman with consequential service benefits, but without back wages, within eight weeks. Since the appellant has been fighting for his survival for more than a decade, we award a cost of Rs.50, 000 to be paid by the respondent-management directly to the workman within the same period.”

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