The Gujarat High Court on May 29, 2020 in the matter of Lakhamshi Govindji Haria School v. Kirit Bhupatbhai Bhatt and anr., had dealt with the issue of whether the Labour Court was justified in reinstating the Kirit Bhupatbhai Bhatt (“respondent no. 1") with continuity of service and backwages from a particular date, even when the respondent no. 1 had raised a dispute with regard to his alleged termination after approximately 6 (six) years from the date of his alleged termination.
Facts of the case:
The respondent no. 1 was working in the capacity of a 'peon' in Lakhamshi Govindji Haria School (“petitioner school”) since April 4, 1994, which was allegedly terminated by the petitioner school in December, 1998 without complying with the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Thereafter, after approximately 6 (six) years, on August 2, 2004, the respondent no. 1 raised the dispute with regard to his alleged termination which was referred to the Labour Court.
The Labour Court vide an award dated December 17, 2016, directed the petitioner school to reinstate the respondent no. 1 on his original post with continuity of service, i.e. from the date of reference along-with 30% (thirty percent) backwages for the said period.
Being aggrieved by the award of the Labour Court, the petitioner school filed the instant petition.
It is the case of the petitioner school that since there was a delay of approximately 6 (six) years and that the respondent no. 1 failed to explain the delay in raising the dispute, the Labour Court should not have entertained the dispute, and instead of granting reinstatement along with backwages, at the most awarded a lumpsum compensation.
Decision of the court:
The court by relying on the judgments of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited v. Bhurumal, 2014 (7) SCC 177, Prabhakar v. Joint Director Sericulture Department, 2015 (15) SCC 1, and Deputy Executive Engineer v. Kuberbhai Kanjibhai, 2019 (4) SCC 307, held that reference of a dispute cannot be rejected only on the grounds of delay by the Labour Court and that other aspects, such as, whether the dispute still exists or not need to be considered by the Labour Court.
The court further held that, in light of the unexplained delay of 6 (six) years in raising the dispute, instead of granting reinstatement with continuity of service and backwages, award of a lumpsum compensation was justified.
Accordingly, in the instant case, the Gujarat High Court modified the award passed by the Labour Court to provide for payment of lumpsum compensation to the respondent no. 1, who was terminated without following the due process of law.
This update has been contributed by Arka Majumdar (Partner) & Avin Sarkar (Associate).
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