Body corporate may not only sue or be sued for violation of Article 19 but it may also sue for violation of Article 14 or any other law

Calcutta High Court: Citing the concept of ‘co-extensive’ rights as laid down in Delhi Cloth and General Mills Co. Limited v. Union of India (1986) 2 SCC 288, the bench comprising of I.P. Mukerji J., allowed the writ petition by the Indian Oil Officers’ Association impugning various clauses in a Memorandum of Understanding  between them and the Indian Oil Corporation (Respondents) on grounds of unconstitutionality, arbitrariness, illegality and mala fide intent, through violation of rights to freedom of demonstration, association, etc. under Article 19 of the Petitioner-Association.

The said agreement, governing the IOAA, a Trade Union registered under section 13 of the Trade Unions Act, 1926, was allegedly signed on 24th April 2009 by office-bearers of the IOAA who were then suspended or dismissed employees of the Corporation, and rejected by the All India Central Executive Committee of the IOAA on 29th July 2011. The impugned clauses 4, 11, 13, 16 and 18, sought to:

  1. Bar the Association from membership of any other federation or collective forum (clause 4)
  2. Prevent officers of Grade G and above from membership in the Association. (clause 11)
  3. Bar interference of Association in any manner in rights of Management in employment, non-employment, terms of employment and service conditions (clause 13)
  4. Prevent Officers in the position of Head of Department and Location Head, irrespective of grade, from participation in agitation of any kind. (clause 16)
  5. Stipulate that any violation of the code, reported or observed, would occasion loss of recognition of Association (clause 18)

The Court stated that it could not adjudicate upon questions of fact under its writ jurisdiction, nor upon the private law matter of authority to form contract. Assuming existence of agreement, the Court, while recognising that a company or body corporate could not enforce rights under Article 19 as held in The Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd. v. State of Bihar, (1997) 7 SCC 155, and also stated that there may be causes of action common to a body corporate as well as the shareholders or members, or ‘co-extensive’ rights; in which a writ may be maintained by a body corporate or  registered trade union or its members. Further, section 15 (d) of the Trade Unions Act provides for the expenditure of funds by a trade union for conduct of trade disputes on behalf of its members, in effect an espousal of members’ causes. The Court declared its jurisdiction over the public law element, whether it arose from contract or not, and adjudged the impugned clauses as void ab initio and illegal. The Court ordered the supersession of the agreement within 6 months, or else its termination by operation of this order. The Court stated that the writ, filed 6 years after the events, could not be barred by delay, as something non-existent did not trigger a cause of action capable of limitation. Indian Oil Officers’ Association. v. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, 2016 SCC OnLine Cal 2301 , decided on June 15, 2016.

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