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HC pulls up MRF for `circumventing' order

Our Legal Correspondent

CHENNAI, April 23

In a case pertaining to the punishment of an employee of the Chennai-based tyre giant MRF Ltd, the Madras High Court has directed the company officials to withdraw the order of punishment against the petitioner, and has further ordered that the officials (respondents) would be sentenced to pay a fine of Rs 2,000 each and in default to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of two weeks.

The grievance of the petitioner, Mr S. Sathiamurthy, was that he was being unnecessarily harassed by the management by being asked to be present for an inquiry against him with reference to a charge-sheet dated April 11, 2001, outside his normal working hours and at a venue in a far-away place.

Disposing of a contempt application filed by the petitioner against the respondents (Mr K. George, Executive Director and Mr P.S. Subbarayalu, Senior General Manager of the company), Mr Justice K.P. Sivasubramaniam said that he was inclined to hold that the petitioner had made out a case against the respondents in seeking to punish them for contempt.

The Judge passed the order that the respondents shall withdraw the order of punishment against the petitioner dated May 26, 2001 with liberty to proceed afresh and in accordance with law by instituting a property inquiry, if the management deemed fit. In the event of the respondents not complying with the above directions, the respondents were sentenced to pay a fine 0f Rs 2,000 each and in default shall undergo simple imprisonment for a period of two weeks.

According to the petitioner, the management was exaggerating a small incident that led to placing him under suspension. The charge related to alleged misbehaviour of the petitioner on April 9, 2001. This Court by order dated May 16, 2001 admitted the writ petition and granted interim injunction by two weeks.

In the present contempt application, the petitioner contended that after the interim order was granted, the respondents issued memo on May 23, 2001 seeking to punish him with suspension for 15 days as punishment in the light of the admission alleged to have been made by him in his reply to the show-cause notice.

According to the petitioner, the said act of the respondents amounted to gross and wilful disobedience of the interim order of this Court. The impugned action had been resorted to as a result of the decision not to obey the order of this Court.

In their counter, the respondents said the punishment was based on the admission of specific charges by the petitioner himself. It had been held by various courts that on the admission of the guilt of the employee, the necessity to conduct an inquiry was only a formality.

In his rejoinder, the petitioner contended that when the spirit of the interim order was to facilitate the effective participation of the petitioner in the inquiry proceeding, the action of the respondents in the impugned proceedings amounted to bypassing the inquiry proceedings. The respondents had chosen to dispense with the inquiry relying on the letter dated April 22, 2001 only after the communication of the interim order of this Court.

The Judge said the entire sequence of events clearly indicated an intolerant attitude on the part of the management, who appeared to feel uncomfortable by the interim order passed by this Court. This had led to the management to device a method of overcoming and circumventing the orders of this Court.

Such an attitude was not proper, the Judge observed. The courts of law established in a democracy were the ultimate protective factor for the aggrieved parties whether they are the management or the labour or any individual or an institution.

He said if interim orders of the court deserved to be vacated, the proper way to achieve it was to approach the Court for the said relief.

The Judge held that it was nothing but a conduct aimed at rendering the interim orders of this Court ineffective and pre-empting a judgment being given against them in the writ petition, and at the same time, punish the petitioner without an effective inquiry against him.

The Judge said that on the question of punishment, he was inclined to take note of the apology tendered by the respondents. He was inclined to take a lenient view. At the same time, it was essential that the result of the contumacious conduct should be erased.

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