Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
I am shocked to see that the Orissa High Court is used by illegal occupiers of the daily Samaj to keep a working journalist starved, even though the competent Labor Court had awarded him the relief of reinstatement with full back wages and the High Court had also ruled that the award was proper and justified.
The matter may be viewed as a classic instance of abortion of rule of law in the citadel of law, when lawyers fail to apprise the Court of the real position of law on one part, and on the other, pursue a design to hoodwink the court with misleading legal jargons and junks.
It would be helpful to have the minimum introduction on the case of the concerned journalist – Sub-Editor-cum-Reporter of the Samaj – Pitamber Mishra, now above 72 years.
Here below is a chronology-
1. He was subjected to constant unfair labor practice since 1986;
2. He was summarily dismissed as he wanted legitimate wages in 1997;
3. Two backdated documents were manufactured, one an agreement with his forged signature to derail his dispute in the Labor Court when the State Government sent his case for adjudication in 1998;
4. He challenged the manufactured agreement and was made to cough up a heavy sum of money for examination of his signature on the same;
5. The ‘Examiner of Questioned Documents’ in the Handwriting Bureau, Crime Branch, Orissa was asked by the Labor Court to examine the disputed signature vide letter No. 1615/LC stated 25.9.2010;
6. The Examiner opined that the disputed signature was not the signature of Pitambar Mishra;
7. Thus the forgery committed by the management established, the Labor Court declared the dismissal illegal and unjustified and warded the relief of reinstatement in service with full back wages with effect from the date of dismissal; but compounded his dues in terms of money in lieu of reinstatement with full back wages as he had crossed the superannuating age during pendency of the case on 21,2,2013;
8. The management challenged the award in the Orissa High Court in a Writ Petition, which was rejected on hearing on 30.4.2014 with the conclusion that the Labor Court award was proper and justified;
9. Instead of implementing the Labor Court award as improved by the High Court, the management has used the High Court to keep the journalist in starvation taking advantage of Law that provides for a Writ Appeal and the suffering journalist’s inability to wake up the judicial conscience.
The poor man is now 72+ and is under slow starvation as the High Court has allowed the management the luxury of misusing the forums of law to torture the workman.
Heritage of Crime
Orissa’s iconic newspaper -The Samaja – co-founded by Utkalmani Pt. Gopabandhu Das, is being published under illegitimate ownership, as proved in these pages.
Radhanath Rath – a low paid servant of Gopabandhu, who could bag a Padmabhusan over and above legislative and ministerial berths as well as Lingaraj Mishra, a, “easygoing” protege of Gopabandhu, who could also occupy ministerial positions due to the media power of the Samaja, had tampered with and finally forged a will of Gopabandhu to hijack the newspaper, which has already been shown in these pages with relevant documents.
But the conduct of crime seen in these two fellows did not end in their death in the context of the newspaper. It seems, they have handed over a heritage of crime to their successors in the Samaja.
In these pages I have shown how the funds of the paper are being looted through forged documents. Now I will show, how Radhanath Rath’s daughter Ms. Manorama Mahapatra, a retired higher education teacher, who succeeded her father as Associate Editor – cum – Member (administration) of the establishment, forged the signature of the above mentioned sub-editor-cum-news reporter to deny him his legitimate position and salaries.
The Samaja was in need of a sub-editor and the management recruited Pitambar Mishra for the post in 1986.
But, he was neither given written order of appointment nor due salary.
Accounts section of the Samaja paid him only Rs.250/- at the end of the month and advised him to stay content with this amount till regularization of his appointment or enhancement of the amount of ad hoc pay, whichever would be earlier.
Formal appointment letter would be issued to him when he earns a regular status, he was told.
He was made to understand that Radhanath Rath was the SARBESARBA (all-in-one) in the Samaja system and he must not dare to irritate him with any demand for appointment letter and salary in time scale.
When Rath will be satisfied with his work, everything would be normal and there shall be regular appointment with salary as per Wage Board, he was told.
The Samaja being the highest circulated daily of the State and, as Rath, equipped with media power, was making the government dance to his tune, Pitamber could not dare to do anything but acquiescing into the situation with a hope for regularization of his employment, as to him, such a ‘big personality’ like Rath could not be an exploiter.
But, Rath was an exploiter in real sense. He asked him to report Cuttack City along with his desk job without any hike in the ad hoc pay even, in a way of calculated exploitation.
Footprints of Exploitation
After rendering service for five years in both the field and desk sectors, Pitambar submitted a representation to management in 1989 for confirmation either in the post of Sub-Editor or in the post of Reporter with regular salary. The management ignored his representation for around two years and simply increased the amount of his ad hoc pay to Rs.600/- per month in 1991. He insisted that he should be regularized in service with salary as per Wage Board.
His representation was finally placed before the executive body of Servants of the People Society, which has illegally occupied the paper, on 22.3.1994. The minutes of that meeting records, “The Executive Secretary gave applications of Upendra, retired from Advertisement Section, P.C.Sarkar, Correspondent and Pitamber Mishra, Sub-Editor for comments”. It made it clear that Mishra was mainly the Sub-Editor. But, instead of confirming him, the management only enhanced his ad hoc salary to Rs.780/- in 1994. His representation for confirmation continued to be ignored.
Dispute before Labor Authorites
Severely injured both professionally and financially, as the management was not paying any heed to his grievances, Pitamber moved the labor law implementation machinery for intervention. The District Labor Officer, Cuttack, issued notice to the management on 25.8.1997 asking for their views on Sri Mishra’s demand for regularization of employment with retrospective effect along with all consequential benefits.
Mishra’s dispute before the labor authorities enraged the management to such ferocity that they terminated his service immediately on receiving the labor officer’s notice. In the history of the Samaja under illegal occupiers, no employee has ever been tolerated after raising a dispute before the labor authorities against harassment. So, Mishra was prevented from entering into the campus of the Samaja on 7,9,1997 with the gate keeper informing him that his services had been terminated. As he wanted the termination order, the general manager came to the gate and told him that his services were no more required. Pitambar’s request for the written order, if any, to that effect, was also turned down orally by the GM.
The affected workman moved the DLO for intervention and then,legally, his pending dispute for confirmation in service metamorphosed to an Industrial Dispute over illegal termination.
Reference to Labor Court
The Samaja management remained recalcitrant and the case landed in the Labor Court vide Order No.15552/LE dated 31.12.1998 of the State Government with the following term of reference:
“Whether the termination of services of Sri Pitambar Mishra Sub-Editor/News Reporter by the management of “The Samaj” with effect from 7.9.97 is legal and/or justified? If not, to what relief Sri Mishra is entitled?”
with forged Signature
When the Labor Court registered the Industrial Dispute and initiated adjudication, the management of Samaja challenged the maintainability thereof by producing an agreement to show that there was no employer-employee relationship between it and Sri Mishra. The harassed journalist, to his horror found that not only the agreement was manufactured to suit the nefarious motive of the management, but also the signature purported to be his on the body of the manufactured agreement was also manufactured. He vehemently objected to depiction of a forged signature as his on the forged agreement. The management claimed that signature of the workman was genuine.
Instead of asking the management to establish genuineness of the signature disowned by the workman, the Labor Court asked the abysmally low-paid workman to deposit a very heavy amount of money as cost of handwriting examination, which was bend the capacity of the workman to arrange. As he failed to attend the Court with the money he was asked to deposit, the said court answered the reference in favor of the management, in the line the management had wanted.
The blatantly disadvantaged journalist moved the High Court of Orissa seeking quashing of the rash order of the Labor court. The High Court quashed the order and directed the Labor Court Presiding Officer to recall his order and to send the disputed signature of Mishra along with his specimen signatures to the State Handwriting Bureau for opinion of the handwriting examiner on genuineness or not of the signature on the questioned agreement.
Accordingly the award was recalled by the Labor Court. The poor workman coughed up the heavy amount of cost of signature examination. The Judge of the Labor Court collected his specimen signatures in presence of the lawyer of the management and sent the same with the disputed signature to the Examiner of Disputed Documents, CID,CB,HWB, Orissa, for examination. The handwriting expert found that the signature on the agreement paper was at all of Pitamber Mishra. His report was submitted by the S.P., CID, CB, HWB under cover of letter No. DP 26-19/530/HWB dt. 25.6.2011.
As the signature of Sri Mishra on the agreement filed by management was found to be forged, the agreement was rejected by the Labor Court and employer-employee relationship was established and termination of his services was determined to be illegal and unjustified in the award of the Labor Court.
Award of the Labor Court
The Labor Court, in its award dated 21.3.2013, answered the questions raised under the reference in the the following term: “That the termination of services of Sri Pitambar Mishra, Sub-Editor/News Reporter by the management “The Samaj” with effect from 7.9.97 is neither legal or justified”.
“Regarding the relief is concerned”, the Labor Court said, “the workman has examined himself as W.W.1 on 4.6.2001 and in his evidence, he has deposed that his age is 58 years. So considering the above version and admission of the workman, he is now about 70 years old. Therefore, it is not wise to direct the management for reinstatement of the workman in service. But at the same time, the workman had rendered service under the management for about 11 years and in the meantime, the case is lingering from the year 1999, i.e. for about 14 years. So considering the age, status and his tenure in duties, I am of the considered view that instead of giving direction for reinstatement in service with back wages, a lump sum amount of Rs.2,50,ooo/- as compensation will meet the end of justice in the facts and circumstances of this case”.
Thus saying, the Labor Court ordered that “The workman is entitled to get a lump sum amount of Rs.2,50,000/- only as compensation in lieu of reinstatement in service with back wages. The management is directed to implement this Award within a period of two months from the date of its publication, failing, the amount shall carry interest at the rate of 10% (ten per cent) per annum till its realization”.
Thus this is a clear, unambiguous and emphatic Award of reinstatement in service with full back wages.
High Court did not see Sec 17B of I.D.Act
The illegal occupiers of the Samaja preferred a Writ Petition in the Orissa High Court against this Award, which was registered as W.P.(C) N0.14183 of 2013.
The Writ Petition should have been rejected, had the High Court looked at Section 17 B of the Industrial Disputes Act.
I quote Sec.17 B, captioned as, “Payment of full wages to workman pending proceedings in higher Courts” where it is written,
“Where in any case, a Labour Court, Tribunal or National Tribunal by its award directs reinstatement of any workman and the employer prefers any proceedings against such award in a High Court or the Supreme Court, the employer shall be to pay such workman , during the period of pendency of such proceedings in the High Court or the Supreme Court , full wages last drawn by him , inclusive of any maintenance allowance admissible to him under any rule, if the workman had not been employed in any establishment during such period and an affidavit by such workman had been filed to that effect in such Court”.
When the Writ Petition was filed against the Award of the Labor Court and the Labor Court had given the Award of reinstatement with full back wages, commuting the same to Rs.2,50,000/- in lieu thereof in view of the journalist having crossed the superannuation age in course of the case pending before it for long 14 years, it should have been proper for the High Court to refuse to entertain the management’s case in absence of proof of payment of the entire amount awarded by the Labor Court, specifically as it was clear that the 70+ old man was neither fit for work nor permissible to work anywhere. Yet, the Court reduced the commuted amount of the workman’s back wages by Rs.30,000/- to Rs.2,20,000/-, though the Judge was clear in saying, “On consideration of the materials on record, I am of the view that there is no infirmity in the findings of the the Presiding Officer, Labor Court that the termination of the workman was neither legal nor justified”.
The High Court should not have reduced the awarded amount in view of the fact that the said amount was determined in lieu of full back wages of the workman with effect from his de jure reinstatement in service on 7.9.1997. The labor Court had clearly held that termination of service of Sri Mishra was neither legal nor justified. Hence reinstatement with full back wages was awarded.
Though the workman was de jure reinstated in service with effect from 7.9.1997, he was not to join his postde facto on reinstatement, because, by that date, his serving age had been lost during pendency of the industrial dispute. The Labor Court, in that special circumstances had commuted the back wages he was entitled to on de jure reinstatement. This was a minimum amount of wages. If the High Court was to entertain the management’s writ application, it should have asked the management to pay the workman his dues as determined by the Labor Court before hearing the same. Instead, it heard the case and reduced the awarded amount to drastic disadvantage of the workman.
The management is a habitual litigant determined to harass the workman. When the Labor Court was hearing the case, and it was established through examination by the Handwriting Bureau that the management had forged the signature of the workman on a disputed agreement, tallying the disputed signature of the workman with his many specimen signatures collected by the judge of the labor Court in the presence of and witnessed by the management’s legal representative, the management had filed a petition on 9.11.2011 to send another signature of the workman again to the Handwriting Bureau. The labor Court had rejected that petition on 20.12.2011. Against this order, the management rushed a writ petition in the High Court, even as it made a fresh plea before the Labor Court on 18.1.2012 to recall the C.W.1 (the signature examiner) for a fresh cross examination. As its writ application got admitted in the High Court, vide W.P. (C) No.4540 of 2012, the management withdrew its petition in the Labor Court on 7.3.2012.
The High Court found that the disputed signature has been proved as a forged signature through examination by the handwriting expert on being referred to by the Labor Court. The Examiner has tallied the same with admitted old signatures as well as with specimen signatures collected by the judge of the Labor Court in presence of and witnessed by the legal representative of the management. The Examiner has also deposed and been cross examined in the court as C.W.1 and the details of the examination with 13 sheets of documents, 17 sheets of photo enlargement, Negative containing 17 exposures and two sheets of statement of reason along with the scientific opinion have been filed in the Labor Court and examined by the management, and it had not found any defect therein. Against this backdrop, the High Court had rejected on 12.3.2013 the W.P. (C) No.4540 of 2012 instituted by the management with the observation that, “The Court does not find any irregularity or illegality in the impugned order passed by the Labor court”.
Fresh Attempt to Kill the Spirit of the I.D.Act
Despite the verdicts of the High Court, the recalcitrant management of the newspaper has not yet paid the dues of the Sub-Editor. It has challenged the verdict in a Writ Appeal, on the ground that signature of the workman on the body of his ‘Statement of Claim’ was not sent to the handwriting expert along with his admitted signatures.
So, the Writ Appeal – WA No.201 of 2014 – filed by the management against the above High Court order is nothing but a nasty attempt to keep the tortured journalist denied of his dues.
Sri Mishra is more than 72 years.
His legitimate dues should not be denied to him in guise of the Writ Appeal.
Had the Court paid attention to Sec.17 B of the I.D.Act, the above said writ case could not have been entertained without payment of the full wages (in this peculiar situation the entire amount awarded by the Labor Court) by the management to him and the present Writ Appeal should also have been rejected because of non- payment of the awarded amount to Mishra under the same section.
The spirit of Sec.17 B of the I.D.Act must not be killed in the High Court under evil design of a management that had no qualms in forging the signature of the workman to deny him his dues.
In my next posting on the Samaja devilry, I will discuss its forgery with relevant documents.