1. The petitioner, Messrs. Standard Coal Company, Limited, has moved this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution for issue of writs in the nature of mandamus, prohibition and certiorari against the opposite party, in connection with the order dated the 16th of May 1951, made by the Government of India, Ministry of Labour, referring certain matters for adjudication to the Central Government Industrial Tribunal at Dhanbad and, in connection with the notice dated the 26th of May 1951 issued to the petitioner by that Tribunal.
2. The facts relevant to the matter under consideration may shortly be stated, as follows. On the 30th of December 1950, the petitioner gave notice that the working of the Standard Colliery would be closed "from the 20th January 1951. An information to this effect was sent to one Sri P. C. Bose, M.L.A., President Indian Miners' Association, Jharia. On the 5th of January 1951 the said Sri P.C. Bose sent a telegram to the Hon'ble Labour Minister, Government of India, to the following effect:
"Standard Coal Company closing down Standard Colliery on ground of exhaustion of available coal and highly uneconomic working stop 1,650 workers with families involved stop kindly advise Regional Labour Commissioner and Mines Department to enquire condition of colliery and press for employment of workers if colliery is unworkable."
3. On the 7th of January 1951 a letter was sent to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, on behalf of large number of workers requesting him to intervene in the matter of the closing down of the Standard Colliery. A request was made in that letter for a direction to the management of the Colliery to maintain the status quo until the dispute was settled. The letter further authorised Sri Shivakali Bose, a member of the working committee of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, Bihar Branch, to represent their case. A. copy of this letter was sent to the Hon'ble the Labour Minister of India, New Delhi, (2) to the Secretary, Ministry of Labour, New Delhi, (3) to the Chief Labour Commissioner, New Delhi, (4) to the Conciliation Officer, Dhanbad, and to several other officers. The first page of the letter contained either the signature or the thumb-impression of fifteen workers of the colliery. It is contended by the opposite party that in fact the signature or thumb-impression of a thousand workers was attached to this letter, but the other pages containing those signatures and thumb-impressions of the workers were returned. This appears to be so as a mention to such a representation by a thousand workers was made in a letter dated the 17th of February 1951, sent by Sri Shivakali Bose to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, as also in the report dated the 19th of February 1951 sent by the latter to the secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Labour, New Delhi. The said letter dated the 7th of January 1951 was accompanied by a copy of an express telegram sent on the 4th of January 1951 by the said Sri Shivakali Bose to the Hon'ble Sri Jag Jiwan Ram, Labour Minister, New Delhi. The telegram ran as follows: "Standard Beniahir Colliery of Bird, Heilgers and Company declared lock-out from 20th January 1951 on uneconomic plea which is far from the actual truth. Thus huge National asset (coal) is bound to be wasted. About 2,000 labourers of the colliery and on their behalf myself pray your immediate intervention in the matter and request you to kindly refer this serious dispute to the Industrial Tribunal, Dhanbad, at once." On the 10th of January some conciliation was arrived at between the said Sri P.C. Bose representing the workers and Sri Das and Sri Gupta representing the management. The following agreement seems to have been arrived at as appears from the minutes of the conciliation proceeding dated the 10th January 1951.
"(1) It is agreed that as many workers, of this colliery as are necessary for the time being will be given work in this colliery so long there is work.
(2) Those for whom there is no work here or when there is no work they will be gradually absorbed in Sanda Colliery of this management which is being opened shortly. If there be still some for whom there is no work at Sanda they will be taken in other collieries or industrial concerns of this management.
(3) If there are some who cannot be absorbed anywhere they will be kept on the waiting list and will be given the 1st choice whenever a vacancy occurs if found suitable for the job and if they are willing and turn up within a week of the receipt of notice which the company wiil issue.
(4) Water supply, light and ration will continue as before so long there is work at Standard Coiuery.
(5) Transfer facilities should be given free. (6) Working families should be transferred together."
4. The Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, however, sent a letter on the 10th of January 1951 to the Chief Inspector of Mines, Dhanbad, calling for a report whether it is possible to continue working oi the Standard Colliery. On the 1st of February 1951 the Chief inspector of Mines, Dhanbad, sent the required report to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, in which while mentioning about the possibility of absorbing the labour at other mines he said;
"POSSIBILITIES OP ABSORBING THE LABOUR AT OTHER MINES."
About 1,050, persons will be affected by closing the mine. The question of absorbing these persons in the other mines of Messrs. Bird & Co. was discussed with the C.M.E. who stated that he was in a position to transfer about 50 per cent of these persons to the other mines and that he would endeavour to absorb as many of the remaining 50 per sent, as he could. He further produced an agreement he had entered into with Sri P. C. Bose, M.L.A., the recognised President of the Labour Union at Standard mine in which he agreed to do his best to absorb the retrenched persons at the other mines under his charge." On the 3rd of February 1951 the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, sent information to the (1) Chief Mining Engineer Messrs Bird & Co., Ltd., (2) Sri P.C. Bose, (3) Sri S.K. Bose, informing them that the question of the lock-out noticed dated the 30th of December 1950 to close down the Standard Colliery would be taken up for conciliation at 10 A.M. on the 14th of February 1951. It appears that nothing was done on the 14th of February 1951, the date fixed in the above notice, but on the following day an agreement was arrived at between Sri P.C. Bose representing the workers and Sri R.B. Das and Sri D.N. Gupta representing the management. The terms of the agreement ran as follows:
"1. It is agreed that as many workers of this colliery as are necessary for the time being will be given work in this colliery so long as there is work.
2. Those for whom there is no work at Standard Colliery or when there is no work the management will make all attempts to gradually absorb them in other collieries of this group.
3. If there are some who cannot be absorbed anywhere they will be kept in the waiting list and will be given the first choice wherever a vacancy occurs if found suitable for the job and if they are available at the time when the vacancy occurs.
4. It is clearly to be understood that when a worker or workers have been offered jobs elsewhere and they refuse, their names will be scratched out from the list and they will not be offered any job thereafter.
5. Water supply, light and sanitary arrangements will continue as before, so long as there is work at Standard Colliery,
6. Rations will be supplied to those employed so long as employment continues.
7. Transport facilities will be given to the workers who will be transferred elsewhere.
8. Working families wherever possible will be transferred together.
9. In suitable cases the question of gratuity or pension to the old and invalid workers will be favourably considered by the management."
On the 17th of February 1951 Sri Shivakali Bose sent a letter to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, wherein he complained that though, he had attended his office at 10 a.m. on the 14th of February 1951, to participate in the proceeding nothing could be done due to his being out of station that day but he was surprised to know that without any further information having been given to him the conciliation proceeding was taken up on the 15th of February 1951 behind his back between Sri P.C. Bose, who did not in fact represent the workers of the Standard Colliery, and the representatives of the management. In that letter it was also said that the workers of the colliery emphatically repudiated the said agreement. On that very date the Regional Labour Commissioner Dhanbad, sent a letter to the Chief Mining Engineer, Standard Colliery to the following effect:
"Subject: Closing down of the Standard Colliery. Dear Sir,
In the conciliation proceeding held on the above dispute on the 15th instant, there was agreement between your representatives and Shri P.C. Bose, on the report of the Chief Inspector of Mines, Dhanbad. A number of workers of your above named colliery afterwards approached me with a statement that Shri P.C. Bose no longer represents them rather Shri S.K. Bose is their representative. I am sending rny reports to Government on the subject on the basis of the report of the Chief Inspector of Mines and the points raised by Shri S.K. Bose. I would request you in the meantime pending receipt of my report by the Government and their decision to observe provisions of Section 33 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947." '
5. A copy of this letter was forwarded both to Sri S.K. Bose and to Sri P.C. Bose. On the 19th of February 1951 the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, sent a report to the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Labour, New Delhi, and to the Chief Labour Commissioner, New Delhi. In that report at one place it was mentioned:
"Sri S.K. Bose, another representative of workers had approached me to represent the workers in this case and had requested the Chief Inspector of Mines to associate him with the investigation but the management, before the Chief Inspector of Mines and before also during conciliation, declined to negotiate with him on the ground that this gentleman did not represent their labour whom he was encouraging to think that the mine would not be closed. He has shown me a petition bearing signatures and thumb-marks of about a thousand workers out of about sixteen hundred of this colliery affirming that Sri S.K. Bose is their representative. Sri S.K. Bose has challenged the report of the Chief inspector of Mines and presses that the dispute might be referred to the Tribunal for a decision."
At another place the report said:
"In making a reference to the Tribunal the first point to be decided is whether the Tribunal will go against the advice of the Chief inspector of Mines about the working of Seams 11 & 12 where he holds that pumping of water is difficult and very costly. In deciding whether questions of closure could be referred to the Tribunal one thing has to be taken into consideration. It is that other collieries may similarly come up for permission to close down on the ground of costs. Should that on principle be accepted without reference to the Tribunal for examination whether the claim is genuine or not. Even if genuine, should not the workers be given some compensation and if so, on what basis. In the new Labour Relations Bill the Government want provisions for compensation to the workers in such cases. These are the questions which can be settled by Tribunal finally. If the Tribunal could decide the principles of compensation that will be a guide for us in similar cases. In this view of the matter, in my opinion, this case might be referred to the Tribunal only for deciding the amount of compensation could be paid to those who have to be retrenched or prefer retrenchment to transfer."
On the 20th of February 1951, a letter was sent toy the Standard Coal Company, Limited to the Regional Labour Commissioner (Central) Dhanbad, informing him that Section 33 of the Industrial Disputes Act does not apply to the facts and circumstances of this case and that the Company was not obliged to act in accordance with the provisions of that section. A letter dated the 26th February 1951 sent by Standard Coal Company, Limited, to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, refers to the following advice received from their solicitors concerning the conciliation proceeding which was fixed for the 10th March 1951:
"If the Regional Labour Commissioner persists in pursuing the purported conciliation proceedings he will be acting without authority or jurisdiction and such proceedings will be void."
6. On the 1st of March 1951 the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, sent a letter to the Chief Mining Engineer of the Standard Colliery along with a copy of the telegram received from the Ministry of Labour requesting him to pay compensation or gratuity to the workers who had not been or are not likely to be given any alternative employment in accordance with Clause 38 of the proposed new Labour Relations Bill. On the 2nd of March 1951, the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, wrote a letter to the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Labour, New Delhi, which amongst others, contained the following passage:
"Due to the stoppage of work the labour would be losing their earned leave and proportionable bonus. They should get them and the Railway fare to go home in case it is closed. If the management do not agree to compensation a reference to the Tribunal might be made on these subjects."
In reply to the aforesaid letter dated the 1st of March 1951 sent by the Regional Labour Commissioner to the Chief Mining Engineer of the Standard Colliery, the later wrote back that it was not possible to make general payment of gratuity. In this connection the letter ran as follows: "As far as gratuity is concerned, kindly note that it was intended to make some ex-gratia payment to the old and infirm and mention of this was made in the terms of settlement already reached before you. So far of course nothing of this kind can be done as labour are refusing to cooperate with us in any way." After some other correspondence, followed the order dated the 16th of May 1951 which is attached by the petitioner in the present petition. The order referred the following points for adjudication to the Central Government Industrial Tribunal at Dhanbad.:
"1. Compensation for earned leave. 2. Proportionate bonus for the quarter 3. Railway fare".
7. The learned-Counsel for the petitioner contended that the order dated the 16th May 1951 passed by the Government was without jurisdiction. According to him, the authority of the Government for referring this matter to the Tribunal for adjudication arises from Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (Act XIV of 1947) which runs thus; "10. Reference of disputes to Boards, Courts or Tribunals.
1. If any industrial dispute exists or is apprehended, the appropriate Government may, by order in writing,
(a) refer the dispute to a Board for promoting a settlement thereof; or
(b) refer any matter appearing to be connected with or relevant to the dispute to a Court for inquiry or
(c) refer the dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication;
Provided that where the dispute relates to a public utility service and a notice under Section 22 has been given, the appropriate Government shall, unless it considers that the notice has been frivolously or vexatiously given or that it would be inexpedient so to do, make a reference under this sub-section notwithstanding that any other proceedings under this Act in respect of the dispute may have commenced.
2. Where the parties to an industrial dispute apply in the prescribed manner whether jointly or separately for a reference of the dispute to a Board, Court or Tribunal, the appropriate Government if satisfied that the persons applying 'represent the majority of each party', shall make the reference accordingly. .
3. Where an industrial dispute has been referred to a Board or Tribunal under this section, the appropriate Government may by order prohibit the continuance of any strike or lock out in connection with such dispute which may be in existence on the date of the reference."
8. According to him, all disputes which had arisen on the notice to close down the Standard Colliery had come to an end on the 15th of February, 1951 when an agreement was arrived at between Sri P. C. Bose representing the workers and Sri Das and Sri Gupta representing the management. He further submitted that after such an agreement no dispute can be legally said to exist at least for a period of six months from the 15th of February 1951 and the said agreement is binding on all the workers of the Colliery in accordance with the provisions of Sections 18 and 19 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. According to him, it was after the 15th of February, 1951 that some dissatisfied workers raised up a hue and cry that the said agreement was not beneficial to them. Resolutions were passed subsequently at a worker's meeting to the effect that Sri Shivakali Bose was their representative which fact would not nullify the validity of the agreement, dated the 15th of February, 1951, by Sri P. C. Bose who was the real representative of the workers. In this connection he referred us to the decision in the case of the 'Kandan Textiles Ltd. v. The Industrial Tribunal Madras', AIR (38) 1951 Mad 616 and contended that the Government had no jurisdiction to pass the order on the 16th of May, 1951 which fell within six months from the 15th of February, 1951. He further contended that the three Items referred to the Central Government Industrial Tribunal for adjudication cannot be considered to be items of disputes even on the representation of Sri Shivakali Bose who all along stressed that the colliery should not be closed and never put forward any claim for these three items and as such there cannot be said to be any industrial dispute necessitating the reference,
9. The learned Counesl for the petitioner further contended that if the decision of the Gov- ernment was based on the report of the Regional Labour Commissioner dated the 19th of February, 1951, then also the order is without jurisdiction because the decision to refer should not have been founded on the possibility of cropping up of similar disputes in other collieries which might decide to close down in future, in support of his argument, the learned Counsel relied upon the case of 'Estate and Trust Agencies (1927) Ltd. v. Singapore Improvement Trust', (1937) A C 898 (P C).
10. The learned Counsel for the petitioner further contended that the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, could not have allowed Sri Shivakali Bose to represent the workers of the Standard Colliery as his representation cannot come within the provisions of Section 36 (1) (a) or (b) or (c) of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 which runs thus:
"36. Representation of parties; (1) a workman who is a party to a dispute be entitled to be represented in any proceeding under this Act by
(a) an Officer of a Registered Trade Union of which he is a member;
(b) an officer of a federation of trade unions to which the trade, union referred to in Clause (a) is affiliated;
(c) where the worker is not a member of any trade union by an officer of any Trade Union connected with or by any other workman employed in, the industry in which the worker is employed and authorised in such manner as may be prescribed."
11. He submitted that the representation by Sri Shivakali Bose could not come within the meaning of Section 36(1)(c) of the Act as no rules have been framed so far which were essential for its applicability.
12. The learned Counsel for the petitioner thereafter read portions from his petition and from several affidavits sworn on behalf of the petitioner to show that a large number of workers had already withdrawn their pay and were not at all dissatisfied with the agreement arrived at by Sri P. C. Bose and as such it is not a case of any existing dispute which could have been referred for decision of the Industrial Tribunal.
13. We are, however, not in agreement with any of the submissions of the learned Counsel for the petitioner. On the records of the case, it cannot be said that no dispute existed on the date of the order of reference in question. In our opinion, the agreement by Sri P.C. Bose cannot bind all the workers of the Colliery when on the petitioner's own affidavit only some 200 workers out of the total number of about sixteen hundred were members of the Union of which he was the president. Sri Shivakali Bose had sent a telegram to the Hon'ble Labour Minister as early as on the 4th of January 1951 ventilating the grievances of the workers of the Standard Colliery on the question of the lock out proposed by the management. On the 7th of January, 1951 a letter was sent to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, on behalf of about a thousand workers of the Standard Colliery that they would be represented by Sri Shivakali Bose at the proceeding before him. The management of the colliery was also fully aware that Sri Shivakali Bose was set up as representative on behalf of a large number of workers. But inspite of all that, an agreement is said to have been arrived at on the 15th of February, 1951, behind the back of Sri Shivakali Bose and without giving him any notice that the matter would be taken up on that date. Sri Shivakali Bose lodged a protest, en the 17th of February, 1951 challenging the binding nature of the alleged agreement. In our opinion, the agreement dated the 15th of February, 1951, did not terminate the dispute as is contended on behalf of the petitioner.
14. We also do not agree with the argument of the learned Counsel for the petitioner that as no rules had been framed under the provisions of Section 36(1) (c) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Sri Shivakali Bose could not have represented the workers of the standard Colliery. In our opinion in the absence of any such rules any letter of authorisation including the one sent to the Regional Labour Commissioner on the 7th of January, 195 was sufficient to make him their representative within the meaning of that section. It is also clear from the report of the Regional Labour Commissioner dated the 19th of February 1951 that about a thousand workers had put forward Sri Shibakali Bose as their representative before him. In fact, the notice of the conciliation proceeding was sent to Sri Shivakali Bose also on the 3rd of February, 1951. Thus, the representation of Sri Shivakali Bose could not have been ignored and so it cannot be said that Sri P. C. Bose alone will be deemed to have represented all the workers of the Standard Colliery and that his agreement is binding on all of them. From the records of the Regional Labour Commissioner also it is clear that he had not treated the dispute as having come to an end by the agreement of the 15th of February, 1951; on the contrary, he had fixed the 10th of March, 1951 as the date for taking up the conciliation proceeding. From his reports to the Government of India also it is clear that he had never considered the dispute to have come to an end. In our opinion, therefore, there was ample justification for the Government of India to have come to the conclusion on the 16th of May, 1951 that there was an industrial dispute in existence entitling them to refer it for the decision of the Tribunal within the meaning of Section 10 of the Act.
15. The case of 'The Kandan Textiles Ltd. v. The Industrial Tribunal Madras', A I R (38) 1951 Mad 616 relied upon on behalf of the petitioner is not on all fours with the present case. In that case, the proceeding before the Tribunal had come to an end and most of the points referred to the Tribunal were not contested before it. The learned Judges who decided that case came to the conclusion on the facts of that case that no dispute existed which could have given jurisdiction to the Government to make a reference within the meaning of Section 10 of the Act. The learned Counsel for the petitioner had very vehemently argued relying upon certain passages from that judgment that unless the demand for redress of certain grievances made by the workers had been refused by the employer, those grievances cannot form the basis of any 'industrial dispute' as defined by the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. In our opinion, those passages were not intended to be absolute tests applicable in all cases, but if they were so intended we respectfully beg to differ from the learned Judges on that particular point. There may be instances where workers may consider it wholly useless to make a[ demand on the management and prefer to move the appropriate machinery set up by Government for the redress of their grievances. But nevertheless, it will be an industrial dispute if it comes within the meaning of Section 2(k) of the Act. In our opinion, the Madras judgment cannot be of any assistance to the petitioner in the present case.
16. The case of Estate and Trust Agencies (1927) Ltd. v. Singapore Improvement Trust', (1937) A C 898 (P C) also is not of any assistance to the petitioner. In that case the appellant had applied for issue of a writ of prohibition against the respondents prohibiting them from further proceeding in respect of a declaration made by the respondents of that case that a block of 97 houses including the house of the appellant, were all insanitary within the meaning of Section 57 of the Singapore Improvement Ordinance No. 10 of 1927. Section 57 of the Ordinance ran as follows:
"Whenever it appears to the Board that within . its administrative area any building which is used or is intended or is likely to be used as a dwelling place is of such a construction or is in such a condition as to be unfit for human habitation, the Board may by resolution declare such building to be insanitary."
17. While making that declaration the authorities had come to their decision with reference to "The Manual on Unfit Houses and Unhealthy Areas issued officially by the Ministry of Health for official use and particularly to Volume I, second part chapter 5, under heading "standards of fitness" Their Lordships of the Judicial Committee held in that case that it was not proper to make declaration under Section 57 of the Ordinance by referring to the standard of building mentioned in the Manual on Unfit Houses and Unhealthy Areas" referred to above. Their Lordships were of the opinion that the powers of the authorities while making that declaration were strictly limited by the terms of the Ordinance, and that they should not have allowed their judgment to be influenced by a consideration as to what would be an ideal house according to the said "Manual of Unfit Houses and Unhealthy areas." In this view of the matter their Lordships held;
"To sum up this part of the case, their Lordships have come to the conclusion that the 'grounds' on which the respondents made the declaration, as explained by the affidavit of their chairman, were grounds which did not justify the declaration. In other words, the respondents were applying a wrong and an inadmissible test in making the declaration and in deciding to submit it to the Governor in Council. They were therefore acting beyond their powers, and the declaration is not enforceable".
18. On any view of the matter, it is not right to say, as has been argued on behalf of the petitioner, that the Government decided to make the reference in question to evolve some common formulae for settling disputes which might' crop up if other collieries also decided' to close down their work in future. In this connection, the learned Counsel for the petitioner had referred to a stray passage in the report dated the 19th of February, 1951 sent by the Regional Labour Commissioner Dhanbad, to the Secretary to the Government of India Ministry of Labour, quoted above. But the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, had suggested the items for reference in his letter dated 2nd of March, 1951, and in face of this letter it is idle to suggest that the decision of the Government to refer the dispute was based on some extraneous matter referred to in the letter dated the 19th of February 1951, mentioned above. In our opinion, there is no force in the contention of the learned Counsel for the petitioner on this count also.
19. The learned Counsel for the petitioner vehemently contended that about 1100 workers who have already accepted their final payment and other facilities including the payment of gratuity or pension in suitable cases were already included in the agreement dated the 15th of February, 1951. But the attitude of the Company regarding the payment of gratuity as disclosed in their letter dated the 3rd of March 1951 addressed to the Regional Labour Commissioner, Dhanbad, was wholly different. In our opinion, the decision of the Government to make the reference in question cannot be said to be without justification.
20. The learned Counsel for the petitioner further contended that because a large number of workers have accepted final payment they will be deemed to have ratified the agreement dated tne lath of February, 1951. In our opinion, this will not make the order dated the 16th of May, 1951, without jurisdiction.
21. An argument was advanced on behalf of the Government that we have no jurisdiction to issue any writ under Article 226 of the Constitution on opposite party No. 3, the Union of India; nor have we any jurisdiction to issue any writ prohibiting the Industrial Labour Tribunal at Dhanbad (appointed by the Central Government) to proceed with the adjudication.
22. In reply the learned Counsel for the petitioner conceded that no writ could be issued against opposite party No. 3, the Union of India, but, according to him, it could be certainly issued against the Tribunal functioning within the jurisdiction of the State of Bihar though it owes its appointment to the Central Government. In this connection the learned Counsel relied upon the cases of 'Soorajmull Nagarmull v. The Assistant Collector of Customs', 55 Cal W N 528 and 'Madangopal v. The Union of India', AIR (38) 1951 Raj 94. It is, however, not necessary for us to decide whether this Court is competent to issue any writ under Article 226 of the Constitution on opposite party No. 1, Sri S.P. Varma, Chairman, Central Government Industrial Tribunal at Dhanbad, because of the view taken by us of the matter as indicated above. In our opinion, no point has been made out for issuing any writ under Article 226 of the Constitution.
23. The result is that the Miscellaneous Judicial case fails and is dismissed but in the circum stances of this case there will be no order for costs.