Labour Law – Conductor – Collected fare from 78 passengers and did not issue the tickets – restored the order of punishment – judgment and order passed by the High Court as well as the award of the labour court set aside – Appeal Allowed.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
Adarsh Kumar Goel and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ.
Civil Appeal No. 3644 of 2011.
U.P.S.R.T.C. – Appellants
Pradeep Kumar – Respondents
For the Appellants :- Ms. Rachana Srivastava, Sukrit R. Kapoor, Advocates.
This appeal has been preferred by the U.P. State Road Transport Corporation against the judgment and order dated 27.08.2008 passed by the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital in Writ Petition (M/S) No.974 of 2001.
2. The respondent-employee was employed as a conductor with the appellant on 25.12.1988. On 08.10.1990, in the course of inspection, it was found by the inspecting team that 78 passengers were traveling without ticket while the fare had already been collected by the respondent. On that charge, an inquiry was held and the misconduct alleged was proved against the respondent delinquent. This led to order dated 17.06.1992 by which the service of the respondent was terminated. The respondent workman raised an industrial dispute, which was referred for adjudication to the Labour Court, Meerut, U.P. being Adjudication Case No. 02/1994. The workman admitted before the labour court that the inquiry was fair and proper. In view of the said statement, the labour court held that no further discussion was necessary on the issue of fairness of the inquiry. However, the labour court, without giving any further reason except that the punishment awarded was too severe, directed reinstatement of the respondent in service without any back wages but with continuity in service and full wages from the date of award dated 22.10.1997.
3. The appellant preferred a writ petition before the High Court. The High Court dismissed the same observing that the labour court had reinstated the workman with entire back wages which, it is pointed out, is factually incorrect. In spite of service of notice, the workman has not entered appearance.
4. We have heard learned counsel for the appellant. She submitted that the labour court was not justified in interfering with the punishment awarded as the misconduct alleged was of serious nature. What was alleged against the workman is that he had collected fare from 78 passengers and did not issue the tickets to them, which amounted to criminal breach of trust. Once such a misconduct was proved, reinstating the workman could not be justified. It was submitted that though the labour court may, in an appropriate case, interfere with the punishment awarded, but only when such punishment is not otherwise justified. Reliance is placed upon the judgment of this Court in the case of
# U.P. State Road Transport Corporation, Dehradun v. Suresh Pal, (2006) 8 SCC 108
Relevant observations are:
“7. Short question for our consideration in the present case is whether the punishment which has been modified by the learned Single Judge is justified or not? The learned Single Judge found that the punishment awarded in the present case is disproportionate to the guilt of the delinquent. So far as, the guilt of the petitioner is concerned, in the domestic enquiry it has been found that the petitioner is guilty of not issuing tickets to the twenty passengers and the same finding of the domestic enquiry has been upheld by the Labour Court and the High Court. The petitioner was a Conductor and holding the position of trust. If incumbent like the petitioner starts misappropriating the money by not issuing a ticket and pocketing the money thereby causing loss to the Corporation then this is a serious misconduct. It is unfortunate that the petitioner was appointed in 1988 and in the first year of service he started indulging in malpractice then what can be expected from him in the future. If this is the state of affairs in the first year of service and if such persons are allowed to let off to the light punishment then this will be a wrong signal to the other persons similarly situated. Therefore, in such cases the incumbent should be weeded out as fast as possible and same has been upheld by the Labour Court. We are firmly of the view that such instances should not be dealt with lightly so as to pollute the atmosphere in the Corporation and other co-workers.
8. Normally, courts do not substitute the punishment unless they are shocking disproportionate if the punishment is interfered or substituted lightly in the punishment in exercise of their extraordinary jurisdiction then it will amount to abuse of the process of court. If such kind of misconduct is dealt with lightly and courts start substituting the lighter punishment in exercising the jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution then it will give a wrong signal in the society. All the State Road Transport Corporations in the country have gone in red because of the misconduct of such kind of incumbents, therefore, it is the time that misconduct should be dealt with iron hands and not leniently.
9. Learned counsel for the appellant invited our attention to a decision of this Court in the case of
# Regional Manager, U.P.S.R.T.C. Vs. Hoti Lal, (2003) 3 SCC 605
wherein, this Court has very categorically held that a mere statement that it is disproportionate would not suffice to substitute a lighter punishment. This Court held as under:
“The court or tribunal while dealing with the quantum of punishment has to record reasons as to why it is felt that the punishment was not commensurate with the proved charges. The scope for interference is very limited and restricted to exceptional cases. In the impugned order of the High Court no reasons whatsoever have been indicated as to why the punishment was considered disproportionate. Failure to give reasons amounts to denial of justice. A mere statement that it is disproportionate would not suffice. It is not only the amount involved but the mental set-up, the type of duty performed and similar relevant circumstances which go into the decision-making process while considering whether the punishment is proportionate or disproportionate. If the charged employee holds a position of trust where honesty and integrity are inbuilt requirements of functioning, it would not be proper to deal with the matter leniently. Misconduct in such cases has to be dealt with iron hands. Where the person deals with public money or is engaged in financial transactions or acts in a fiduciary capacity, the highest degree of integrity and trustworthiness is a must and unexceptionable. Judged in that background, conclusions of the Division Bench of the High Court are not proper.”
In view of the above observation made by this Court there remains nothing more to be added.”
5. We find merit in the submission of learned counsel for the appellant particularly in view of the law laid down by this Court in the case of Suresh Pal (supra), which is clearly applicable to the case in hand.
6. Accordingly, we allow this appeal, set aside the judgment and order passed by the High Court as well as the award of the labour court and restore the order of punishment.