Read Judgment: Milkhi Ram vs. Himachal Pradesh State electricity Board 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, October 20, 2021: The Supreme Court has opined that the Civil Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain a suit structured on the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (ID ACT). 

A Division Bench of Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, however, considering the hardship to the terminated employee, clarified that the arrear sum paid to him pursuant to the Court’s decree, should not be recovered. 

The observation was passed in reference to a petition challenging the judgment of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh dated November 6, 2008 whereby it was observed that the civil court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the civil suit based on the ID Act. 

Going by the background of the case, the services of a daily wage employee under the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board came to be terminated by the Executive Engineer by an order dated January 1, 1985. 

Aggrieved by the same, such employee (Milkhi Ram) filed a civil suit claiming to have rendered uninterrupted service for 2,778 days, and also asserted the ‘right to be regularized’ after completion of 240 days of continuous service. 

The defendant-Himachal Pradesh State electricity Board (HPSB), however, contended that the plaintiff never worked for a continuous period of 240 days and was, therefore, not entitled to claim regularization. 

After considering the arguments, the Division Bench of the Top Court found that civil courts may have the limited jurisdiction in service matters, but jurisdiction may not be available to Court to adjudicate on orders passed by disciplinary authority. 

The authorities specified under the ID Act including the appropriate government and the industrial courts perform various functions and the ID Act provides for a wider definition of “termination of service”, the condition precedent of termination of service. The consequence of infringing those, are also provided in the ID Act. When a litigant opts for common law remedy, he may choose either the civil court or the industrial forum”, observed the Top Court. 

Speaking for the Division Bench, Justice Roy noted that in the present case, the appellant has clearly founded his claim in the suit, on the provisions of the ID Act and the employer therefore was entitled to raise a jurisdictional objection to the proceedings before the civil court.  

Hence, the Apex Court dismissed the Appeal, concluding that the decree favouring the plaintiff is a legal nullity.

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