M.Y. Eqbal, J.
1. In all these writ applications the only question of law canvassed by the parties and falls for consideration is whether the appellate authority, under the provisions of Gratuity Act, erred in law in dismissing all the appeals as being barred by limitation without entertaining the applications for condonation of delay filed by the petitioner under Section 5 of the Limitation Act. These writ application are, therefore, disposed of with the consent of the parties by this common order.
2. The concerned respondents were the employees of the petitioner. Central Coalfield Limited. After retirement they were paid retiral benefits. However, after few years of retirement they filed an application in Form 'N' before the Controlling Authority under the provisions of Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 (hereinafter referred to as the Act). The said employees also filed separate applications for condonation of delay in filing the applications before the Controlling Authority. The petitioner-Central Coalfield Limited appeared and filed written statement opposing the application of the employees and contesting the claim. Respondent No. 2, Assistant Labour Commissioner (Central), Ranchi as the controlling Authority under the Act, after hearing the parties allowed the application of the employees in terms of order dated 28.04.2000. The petitioner, thereafter, filed appeals before respondent No. 1, Regional Labour Commissioner (Central), Dhanbad, who is the appellate authority. A separate application under Section 5 of the Limitation Act was also filed for condonation of delay. The appellate authority after hearing the parties, by order dated 20.12.2000, dismissed all the appeals on the ground of appeals being barred by limitation. Hence, all these writ petitions by the petitioner-company challenging the order passed by the appellate authority.
3. The appellate authority in his order held that the petitioner-appellant preferred the appeals on 30.10.2000 i.e. after lapse of more than 120 days from the date of receipt of the order of the Controlling Authority and as such the petition for condonation of delay filed by the appellant is irrelevant. The appellate authority, therefore, rejected all the appeals.
4. Mr. MM. Banerjee, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner assailed the impugned order passed by the appellate authority as being illegal and wholly without jurisdiction. Learned counsel submitted that the appellate authority has misconstrued the provisions of the Act in so far as the time for preferring the appeal is concerned. Learned counsel further submitted that the statutory authority having the trappings of a Court would be a "Court" within the meaning of Limitation Act and, therefore, it has got power to condone the delay in filing the appeal. In this connection learned counsel relied upon a decision of the Supreme Court in the case of P. Sarathy v. State Bank of India, 2000 (5) SCC 335.
5. On the other hand Mr. R.S. Murthy, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents-employees submitted that Section 7 of the Act clearly prescribes period of limitation within which an appeal has to be filed by any person aggrieved by the order of the Controlling Authority. The limitation prescribed is 60 days from the date of receipt of the order. Learned counsel submitted that the appellate authority has power of condonation of delay in the event the appeal is preferred within 120 days and not more than that. Learned counsel submitted that the Controlling Authority and the Appellate Authority are not the Court within the meaning of Civil Court and, therefore, it has no power to condone the delay in filing the appeal. In this connection learned counsel relied upon the decisions of the Bombay High Court in the case of Shri Gurudeo Ayurved Mahavidyalaya and Anr. v. Madhav Narayan Mahakoda and Ors., reported in 1996 (1) LLJ 515, Western Coalfields Limited v. Controlling Authority and Ors., 2000 (2) LLJ 965, and also a decision reported in 1987(1) LLJ 11
6. Before appreciating the rival contentions of the parties it would be useful first to look into the provisions of the Payment of Gratuity Act. The Act was enacted for providing a scheme for payment of gratuity to employees engaged in factories, mines, oilfields, plantations, ports, railway, companies, shops and other establishments. Section 4 provides that gratuity shall be payable to an employee on the termination of his employment after he has rendered continuous service for not less than five years and in the event of his retirement, superannuation, resignation of death. Section 7 empowers the authority under the Act to determine the amount of gratuity. Sub-section (2) of Section 7 provides that as soon as gratuity becomes payable, the employer shall determine the amount of gratuity, give notice in writing to the person to whom the gratuity is payable and also to the Controlling Authority specifying the amount of gratuity so determined. Sub-section (3) of Section 7 says that the employer shall arrange payment of gratuity within 30 days from the date it becomes payable to the person to whom the gratuity is payable. Sub-section (3A) of Section 7 entitles the employee to claim interest in the event gratuity is not paid within the time specified. Sub-section (4) of Section 7 empowers the Controlling Authority to determine the gratuity in the event of dispute as to the amount of gratuity payable to an employee. The Controlling Authority after making necessary enquiry is required to determine the liability for payment of gratuity. Sub-section (7) of Section 7 prescribes forum of appeal and the power of Appellate Authority. Sub-sections (5) and (6) of Section 7 prescribes that an enquiry before the controlling Authority shall be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 and for the purpose of Section 196 of the I.P.C. and the Controlling Authority shall have the same power vested in a Court. Sub-section (7) of Section 7 which prescribes a forum of appeal is worth to be quoted herein below :
"(7) Any person aggrieved by an order under Sub-section (4) may, within 60 days from the date of the receipt of the order, prefer an appeal to the appropriate government or such other authority as may be specified by the appropriate government in this behalf. Provided that the appropriate government or the appellate authority, as the case may be, may, if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from preferring the appeal within the said period of 60 days, extend the said period by further period of 60 days :
Provided further that no appeal by an employer shall be admitted unless at the time of preferring the appeal, the appellant either produces a certificate of the Controlling Authority to the effect that the appellant has deposited with him an amount equal to the amount of gratuity required to be deposited under Sub-section (4), or deposits with the appellate authority such amount."
7. From bare perusal of Sub-section (7) of Section 7 it is clear that the limitation for preferring an appeal against the order of the Controlling Authority is 60 days from the date of receipt of the order. However, the proviso to Sub-section (7) empowers the appellate authority to extend the period of 60 days for further period of 60 days if he is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from preferring appeal within the period of 60 days. In other words, a very restricted power has been vested with the appellate authority in the matter of extension of time for preferring an appeal and if an appeal is preferred within the maximum period of 120 days, then the appellant authority may entertain the appeal on proof of sufficient, cause.
8. The provisions of the Payment of Gratuity Act came for consideration before the Apex Court on a number of occasions. It has been consistently held that the Act is a complete Code containing detailed provisions covering all the essential features of the scheme for payment of gratuity. In the case of State of Punjab v. Labour Court, Jul-lundhar and Ors., 1980 (1) SCC 4, their Lordships observed as follows :
"It is apparent that the payment of Gratuity Act enacts a complete Code containing detailed provisions covering all the essential features of a scheme for payment of gratuity. It creates the right of payment of gratuity, indicates when the right will accrue, and lays down the principles for quantification of the gratuity, It provides further for recovery of the amount, and contains an especial provision that compound interest at 9 per cent per annum will be payable on delayed payment. For the enforcement of its provisions, the Act provides for the appointment of a controlling Authority, who is entrusted with the task of administering the Act. The fulfilment of the rights and obligations of the parties are made his responsibility, and he has been invested with an amplitude of power for the full discharge of that responsibility. Any error committed by him can be corrected in appeal by the appropriate Government or an appellate authority particularly constituted under the Act."
9. The aforesaid decision was again considered by the Supreme Court in the case of workmen Metro Theatre Limited v. Metro Theatre, Bombay, AIR 1981 SC 1685. It was held that the Act enacts a complete Code containing detailed provisions covering all essential features of the scheme for payment of gratuity.
10. The Madhya Pradesh High Court, in the case of Western Coalfields Limited (supra) while considering whether the appellate authority, under the Payment of Gratuity Act, has power to entertain the appeal filed beyond 120 days held as under :
"On a plain reading of the aforesaid provision it becomes luminously clear that the appellate authority has jurisdiction to condone the delay beyond the period of 60 days if sufficient cause is shown, by extending the said period by further period of 60 days. It is to be borne in mind that the Payment of Gratuity Act is a special statute and there is provision for condonation of delay. Once the limitation period has been provided and there is further provision conferring the power on authority to condone the delay of 60 days beyond the specified period if sufficient cause is shown, the authority cannot travel beyond it. It is well settled in law that in absence of conferment of jurisdiction to condone delay the statutory authority which is a quasi-judicial authority cannot condone delay or extend the period of limitation. In this regard, I may profitably referred to the decision rendered in the case of Officer on Special Duty (Land Acquisition) and Anr. v. Shah Manilal Chandulal. 1996 (2) JT 217, wherein the Apex Court while considering whether the Land Acquisition Officer under the Land Acquisition Act is Court or not and can condone the delay under Section 18 of the Act held ."
11. A similar question came before the Bombay High Court in Gurudeo Ayurved Mahavidyalaya's case (supra) where it was held as under :
"Secondly, it will have to be seen whether powers under Section 5 of the Indian Limitation Act were available to the appellate authority. Shri Gurudeo relied on the Division Bench judgment of the Calcutta High Court reported in City College, Calcutta v. State of West Bengal and Ors., 1987 (1) LLJ 11. The Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court has taken a view that the provisions of Section 5 of the Limitation Act cannot be invoked for condoning the delay caused in filing the appeal under Section 7 under Payment of Gratuity Act. The learned Judges therein have held that the provisions of Section 5 of the Limitation Act were applicable only to the Court and appellate authority under the provisions of Section 7(7) of the Payment of Gratuity Act could not be said to be the Court. The learned Judges have also further held that having regard to the language of Section 7(7), the maximum period during which the appeal could be filed, could he firstly 60 days and the said period of 60 days could be extended only by further 60 days and that the proviso to that Sub-section has provided a specific bar to the condonation of delay beyond 120 days. In view of these two reasons the learned Judges came to the conclusion that there could be no condonation of delay when the delay exceeded 120 days. I am in respectful agreement with the ratio of this case. In that view of the matter it must be held that the delay was not liable to be condoned at all and the appellate authority was right in not condoning the delay."
12. The Supreme Court in the case of Hukumdev Narayan Yadav v. Lalit Narayan Mishra, 1975 PLJR 525, while considering the question of application of Section 5 of the Limitation Act to an Election Petition filed under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, held that when the scheme of the special law and the nature of the remedy provided therein are such that the Legislature intended it to be complete Code by itself then the benefit conferred therein cannot be called in aid to supplement the provisions of the Act. It was observed as follows :
"It was sought to be contended that only those provisions of the Limitation Act which are applicable to the nature of the proceedings under the Act, unless expressly excluded, would be attracted. But this is not what Section 29(2) of the Limitation Act says, because it provides that Section 4 to 24 (inclusive) shall apply only in so far as, and to the extent to which, they are not expressly excluded by such special or local law. If none of them are excluded, all of them would become applicable, whether those sections are applicable is not determined by the terms of those sections, but by their applicability or inapplicability to the proceedings under the special or local law. A person who is a minor or is insane or is an idiot cannot file an election petition to challenge an election, nor is there any provisions in the Act for legal representation of an election petitioner or respondent in that petition who dies, in order to make Section 16 of the Limitation Act applicable. The applicability of these provisions has, therefore, to be judged not from the terms of the Limitation Act but by the provisions of the Act relating to the filing of election petitions and their trial to ascertain whether it is a complete Code in itself which does not admit of the application of any of the provisions of the Limitation Act mentioned in Section 29(2) that Act."
13. In the case of Sakuru v. Tanaji reported in AIR 1985 SC 1279, a question arose whether Section 5 of the Limitation Act will apply in a proceeding under A.P. (Telangana Area) Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, their Lordship's held :
"After hearing both sides we have unhesitatingly come to the conclusion that there is no substance in this appeal and that the view taken by the Division Bench in Venkaiah's case is perfectly correct and sound. It is well settled by the decisions of this Court in Town Municipal Council, Athani v. Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Hubli, 1970 (1) SCR 51 : AIR 1969 SC 1335, Nityananda M. Joshi v. Life Insurance Corpn. of India, 1970 (1) SCR 396 : AIR 1970 SC 209 and Sushila Devi v. Ramanandan Prasad, 1976 (2) SCR 845 : AIR 1976 SC 177, that the provisions of the Limitation Act, 1963 apply only to proceedings in Court and not to appeals or applications before bodies other than Courts such as quasi-Judicial Tribunals or executive authorities, notwithstanding the fact that such bodies or authorities may be vested with certain specified powers conferred on Courts under the Codes of Civil or Criminal Procedure. The Collector before whom the appeal was preferred by the appellant herein under Section 90 of the Act not being a Court, the Limitation Act, as such, had no applicability to the proceedings before him."
14. The Supreme Court again in Hukumdev Narayan Yadav's case (supra) while holding that the provision of Section 5 of the Limitation Act does not apply to the Election Petition under representations of People Act, has held that even in a case where the special law does not exclude the provisions of Sections 4 to 24 of the Limitation Act by an express reference, it would nonetheless be open to the Court to examine whether and to what extent the nature of those provisions or the nature of the subject matter and scheme of the special law exclude their operation. If on examination of the relevant provisions it is clear that the provisions of the Limitation Act are necessarily excluded, then the benefit conferred therein cannot be called in aid to supplement the provisions of the special Act.
15. As noticed above, proviso to Sub-section (7) of Section 7 of the Act empowers the appellate authority to extend the period of filing appeal for further period of 60 days if the appellate authority is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from preferring the appeal within the fixed period of 60 days. This section, therefore, expressly excludes the application of the provisions of Limitation Act. This also finds support from the fact that Section 14 of the said Act makes it clear that the provisions of the Act or the rules made thereunder shall have the effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any enactment other than this Act or in any instrument or contract having the effect by virtue of any enactment other than this Act. The legislature was quit conscious of the point of limitation while enacting the Act and providing a provision of limitation for preferring an appeal and further restricting the period of limitation for entertaining appeal. In my opinion, therefore, having regard to the specific provision in the Act and in view of well settled law laid down by the Supreme Court that the Act is a special and complete Code covering all the essential features and the procedures, the provision of Section 5 of the Limitation Act cannot be called in aid to supplement the provisions of this special Act
16. Mr. M.M. Banerjee, learned counsel for the petitioner put heavy reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of P. Sarthy v. State Bank of India (supra) for the proposition that any authority or Tribunal having the trappings of a Court would be Court and, therefore, the provision's of Limitation Act will apply. The facts of that case was that the appellant, a Branch Manager of the Bank, was removed from the Service after departmental enquiry. He filed an appeal before the local Board of the Bank but the same was dismissed. Thereafter, he filed an appeal before the Deputy Commissioner of Labour (Appeals) who was the Appellate Authority under Section 41 of the T.N. Shops and Establishment Act. The appeal was dismissed on the ground of inapplicability of the Act. Thereafter, the appellant instituted a suit in the civil Court challenging the order of his removal. The question was whether the suit was within limitation. The High Court had answered it in the negative. The appellant claimed benefit of Section 14 of the Limitation Act on the Ground that he had filed departmental appeal and, thereafter, an appeal under Section 41 of the T.N. Act and was, thereafter, prosecuting "Civil proceedings" in a Court with due diligence and that after exclusion of the time spent in those proceedings, the suit was within three years limitation period under Article 48 and 113 of the Limitation Act. On the other hand the respondent contended that the benefit of Section 14 can be given only if the proceedings were "Civil Proceedings" and were pending in a Court. The Supreme Court taking into consideration that the Deputy Commissioner Labour, (Appeals) who is the authority constituted under the T.N. Act has the Jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the order by which the services of the employee are terminated and, therefore, the Deputy Commissioner of Labour may not be a Civil Court within the meaning of C.P.C. but it is definitely a Court. Their Lordship's further held that since the Deputy Commissioner of Labour is the Appellate Authority under the aforesaid Act was a Court within the meaning of Section 14 of the Limitation Act, the entire period of time from the date of institution of the departmental Appeal till it was dismissed will have to be exclude for computing the period of limitation for filing suit. In my opinion, therefore, the ratio decided by the Supreme Court has no relevance to the question involved in the instant case. This decision, therefore, will not be of no help to the petitioner.
17. Admittedly the Controlling Authority passed the order on 28.04.2000 and the appeal was filed on 30.10.2000 i.e. after about six months, A separate application along with a memo of appeal was filed by the petitioner for condonation of delay stating in one paragraph that the delay has been caused by the appellant in filing the appeal due to taking approval/sanction and preparation of Bank Draft, only on the basis of this statement made in three paragraph's application, the petitioner sought condonation of delay. The application does not even disclose sufficient cause for condonation of delay. It is well settled that the Court should not come to the aid of a party where there has been unwarranted delay in seeking statutory remedy which must be sought with reasonable promptitude having regard to the circumstances. Reference in this connection may be made to a decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Patel Moti Bhai and Anr. v. Deenu Bhai Moti Bhai Patel and Ors. reported in 1996 (2) SCC 585.
18. Having regard to the entire facts and circumstances of the case and the law discussed hereinabove. I do not find any reason to interfere with order passed by the Appellate Authority rejecting the appeals filed by the petitioner on the ground of limitation. These writ applications are, therefore, dismissed.