The Karnataka High Court has upheld the termination of a manager of the British Library for misconduct. In the process, the HC took a stand contrary to the Employment Tribunal in England, which has statutory jurisdiction to hear many kinds of disputes between employers and employees, as well as the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
The HC held that the British Library was the employer of the manager and not the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR). Ajay Merchant was appointed as the manager of the British Library in Hyderabad in 2008. He was appointed through the ICCR with which the British High Commission has an MOU for collaboration and administration of British Libraries in India.
During 2012, allegations were made against Ajay Merchant for "inappropriate comments and harassment" of women colleagues, and a memo or charges issued against him. However, he refused to respond stating that the British Council was not his employer, and did not appear for the enquiry proceedings.
In 2013, Merchant approached the Employment Tribunal in England, which ruled on September 27 the same year that the British Council was not his employer and the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the claim. On October 16, 2014, the ICCR terminated Merchant's service. He approached the CAT, Bengaluru, which set aside the termination and ordered that he be reinstated. The ICCR challenged the CAT order before the HC. Merchant also approached the HC seeking back-wages.
The Division Bench of Justice P S Dinesh Kumar and Justice M G Uma in their recent judgement set aside the CAT order and upheld the termination of Merchant. To the question of who was the employer of Merchant, the HC said that the ICCR had offered him the job on behalf of the British Library as the British High Commission and ICCR had an agreement.
"This is a distinct case wherein, a Foreign Country is running its Libraries in various cities in India and has taken the assistance of ICCR to disburse the budgetary amount. It is not in dispute that the offer letter was for a placement with the British Library," the HC said. To the question whether his termination was legal, the HC said that, "Several opportunities have been given to the petitioner to defend his case."
However, Merchant took conflicting stands and failed to appear before the inquiry or defend his case, the court said. "A careful perusal of the entire record shows that the applicant has indulged in correspondence rather than appearing before the Enquiry Officer and defending his case," the HC said.
(With PTI inputs)