Merely because maintainability issue was not specifically dealt with by court will not vitiate judgment: Supreme Court

The top court said that merely because a judgment did not specifically deal with an issue raised or give reasons for arriving at a decision on that issue, will not by itself vitiate such a judgment.
Supreme Court, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice JK Maheshwari
Supreme Court, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice JK Maheshwari

The Supreme Court recently observed that merely because a judgment did not specifically deal with an issue raised or give reasons for arriving at a decision on that issue, will not by itself vitiate such a judgment or order that is otherwise correct [Central Bank of India and Others v. Dragendra Singh Jadon].

A Division Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari was of the view that where an objection to the maintainability of any application or suit on an issue of law is not expressly dealt with, but the application or suit is entertained and disposed of on merits, it will be considered that the objection is deemed to have been rejected.

"Where an objection to the maintainability of any application/suit on an issue of law is not expressly dealt with, but the application/suit is entertained and disposed of on merits, the objection is deemed to have been rejected. The mere fact that an issue may not specifically have been dealt with, or reasons not specifically disclosed for decision on that issue, would not vitiate a judgment and order, that is otherwise correct," the Court observed.

The Court was hearing an appeal against a decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had allowed a petition of the respondent with regard to reinstating him to the post of Agricultural Finance Officer and further fixing his seniority and salary.

On April 23, 1975, the respondent was appointed to the post of Agricultural Assistant in the Central Bank of India (appellant). In January 1982, the respondent was terminated from service due to the allegation that he had impersonated his brother in a written test conducted by the bank through the Banking Service Recruitment Board, Lucknow in the year 1979.

Aggrieved, the respondent raised an industrial dispute. In September 2008, the Industrial Tribunal held that the termination of the respondent was unjustified since the appellant-bank could not prove charge against the respondent. The tribunal, therefore, ordered reinstatement of the respondent without back wages.

On July 12, 2009, the respondent moved a writ petition before the High Court challenging the tribunal award with regard to the rejection of back wages. Meanwhile, the appellant-bank also filed a petition against the tribunal award challenging the direction to reinstate the respondent.

However, the High Court dismissed both the petitions.

Thereafter, in March 2013, the respondent moved the High Court seeking directions to the appellant-bank to reinstate the respondent to the post of Agricultural Finance Officer with notional fixation of pay up to the date of the award passed by the tribunal and for payment of actual salary from the that date. It was also prayed that the appellant-bank be directed to fix the seniority and the current salary of the respondent taking into consideration his past services.

The appellant-bank contested the above plea by raising a preliminary objection to the maintainability of the plea on the ground of the plea being barred by principles of res judicata.

However, the High Court ruled in favor of the respondent. Aggrieved, the appellant-bank moved the present appeal before the Supreme Court.

Senior Advocate Debal Banerji appearing for the appellant, argued that the High Court did not specifically deal with the issue of res judicata raised by the appellant-bank and therefore, the decision should be overruled.

To this, the Supreme Court said that in situations where an objection to the maintainability of any application or suit on an issue of law is not expressly dealt with, but the application or suit is entertained and disposed of on merits, it shall be considered and presumed that such objection is deemed to have been rejected.

"Even though, the Court may not have specifically dealt with the issue of res judicata raised by the appellant-bank as a preliminary issue, it is clear from the judgment and order of the Single Bench as also the impugned judgment and order of the Division Bench, that the second writ petition was not barred by the principles of res judicata or analogous principles," the apex court said.

Further, the Court noted that the the principle of res judicata does not apply in the instant case since in the first petition the question was of the legality of the award and other consequential benefits while in the later petition, the issue was with regard to fixation of pay and seniority upon re-instatement in service.

While dismissing the appeal of the appellant-bank, the Court observed:

"In our considered view, the learned Single Bench of the High Court rightly granted relief to the Respondent. By the judgment and order, the Division Bench of the High Court dismissed the Appeal of the Appellants and directed that the Respondent would have to be treated in service from the date of removal till the date of actual reinstatement in service and would accordingly be entitled to seniority and the right to be considered for promotion, but would not be entitled to back wages."

[Read Judgment]

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