Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
As has already been shown, the history of Samaja under Servants of the People Society (SoPS) is a history of treachery, forgery and scourgery.
This write-up will narrate how a low paid employee of Samaja namely Ramesh Chandra Pattnaik breathed his last in a long fight for justice on the battle field of Law that spanned from a labor office at Cuttack to the Supreme Court at New Delhi, as his mighty employer, after having illegally dismissed him, had misused media power to obstruct adjudication of his dispute under the Industrial Disputes Act and yet again had foiled the relief granted to him by the lowest Civil Court, Cuttack by using the forum of the High Court of Orissa.
If anything, he is a martyr amongst the workers in the battle for justice in the ramparts of Law.
Two and half decades ago, I had set fire to Industrial Disputes Act in front of the Orissa Legislative Assembly when it was in session, to shock-awake the State Government to the need of reference of a case of dismissal of a Journalist (Vevekanand Dash) to the Industrial Tribunal. His powerful employer being the son-in-law of the Chief Minister of that time, the Minister of Labor had blocked the reference taking advantage of a provision in this Act that no industrial dispute raised by a worker can be taken into cognizance by a labor Court or Industrial Tribunal, despite Conciliation Officer’s recommendation, unless the State Government refers the dispute for adjudication. The then Leader of Opposition Biju Patnaik had witnessed my action, but as he also belonged to the class of exploiters, kept mum in the Assembly over the anti-worker provision in the I.D.Act.
Ramesh Pattnaik was the first victim of this provision in Orissa.
Rath and the rule of terror
Radhanath Rath, whom an anti-people Government had decorated with Padma Bhusan, was running a rule of terror in the Samaja organization. He was a ruthless oppressor and to him, the Samaja employees were just like subjects in a fiefdom. He was hiring and firing them as he liked. He was deriving a sadistic pleasure by keeping the employees intimidated. He had promulgated a standing order not by signing the same with the employees, but with an outsider behind back of the employees. He had ruined the employees’ collective morale to such extent that their trade union was accepting his hegemony in its affairs without any objection. We see trade union activism has grown amongst employees of Samaja only after demise of Rath. This speaks volumes of how Rath had kept the employees intimidated constantly.
And to keep the employee constantly intimidated, he was subjecting them to unfair labor practices as he liked. An example of his whimsical action was Ramesh Chandra Pattnaik.
He was, all on a sudden, given the shock of suspension on 9 April 1969. Rath was expecting that he would go and fall at his feet praying for withdrawal of the suspension order. He could have derived a sadistic pleasure from that. But, instead of falling at his feet, Ramesh preferred a complaint before the Labor officer. He was dismissed from service on 4 July 1969 under prevention of a domestic enquiry having found him guilty of charges framed against him.
Denial of reference under I.D.Act
Pattnaik challenged the illegal order of dismissal before the Labor Officer. Due to non-cooperation of management the conciliation failed.The Conciliation officer sent the failure report to the higher authorities with his recommendation for adjudication. But Rath used his tremendous media power to get the recommendation of the labor law implementation authorities rejected on 5 March 1070.
Browbeating the Civil Court
Ramesh knew of the design and understood that unless the government refers his dispute for adjudication, the Labor Court/Tribunal shall take no cognizance of his case. Therefore he had, without any prejudice to his industrial dispute, invoked the Civil Court jurisdictions on 14 Nov 1969 for declaration that the termination of his service was null and void and that he continued to be in service despite the order of dismissal and was entitled to the emoluments for the period subsequent to the date of dismissal.
In order to browbeat the Civil Court, heavyweight advocates were engaged to oppose the civil case under the plea that Pattnaik being an industrial worker, the Civil Court had no jurisdiction to entertain his case. The Munsif (Presiding Officer of the lowest Civil Court) in his order dated 12 Dec 1974 rejected the management plea and ordered that the suit was maintainable in his Court. He further declared that natural justice was denied to Pattnaik before dismissing him. But, surprisingly he refused to give him the relief sought for, interpreting employment of Pattnaik in Samaja as a contract of personal service.
Law is a conundrum and judges are not punished for wrong interpretations of law.
Appeal and after
Severely disadvantaged by the Munsif’s order that dismissed his suit despite finding how natural justice was denied to the him, Pattnaik approached the First Appellate Court who by its order on 17 Oct 1974 remanded the case to the Munsif with instructions to record findings on the additional issues to be framed consequent upon the amendment of plaint.
Hearing the case afresh, the Munsif said that Pattnaik was entitled to a decree of Rs.852.70 as compensation for “wrongful dismissal” and he was also entitled to pendent lite and future compensation at the rate of Rs.165 per month until he attends the age of 60 years or until his death whichever is earlier. But shockingly. the said Munisif rejected Patnaik’s claim for incremental pay, gratuity and bonus.
Pattnaik moved the Appellate Court again against this later part of the Munsif’s order whereas the management filed cross objections to the Munsif’s finding that the dismissal was “wrongful”.
The First Appellate Court dismissed the management’s cross objections and confirmed that Pattnaik’s dismissal was wrongful.
Rejecting the Munsif’s earlier observation that Pattnaik’s employment in Samaja was a matter of a contract of personal service, the First Appellate Court held that, his service had already acquired “a statutory status” by virtue of his conditions of service being governed by the Standing Orders. The AC therefore ruled that the dismissal of Pattnaik was contrary to law and he was entitled to the emoluments of the service since his dismissal till reinstatement, as his service shall not be treated as broken.
Samaja dragged the matter to High Court
An ideal employer should have seen his own fault in the mirror of the concurrent findings of both the courts that Pattnaik’s dismissal was wrongful and could have amended its wrong steps. But Rath was too anti-worker to honor the judicial wisdom that went in favor of the workman. He took the case to the High Court of Orissa, by using the SoPS. Biswanth Das and Others Vs Ramesh Chandra Patnaik and Another commenced.
The illegal occupiers of Samaja did not challenge the concurrent finding of both the Civil Courts that the order of dismissal of Pattnaik was wrongful inasmuch as it was made in violation of the principles of natural justice as well as the standing orders; but they challenged the Appellate Court’s orders that Pattnaik be treated as in continuous service with emoluments from the date of dismissal.
While thus admitting that their action against Pattnaik was “wrongful”, the wrong-doers told the High Court that once having invoked the conciliation power of the labor officer, the wrongly dismissed workman had no right to move the Civil Court. A single judge bench of the High Court relied upon another single judge verdict to say that, the wrongfully dismissed workman had no right to move the Civil Court, even though the State Government had blocked his right to be heard in the Industrial Tribunal. This judgment was delivered on August 9, 1978.
Ah! August 9 !
Ah! August 9, the day the poor exploited population of India had added their strength to Gandhi’s voice to give the ‘Quit India’ call to the British! What irony! A poor worker’s case was rejected by the State Government to be referred to the Industrial Tribunal for adjudication and the High Court nullified the relief given to him in the Civil Court by saying that the industrial adjudication was the only avenue available to him for redress of the wrong done to him, in the circumstance of the case, even though the I.D.Act says, no Labor Court or Industrial Tribunal can take cognizance of any industrial dispute unless referred to by the Government. What irony! What a great irony on the day of an anniversary of ‘quit India movement’ that the working class had made a success!
Law is a conundrum
Law is a conundrum and judges are free to interpret the laws and deliver their verdicts as their wisdom dictates, even if that denied justice to the wronged worker.
Heroic death of a Martyr
But the wronged poor man was having an exemplary workman spirit too real to acquiesce into accepting the single judge of the High Court as the last word in Law. He went in appeal to the Supreme Court.
He was physically and financially ruined. He had disposed of ancestral landed properties to sustain his family of six members including two sons and two daughters – all school going – and to meet the litigation cost.
Enforced idleness had already put him in slow starvation. Before he got justice in the Supreme Court, he breathed his last.
The great fighter carrying in his body the sufferings and determinations of the working class to overcome the sufferings, and epitomizing the spirit of the working class to fight against exploitation, died a heroic death.
Baton of fight carried by the wife
After his death, his wife Smt. Prasannaa Pattnaik took up the baton of fight from her husband’s funeral pyre and made herself and her children the substitutes for the Appellant in the case before the Supreme Court of India.
The Supreme Court disapproved the judgement of the single judge of the Orissa High Court and passed an order on allowing the appeal of Ramesh Chandra Pattnaik.
This order is very significant. I quote the relevant portion of the judgement below:
“We have heard learned counsels for the parties. During the pendency of this appeal, the workman died. His widow and four children have been brought on record as legal heirs. We are prima facie of the view that the High Court fell into error in reversing the judgment of the first appellate court. It is, however, not necessary for us to go into the merits of the controversy. Keeping in view the facts and circumstances of this case, specifically that the first appellate court granted relief to the workman as back as march 1976, we direct the respondent-management to pay a sum of Rs. two lacs as compensation to the widow of the workman within two months from today”.
It was a moral victory for Ramesh Chandra Pattnaik and his family. It had come to them on 23 January 1996.
January 23 revered in Orissa in matter of her two great sons – Veer Surendra Sai and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, became a day of posthumous victory of the Martyr amongst her working children, Ramesh Chandra Pattnaik.
Fight not over
But the fight against the oppressive management of Samaja is not yet over. Devi Prasanna Nayak, Subash Chandra Singh and others have been fighting for justice to the exploited employees of this this paper even today, and the State Government is continuing to ignore the unfair labor practices and exploitation resorted to by the illegal occupiers of the paper.