When a litigant opts for common law remedy, he may choose either the civil court or the industrial forum : Supreme Court

The 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. as upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court through the learned bench lead by Justice Hrishikesh Roy in the case of Milkhi Ram v. Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1346 OF 2010)

The brief facts of the case are that, the appellant was a daily wage employee under the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board. The service of the temporary employee was dispensed with by order dated 1.1.1985 issued by the Executive Engineer. This was challenged in the Civil Suit No. 100/1985. The plaintiff claimed to have rendered uninterrupted service for 2778 days and asserted the right to be regularized after completion of 240 days of continuous service. The defendant per-contra contended that the plaintiff never worked for a continuous period of 240 days and as such he is disentitled to claim regularization. The learned Judge referred to the provisions of Section 25B and 25F of the ID Act and noted that the plaintiff had rendered service for well above 240 days in one year and therefore his service could not have been terminated without complying with the statutory requirement.

The Board challenged the above decision before the District Judge, Dharamshala. The jurisdiction of civil court was again questioned but the appellate court observed that the question of jurisdiction is a mixed question of law and facts and since the litigation is continuing for long, it would not be proper to relegate the plaintiff to the labour court. The decree favouring the plaintiff was accordingly upheld by rejecting the jurisdictional objection raised by the Board. The Board made the offer to appoint the terminated daily wager to the post of LDC in the regular pay scale, responding to the appointment offer, the appellant gave a joining report but the joining report was not acted upon by the management.

The Board contended before the High Court that the civil court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate a claim arising out of the ID Act and relief for the aggrieved employee could have been granted, only by the industrial court. On the other hand, the decree holder pointed out that concurrent findings are recorded in favour of the plaintiff. the learned Judge referred to the judgments in Rajasthan SRTC & Ors. vs. Khadarmal, Rajasthan SRTC & Anr. vs. Ugma Ram Choudhry and opined that the civil court did not have jurisdiction to entertain a claim based on the ID Act and if any decree is passed by the court without jurisdiction, the same shall have no force of law.

 Mr. Ajit Singh Pundir, the learned counsel submits that the appellant has rendered service as a daily wager since 11.12.1976 and his service could not have been terminated without following the due process. Even when relief is claimed based on the provisions of the ID Act, the jurisdiction of the civil court is not entirely barred.

Mr. Naresh K. Sharma, the learned counsel for the respondent Board, in support of the impugned judgment, reiterates the contention made before the High Court and submits that when the civil court had no jurisdiction, the decree is nothing but a nullity and no relief on the basis of such void decree can be claimed by the plaintiff.

Having heard learned counsel for the respective parties at length, the Hon’ble Court held, “Although jurisdictional objection was raised and a specific issue was framed at the instance of the employer, the issue was answered against the defendant. This Court is unable to accept the view propounded by the courts below and is of the considered opinion that the civil court lacks jurisdiction to entertain a suit structured on the provisions of the ID Act. The decree favouring the plaintiff is a legal nullity and the finding of the High Court to this extent is upheld.

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Judgment Reviewed by Vandana Ragwani

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