Wrong understanding of award does not amount to contempt of court

Supreme Court: The bench of Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha. JJ., held that a wrong understanding of award does not amount to wilfull disobedience or contempt of the Court.

It was the Petitioners’ contention e that the Respondents had not discharged the wages that the jounalist and non-journalist employees were entitled to, as per the Majithia Wage Board Award, constituted under Section 9 of The Working Jounalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955. The recommendations of the Board were notified by the Central Government and accepted and upheld by the Court as a valid and legitimate in its approach. The Petitioners also alleged that the employees who raised their voice for the implementation of the Award, were silenced by arbitrary transfers or termination. The Labour Commission Reports suggested that the Award was implemented fully in some states, partially in some others and not at all in some. It also listed the reasons for non-implementation which ranged from employees’ voluntary waver to financial constraints and from jurisdiction excluding contractual employees to variable pay which was not accounted for the purpose of calculating other allowances.  The Petitioners submitted that such reasons were not justified as the Act specified that only more beneficial and favourable rates may be accepted if the notified wages are departed.

The respondents submitted that the issues contested in this petition were not dealt with in the previous judgment, which upheld the validity of the recommendations and the jurisdiction of the same could not be exceeded to allege contempt of court. The Court accepted the Respondents’ contention and relied upon a number of judgments to reach the conclusion that the newspaper establishments could not be liable for contempt in the absence of wilful or deliberate intention to commit the same. After clarifying the said award, the Court said that it would be better to resolve such complaints by resorting to the enforcement and remedial machinery provided under the 1955 Act rather than approaching the Courts. [Avishek Raja v. Sanjay Gupta, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 669, decided on 19-06-2017]

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