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In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has held that the jurisdiction of a civil court in an industrial dispute is not barred in case the dispute relates to violation of fundamental rights of a workman or the violation of general law of contract is involved.

A three-judge bench, comprising Justices S B Sinha, Mukundakam Sharma and Asok Kumar Ganguly, in their judgment noted, ‘The purpose of principles of natural justice is prevention of miscarriage of justice and hence the observance thereof is a pragmatic requirement of fair play in action.

In this view of the matter, in our considered opinion, it would not be correct to contend that only because the employee concerned is also a workman within the meaning of the provisions of the 1947 Act or the conditions of the service are otherwise governed by the Standing Order certified under the 1946 Act ipso facto the civil court will have no jurisdiction.’ The apex court also noted, ‘if the infringement of Standing Order or other provisions of the industrial disputes act are alleged, the civil courts jurisdiction may be held to be barred but if the suit is based on the violation of principles of common law or constitutional provisions or on other grounds, the civil courts jurisdiction may not be held to be barred.

The objection to the maintainability of the civil suit filed by Balmukund Birwa and others was raised by Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation.

The two judge bench of the Supreme Court vide order dated November 22, 2007 had referred the case to three-judge bench for deciding the issue whether the civil court is completely debarred for entertaining a suit involving a dispute between the employer and the workman.

The apex court also held that it is a settled law that if a court decides a mater without jurisdiction, the decision, or the decree passed by such court would be a nullity and the jurisdiction cannot be conferred on a court either by the court order or through the mutual consent of the parties.

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