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A religious establishment involved in commercial activities is an ‘industry’.

Chelamattom Devaswom vs. State of Kerala and Ors., 2021 LLR 166 (Ker. HC)

Chelamattom Devaswom v. State Of Kerala And Ors (High Court Of Kerala)

Writ Petition (Civil) No. 26820 Of 2018 (B) | 27-01-2020


  1. The Chelamattom Devaswom has preferred this Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India challenging the interim order passed by the Labour court, Ernakulam in I.D. No. 9 of 2013, by which the Labour court concluded that the Chelamattom Devaswom would qualify to be an industry under Section 2(j) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
  1. The factual background relating to the proceedings under challenge may be set out as hereunder.

The 3rd respondent, Smt. Geetha Narayanan, was employed as an Accountant in the Chelamattom Devaswom. The Devaswom is engaged in the administration and supervision of the estate and property of the Sreekrishna Temple, Chelamattom. Her service in the establishment was terminated on 17.10.2011 after conducting a domestic enquiry. The 3rd respondent challenged the proceedings before the Labour court contending that the alleged misconduct was not proved. The Devaswom on the other hand contested the proceedings by contending that the enquiry was proper. The Labour court by order dated 12.8.2015 passed an award holding that the reference was not maintainable as the Labour court had no jurisdiction to decide the dispute between the employees of Sree Krishna Swami Temple of Chelamattom and Chelamattom Devaswom. Challenging the above order, a Writ Petition was filed which was disposed of by a learned Single Judge with certain directions. The matter was taken in appeal by the Devaswom. By Ext. P5 judgment, the judgment of the Labour court was set aside and the matter was remitted back to the Labour court to reconsider the matter. While disposing of the matter, their Lordships of the Division Bench had occasion to observe as follows in paragraph Nos. 6 & 7 of the judgment:

“3. Labour court constituted under the Industrial Disputes Act gets jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute only if the employer, the Devaswom is an industry and the employee, is a workman as defined in the Industrial Disputes Act. In the judgment of this Court in Paramekkavu Devaswom v. Ramachandran [2004 (3) KLT 553 ] and the subsequent cases Devaswoms have been held to be industry. In view of these judgments, the question to be examined in this case is whether the appellant would be qualified to be an industry, as defined in the Act, in which event alone the Labour Court gets jurisdiction to adjudicate the issue that was referred.

  1. Reading of the impugned award shows that the Labour Court has proceeded on the wrong premise that the employer is the temple and not Devaswom. The learned Single Judge has also fell into similar error.”
  1. As directed by this Court, the Labour court reconsidered the matter. It took note of the various clauses in the bye laws of the Chelamattom Devaswom and found that the objectives of Devaswom includes profitable commercial activities including shopping complexes, lodges, marriage halls etc. The Labour court also perused the annual reports and concluded that the management have received amounts under the head sale of books, canteen, rent towards marriage hall, sale of prasadam etc. On the basis of the above materials, the Labour court concluded that these are profitable business activities being carried out by the Devaswom. It was thus held that the exemption in the definition of industry cannot be claimed by the management. The above order is under challenge.
  1. Sri. Alexander Joseph, the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner, submitted that as per Section 2(j) of the Industrial Disputes Act, supply or distribution of goods or services with a view to satisfy human wants or wishes which are merely spiritual or religious in nature is excluded. According to the learned counsel, the institutions owned or managed by organizations wholly or substantially engaged in charitable, social and philanthropic activities is not an industry.
  1. Per contra, Sri. V.J. James, the learned counsel appearing for the 3rd respondent, submitted that the dispute was between the 3rd respondent and the management of the Chelamattom Devaswom and not between the respondent and the temple. The management is engaged in various commercial activities and is having a turnover of several crores. According to the learned counsel, the issue is settled by this Court in Paramekkavu Devaswom v. Ramachandran [2004 (3) KLT 553 ]. The learned counsel has also referred to certain passages in the judgment of the Apex Court in Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board v. Rajappa [1978 (1) LLJ 349] to bring home his point that the Devaswom will qualify to be industry under Section 2(j) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 if the facts reveal that they are engaged in commercial activities.
  1. I have considered the submissions.
  1. The issue raised in this case has been settled by this Court in Paramekkavu Devaswom (supra), which was approved by the Division Bench in Ext. P5 judgment. I think it would be apposite to extract paragraph Nos. 8 to 12 of the judgment.
  1. In the present dispute, as could be seen from Ext. P5, the activities of the Devaswom, was multifaceted and included almost all commercial ventures as is usually understood. They have to maintain a substantial Establishment. As pointed out by Sri. Nagaresh, the commercial activities included renting of premises/furniture, agriculture, conduct of chitties and included running of educational institutions. They had to engage staff mainly clerical and of supportive nature, drivers, mahouts etc. The management directly conducted commercial Exhibitions, which were capable of bringing wealth. All these activities are separable from the essential rituals referred to above, and have characteristics of an organised business activity.
  1. In the instant case, the Labour court has gone through the records produced by either sides and have concluded that the objectives of the Devaswom include profitable commercial activities. The same is borne out from the bye laws as well as the annual reports. The 3rd respondent is linked with the activities relating to the Devaswom and not the temple and in that view of the matter, the preliminary finding of the Labour court cannot be said to be perverse.
  1. Having gone through the entire records, I find that the Labour court has acted well within jurisdiction and the finding so arrived at cannot be said to be perverse or irrational warranting interference in exercise of the extra ordinary writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

This Writ petition will stand dismissed. No Costs.

Chelamattom Devaswom v. State of Kerala and Ors

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