15 Dec 2010

Burden of proof cannot be shifted on worker: Supreme Court

Giving a thrust to the position of a lone worker in the situation of an allegation of misconduct against the mightly management, the Supreme Court in Amar Chakravarty v. Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. has declared that the burden of proof to show the misconduct is always on the management and the burden cannot be shifted upon the worker to show that there was no misconduct.

The Supreme Court explained the rationale for such declaration of law in the following terms;
13. In our opinion, in light of the settled legal position on the point, the judgment of the High Court is clearly indefensible. Whilst it is true that the provisions of the Evidence Act, 1872 per se are not applicable in an industrial adjudication, it is trite that its general principles do apply in proceedings before the Industrial Tribunal or the Labour Court, as the case may be. (See: Municipal Corporation, Faridabad Vs. Siri Niwas). In any proceeding, the burden of proving a fact lies on the party that substantially asserts the affirmative of the issue, and not on the party who denies it. (See: Anil Rishi Vs. Gurbaksh Singh) Therefore, it follows that where an employer asserts misconduct on the part of the workman and dismisses or discharges him on that ground, it is for him to prove misconduct by the workman before the Industrial Tribunal or the Labour Court, as the case may be, by leading relevant evidence before it and it is open to the workman to adduce evidence contra. In the first instance, a workman cannot be asked to prove that he has not committed any act tantamounting to misconduct.
14. In Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (supra) relied upon by learned counsel for the appellant, a Constitution Bench of this Court affirmed the decision of this Court in Shambu Nath Goyal Vs. Bank of Baroda & Ors., wherein the issue for consideration was as to at what stage, the management is entitled to seek permission to adduce evidence in justification of its decision to terminate the services of an employee. It was held that the right of the employer to adduce additional evidence, in a proceeding before the Labour Court under Section 10 of the Act, questioning the legality of the order terminating the service must be availed of by the employer by making a proper request at the time when it files its statement of claim or written statement. It was observed that: 
“The management is made aware of the workman’s contention regarding the defect in the domestic enquiry by the written statement of defence filed by him in the application filed by the management under Section 33 of the Act. Then, if the management chooses to exercise its right it must make up its mind at the earliest stage and file the application for that purpose without any unreasonable delay.”
15.Similarly, in The Workmen of M/s Firestone Tyre & Rubber Co. (supra), this court observed that:
“Even if no enquiry has been held by an employer or if the enquiry held by him is found to be defective, the Tribunal in order to satisfy itself about the legality and validity of the order, had to give an opportunity to the employer and employee to adduce evidence before it. It is open to the employer to adduce evidence for the first time justifying his action, and it is open to the employee to adduce evidence contra.” (See also: United Bank of India Vs. Tamil Nadu Banks Deposit Collectors Union & Anr.; Engineering Laghu Udyog Employees’ Union Vs. Judge, Labour Court and Industrial Tribunal & Anr. 
16. In our opinion, the decisions in Manager, Reserve Bank of India (supra) and Talwara Cooperative Credit and Service Society Limited (supra) relied upon by the learned counsel for the respondent have no bearing on the issue at hand in as much as the said decisions deal with the onus of proof in relation to proving 240 days of continuous service and entitlement to back wages respectively, for which the claims were made by the workmen, which is not the case here. In the present case, as stated above, the assertion to the effect that it was not practical to hold domestic enquiry to prove the misconduct of the workman was by the employer and therefore, the assertion has to be proved by the employer and not by the workman.
17. In view of the aforesaid position in law, the inevitable conclusion is that when no enquiry is conducted before the service of a workman is terminated, the onus to prove that it was not possible to conduct the enquiry and that the termination was justified because of misconduct by the employee, lies on the management. It bears repetition that it is for the management to prove, by adducing evidence, that the workman is guilty of misconduct and that the action taken by it is proper. In the present case, the services of the appellants-workmen having been terminated on the ground of misconduct, without holding a domestic enquiry, it would be for the management to adduce evidence to justify its action. It will be open to the appellants-workmen to adduce evidence in rebuttal. Therefore, the order passed by the Labour Court, shifting the burden to prove issue No. 1 on the workmen is fallacious and the High Court should have quashed it.

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