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An acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on disciplinary proceedings: Supreme Court of India.

As per the cardinal principle of law an acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as the standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and with different objectives. This was observed by Hon’ble M. R. Shah, J in the matter of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation vs. Dilip Uttam Jayabhay- [Civil Appeal No. 7403 of 2021].

Brief facts of the case are, the respondent was a driver and plied passenger buses. Once while driving, the bus met with an accident with a jeep coming from the opposite direction. It appears that instead of taking the bus to the left side, the driver took the bus to the extreme right which was the wrong side and as a result, the jeep and the bus collided. The accident resulted in death of four passengers and six were seriously injured. The impact of the collision was so high that the jeep was pushed back by about 25 feet and it was completely damaged. The bumper of the bus was also crushed. The driver of the jeep also sustained injuries. In view of this, the respondent was subjected to disciplinary enquiry. On conclusion of enquiry, he was dismissed from service and was prosecuted for offence under Section 279 of IPC. However, he came to be acquitted. The respondent challenged the order of dismissal before the Labour Court. The Labour Court upheld the order of dismissal. In a revision application the Industrial Tribunal considered acquittal of the respondent in criminal proceedings and observing that the drivers of both the vehicles were negligent (contributory negligence), the Industrial Tribunal exercised powers under item No.1(g) of Schedule­ IV of the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, 1971 (“MRTU” and “PULP Act, 1971” for short), and held that the order of dismissal is disproportionate to the misconduct proved. The Industrial Tribunal directed reinstatement without back wages but with continuity of Service. Feeling dissatisfied with this order, the appellant preferred writ petition before the High Court. The High Court not only dismissed the petition, but also directed appellant to pay back wages and also directed that the respondent will be entitled to retiral benefits on the basis of continuity of service with effect from date of his dismissal and till his superannuation. Feeling dissatisfied with this, the MSRTC has preferred the present appeal.

Learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant– MSRTC has vehemently submitted that that both, the High Court as well as the Industrial Court have not considered and/or appreciated the difference between the disciplinary enquiry and the criminal proceedings and they have failed to appreciate that the acquittal has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as the standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and have different objectives. It is submitted that in the facts and circumstances of the case, the case would not fall under item No.1(g) of Schedule­ IV of the MRTU and PULP Act, 1971 since there is no victimization and the action of the MSRTC cannot be said to be not in good faith and the MSRTC has neither falsely implicated the complainant– respondent nor has it dismissed the respondent for patently false reasons and therefore respondent failed toprove the alleged unfair labour practice as per the MRTU and PULP Act, 1971.

Learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent, has supported the order passed by the Industrial Court and confirmed by the High Court. It is submitted that in the facts and circumstances of the case when the Industrial Court found the order of dismissal disproportionate to the misconduct proved, the same can be said to be an unfair labour practice as per item No. 1(g) of Schedule­ IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971. Thus, the Industrial Court rightly interfered with the order of dismissal and the same is rightly confirmed by the High Court. It is submitted that the criminal court found that the jeep driver was negligent and considering the fact the criminal court acquitted the respondent– driver, the judgment and order passed by the Industrial Court, ordering  reinstatement without back wages but with continuity of service does not warrant any interference.

Supreme court after perusing the facts and arguments presented, held that – “The short question posed for consideration is whether the punishment of dismissal can be said to be unfair labour practice on the ground that it was disproportionate to the misconduct proved. As per the cardinal principle of law an acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as the standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and with different objectives. Therefore, the Industrial Court has erred in giving much stress on the acquittal of the respondent by the criminal court. In the departmental proceedings every aspect has been considered. Hence, the Industrial Court committed a grave error and has exceeded in its jurisdiction while interfering with the order of   dismissal passed by the disciplinary authority, which was not interfered by the Labour Court. Even the directions issued by the High Court directing the appellant to pay wages to the respondent – workman could not have been passed by the High Court since the petition was not filed by the workman –respondent.”

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Judgement reviewed by Mehvish Alam

 

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