The Supreme Court on Friday ordered reinstatement of a man, whose service was terminated nearly two decades ago in December 2002, saying he could not have been made to suffer on account of the management's "obdurate attempt" to have the relief set aside.
Noting that the Labour court had in August 2010 held J K Jadeja's termination illegal and directed the Kutchh District Panchayat to reinstate him with continuity of service but without back wages, the apex court said the management cannot be absolved of the primary responsibility in its "litigative proclivity".
A bench of Chief Justice U U Lalit and Justice S R Bhat set aside an order passed by a division bench of the Gujarat High Court which had set aside the direction to reinstate him and instead awarded lump sum compensation of Rs one lakh.
It noted that the management had challenged the labour court's award but a single judge of the high court had in May 2011 endorsed the finding and directed reinstatement of the man.
Later, the management filed an appeal which was rejected in January 2014 following which it approached the top court.
The top court had remitted the matter for fresh consideration and the division bench of the high court set aside the direction to reinstate the man.
"Having regard to these factors, the court is of the opinion that the appellant workman could not have been made to suffer on account of the management's obdurate attempt to have the relief set aside," the bench said.
"Furthermore, the division bench's impugned judgment has not interfered with the factual findings. Therefore, the direction to substitute the relief of reinstatement with one for lumpsum payment was not warranted in the circumstances of this case," it said.
The apex court said it finds no perversity or unreasonableness on the part of the labour court and the single judge of the high court in directing the appellant's reinstatement.
"Had the respondent management chosen to accept the verdict, the appellant would have been spared the agony of waiting for more than 10 years. In such circumstances, the denial of backwages, has resulted in punishing him, although the delay is attributable to the judicial process," it said, while allowing the appeal filed by Jadeja.
"However, the respondent management cannot be absolved of the primary responsibility in its litigative proclivity. In these circumstances, the appellant shall be entitled to back wages for a period of two years immediately preceding, i.e., from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2022," the bench said.
While setting aside the order of the division bench, the apex court said the appellant shall be reinstated in service within six weeks from today and also restored the direction of the labour court and the single judge for continuity of service.
Jadeja was appointed as a watchman on October 5, 1992 by the respondent society and lastly, he was working as a watchman at the Shirai Dam at Beraja Village of Gujarat.
The top court noted that after rendering continuous employment, he was terminated from services on December 30, 2002.
The management had disputed the claim on the basis that the appellant worked on a purely temporary basis and could not claim the benefit of section 25B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 as he had not worked for a continuous period of 240 days in any given year.
Before the labour court, the management had contended that the entire muster roll record was not available as it was destroyed during a natural calamity and they could produce the documents for the years 1994-98.
-With PTI Input