A 'Tribunal' is an administrative body that is established to discharge quasi-judicial duties. A Tribunal is considered neither a court nor an executive body, and it stands midway between a Court and an administrative body. Thus, the exigencies of the situation that proclaimed the enforcement of new rights due to escalating State activities and persistent demands of justice have led to the establishment of Tribunals. One of the biggest obstacles which the establishment of Tribunals has tackled is the delay in justice administration. The delay in disposal of civil cases is significantly increasing arrears, and the courts seem to be helpless in this matter.
To overcome this situation, domestic Tribunals and other Tribunals have been established under different Statutes. A 'domestic tribunal' refers to the administrative agencies designed to regulate professional conduct and enforce disciple among the members by exercising its adjudicatory and investigatory powers. Similarly, Ombudsman looks into the matters of complaints of grievances suffered by a citizen under some organ of the administration.
In Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan v. Subash Sharma, it was held that to challenge the decision of a tribunal, complainants cannot directly go to the Supreme Court, nor can they bypass the High Court. The High Courts have supervisory powers over the administrative tribunals. But on the one hand, this situation leads to increasing the High Court's burden but helps reduce apex court's dockets in service matters and facilitates a remedy at close quarters without any huge expenses.
Labour Courts, Industrial Tribunals and National Tribnunals are constituted by the Government in exerciser of its powers under Section 7 and 7A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
Section 11 A of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
Section 11A of the Industrial Disputes Act states the Powers of Labour Courts, Tribunals and National Tribunals to give the appropriate relief in case of discharge or dismissal of workmen. It was stated here that when an industrial dispute relating to the dismissal or discharge of a workman has been referred to a Tribunal, Labour Court or the National Tribunal for adjudication and, during the course of this proceedings, the Labour Court, Tribunal or the National Tribunal, is satisfied that the order of dismissal or discharge was not justified, then it may, by its Award, set aside that order of dismissal and direct reinstatement of the workman on such terms and conditions, as it thinks fit, or give any other relief to the workman including the Award of a lesser punishment in lieu of dismissal or discharge as the circumstances of the case may require.
But it is further mentioned here that in any proceeding under this section, the Tribunal or the Labour Court, or National Tribunal, shall not take any fresh evidence concerning this matter and shall rely only on the materials that are there on record.
The Supreme Court held in the case of Workmen v. Firestone Tyre & Rubber Co. of India Pvt. Ltd. [(1973) 1 SCC 813] that Section 11A indicated a change in law from the position that was laid down in Indian Iron and Steel Company Limited. It was further held here that under Section 11A, the Industrial Tribunal has to be satisfied in the course of such adjudication that the order of discharge or dismissal was not justified. If it comes to this conclusion, the Tribunal will have to set aside the order and direct the reinstatement of the workman on terms it thinks fit. The Tribunal also has the power to give any other relief to the concerned workman and impose a lesser punishment having due regard to the given circumstances.
However, this should be noted that neither the 1947 Act nor the new Industrial Relations Code, 2020 defines the term 'reinstatement' and therefore, the task of judicially interpreting this term has fallen upon the Constitutional Courts.
Scope of interference by the Labour Court/Tribunal
Section 11-A cannot be considered to be conferring an arbitrary power to the Labour Court or the Industrial Tribunal. The power under Section 11-A of the Industrial Disputes Act has to be exercised judicially, and the Industrial Tribunal or the Labour Court is expected to interfere with the decisions made by the management under Section 11-A of the Act only when it is satisfied that the punishment that was imposed by the management was highly disproportionate as compared to the degree of guilt of the concerned workman. Thus the Industrial Tribunal or the Labour Court will have to give reasons for its decision. The Supreme Court observed this in CMC Hospital Employees' Union & Anr. V. CMC Vellore Association, [(1987) 4 SCC 691].
In the case of State Bank of Hyderabad and Another V. P. Kata Rao [(2008) 15 SCC 657], the Hon'ble Apex Court has said that there cannot be any doubt even if the jurisdiction of superior courts in interfering with a finding of fact arrived at by the enquiry officer is limited. The High Court, it is trite, would also ordinarily not interfere with the quantum of punishment.
In Karnataka Bank Ltd. V. Al. L. Mohan Rao, [(2006)1 SCC 63], the charge against the accused employee was that he had enabled grant of fictitious loan by colluding with one of the Branch Managers. Here, the High Court interfered with the punishment of dismissal and ordered reinstatement on the sympathetic ground despite finding that misconduct was proved. Thus the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the High Court. This Court has emphasised that the courts' decisions should not be guided by misplaced sympathy or continuity ground during judicial review while examining the quantum of punishment.
Standard Chartered Bank Vs R.C. Srivastava
The Apex Court has observed in the case of Standard Chartered Bank Vs R.C. Srivastava that the Labour Court could not overturn the management's decision on "ipse dixit", and the decision given by the Court should not be merely based on hypothesis. On observing that the Labour Court has converted itself into a "Court of Appeal", the Supreme Court set aside the Labour Court's decision that overturned the management's decision to terminate an employee's services. A Division Bench comprising of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Abhay S Oka observed that a Labour Court's jurisdiction under Section 11A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 must be exercised judiciously and cannot be exercised either whimsically or impulsively.
These observations have been made in the context of the Tribunal's order that reinstated a Bank employee and reversing the order of his termination passed after a disciplinary enquiry had been held. The Bench had observed that the Tribunal had completely overlooked and surpassed its jurisdiction while interfering with the finding that was recorded during the course of disciplinary enquiry further which, the employee (Respondent) was dismissed from service.
The Apex Court observed that the High Court has also committed an error while passing an impugned judgment by upholding the order of reinstatement by the Tribunal. The Bench found that the Tribunal had converted itself into a Court of Appeal as an appellate authority and had exceeded its jurisdiction while appreciating the finding that was recorded in the course of domestic enquiry. According to the Court, the Tribunal had tested the domestic inquiry on the far-reaching principles of proving the charge beyond reasonable doubt and completely forgot about testing the domestic enquiry on the principles of the preponderance of probabilities.
However, the Tribunal reversed the order by directing reinstatement of the employee in service along with full back wages, seniority and all consequential benefits finding that the management of the Bank had miserably failed to establish the charges that were levelled against him and had held the charges to not being proved.
Thus the order of the Tribunal was challenged by the Bank before the High Court, but the same was dismissed. Through its order dated 29th September 2021, the Supreme Court has therefore held that the award that was passed by the Tribunal and confirmed by the High Court under impugned judgment will not be sustainable in law.
Thus, after going through the provision of Section 11A under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 as well as the authoritative pronouncement while discussing the scope of Section 11A for the Tribunal or the Court of law to interfere with punishment, it is therefore settled that the power of judicial review is very limited and it can interfere only if there is unreasonableness in the finding or in case of violation of the principle of natural justice. As far as the case of Labour Court is considered, it has been held by Hon'ble Supreme Court that the order of dismissal should not have been reversed by order of reinstatement since it is a question of lack of confidence upon the employee by the employer and the fact that the employer does not want to get such employee whose integrity is found to be adverse, then the order of dismissal can be reversed by the Court of law if the finding is perverse or charge is proved without following the principle of natural justice.