Read Order: Smt. Khazani Devi v. The Presiding Officer, Industrial Tribunal-cum-Labour Court & Others

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, March 25, 2022: While dealing with a delayed claim of a workman’s wife against the alleged removal of her husband from his employment by the respondent- Department, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that even if there is no limitation prescribed for making reference, that does not give a license to the workman to file the legal proceedings at any time as per his choice. 

The Bench of Justice Rajbir Sehrawat held, “In absence of any prescribed limitation, it has to be a reasonable time within which the person has to approach the court. Reasonable time would obviously be as per the understanding of an ordinary person of ordinary prudence, as assisted by the general principles of law relating to limitation. The limitation for moving the court, in general cases, is about three years.”

The case of the petitioner was that her husband was working in the respondent/department from 1973 to 2001 and in 1985 his services were regularized. However, the services of the petitioner’s husband were terminated while those who were juniors to him were retained by the department. 

When the petitioner approached the Labour Court with a reference, the same was not allowed by the Court, hence impugning that order, the petitioner approached the High Court with a petition under Articles 226/227 of the Constitution of India seeking issuance of a writ in the nature of certiorari praying for quashing the impugned award. 

The petitioner’s counsel argued that the Labour Court was legally wrong in answering the reference against the petitioner on the premise that the petitioner approached the Labour Court after lapse of 16 years from the date of termination of service of her husband. The counsel reiterated that a mere delay in approaching the Labour Court cannot be a ground for answering the reference against the workman.  

On the other hand, the counsel for the respondents-State submitted that the workman in fact, abandoned the job w.e.f. February 1, 1988, and thereafter, he never attended any office under respondents. Therefore, the counsel contended that the husband of the petitioner voluntarily left the job. The counsel further submitted that the petitioner did not place on record anything to show that the workman discharged any kind of function in any establishment of the respondents-State after February 1, 1988. Supporting the conclusion arrived at by the Labour Court, the counsel for the State submitted that the court below rightly held the undue delay in raising the dispute, as one of the relevant factors for answering the award against the workman. 

After having considered the rival submissions, the Court opined that the workman was not in service after February 1, 1988, and the demand notice was made in the year 2002. Thus, the Court observed that there was absolutely no explanation for this long delay. Instead of furnishing any explanation, genuine or otherwise, the Court noted that the workman claimed that he worked up to January 31, 2002, therefore, there was no delay at all in raising the dispute. On this count as well, the Court observed that the petitioner did not lead any evidence to establish this assertion. 

Moving to the claim of regularization of the services of the petitioner’s husband, the Court observed that once the petitioner claimed the workman to be a regular employee of the department, then she should have (at least one) evidence not within the control of the departmental authorities, to prove the payment of salary to him as a regular employee. Hence, the Court concluded that it was established that the workman never attended office after 1988.

On the delay in approaching the Labour Court, the Court opined that neither the workman is shown to have worked for 240 days in the preceding 12 calendar months from the date of alleged termination of service in the year 2001 nor the claim as such was raised within a reasonable time as counted from the year 1988. 

The workman, the Court opined, cannot get premium upon his own default, even if there is no limitation prescribed for making reference, that does not mean a license to the workman to file the legal proceedings at any time as per his choice. 

In absence of any prescribed limitation, it has to be a reasonable time within which the person has to approach the court and reasonable time would obviously be as per the understanding of an ordinary person of ordinary prudence, as assisted by the general principles of law relating to limitation, held the Court. 

“The limitation for moving the court, in general cases, is about three years. Therefore, the delay on the part of the petitioner could have been ignored by the courts only if he had moved the court within or approximately the same time”, Justice Sehrawat held. 

Coming to the factual situation of this case, the Court opined that by any means, 13 years can be no comparison with three years or approximately three years’ time period. Hence, the court did not find any illegality or impropriety in the order passed by the court below. Accordingly, the petition was dismissed.

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