Legal doctrine of Occupied Field

Doctrine of Occupied Field is attracted in a variety of ways. For example if a special law covers a subject, general law stands automatically excluded because that field of law is already occupied.

Claim of Gratuity made  under Section 33-C(2) Industrial Disputes Act instead of Payment of Gratuity Act — Validity.

It was urged that the Payment of Gratuity Act is a self-contained code incorporating all the essential provisions relating to payment of gratuity which can be claimed under that Act, and its provisions impliedly exclude recourse to any other statute for that purpose.

Supreme Court accepted this contention in following words:

“A careful perusal of the relevant provisions of the Payment of Gratuity Act shows that Parliament has enacted a closely knit scheme providing for payment of gratuity. A controlling authority is appointed by the appropriate Government under section 3 and Parliament has made him responsible for the administration of the entire Act. In what event gratuity will become payable and how it will be quantified are detailed in section 4. Section 7(1) entitled a person eligible for payment of gratuity to apply in that behalf to the employer. Under section 72, the employer is obliged,as soon as gratuity becomes payable and whether an application has or has not been made for payment gratuity, to determine the amount of gratuity and inform the person to whom the gratuity is payable specifying the amount of gratuity so determined. He is obliged, by virtue of the same provision, to inform the controlling authority also, thus ensuring that the controlling authority is seized at all times of information in regard to gratuity as it becomes payable. If a dispute is raised in regard to the amount of gratuity payable or as to the admissibility of any claim to gratuity, or as to the person entitled to receive the gratuity, section 7(4) a requires the employer to deposit with the controlling authority such amount as he admits to be payable by him as gratuity. The controlling authority is empowered. under section 7(4)(b), to enter upon adjudication of the dispute, and after due inquiry, and after giving the parties to the dispute a reasonable opportunity of being heard, he is required to determine the amount of gratuity payable.

In this regard, the controlling authority has all the powers as are vested in a court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in respect of obtaining evidentiary material and the recording of evidence. The amount deposited by the employer with the controlling authority as the admitted amount of gratuity will be paid over by the controlling authority to the employee or his nominee or heir. Section 77 provides an appeal against the order of the controlling authority under section 74 to the appropriate Government or such other authority as may be specified by the appropriate Government in that behalf. The appropriate Government or the appellate authority is empowered under section 78, after giving the parties to the appeal a reasonable opportunity of being heard, to confirm, modify or reverse the decision of the controlling authority. Where the amount of gratuity payable is not paid by the employer with in the prescribed time,the controlling authority is required by section 8, on application made to it by the aggrieved person, to issue a certificate for that amount to the Collector. The Collector,thereupon, is empowered to recover the amount of gratuity,together with compound interest thereon at the rate of nine per cent per annum from the date of expiry of the prescribed time, as arrears of land revenue, and pay the same to the person entitled thereto.It is apparent that the Payment of Gratuity Act enact a complete code containing detailed provisions covering all the essential features of a scheme for payment of gratuity.It creates the right to 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 nine 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 theAct.Upon all these considerations, the conclusion is in escapable that Parliament intended that proceedings for payment of gratuity due under the Payment of Gratuity Act must be taken under that Act and not under any other. (See State of Punjab vs. Labour Court, Jullundur decided by Supreme Court on 16/10/1979 in Civil Appeal No. 8 of 1977.)

There is anther example of doctrine of occupied field. In another case regarding prohibition on manufacture and sale on Gutka (Pan Masala with chewing tobacco), under Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, it was contended that Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, (Act 34 of 2003), referable to entry 52, List I and entry 18, List III to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India,  occupies the entire field in relation to tobacco. Therefore the State Government could not do indirectly what it can not do directly. Supreme Court of India accepted the proposition and quashed the notification under PFA Act. It observed:

The provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 are directly in conflict with the provisions of Section 7(iv) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. The former Act is a special Act intended to deal with tobacco and tobacco products particularly, while the latter enactment is a general enactment. Thus, the Act 34 of 2003 being a special Act, and of later origin, overrides the provisions of Section 7(iv) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 with regard to the power to prohibit the sale or manufacture of tobacco products which are listed in the Schedule to the Act 34 of 2003. (See Godavat Pan Masala v. Union of India; link: http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1706364/)

Though it was not relevant in this judgement, Article 254 of Constitution of India also deals with the aspect of occupied field and any Union/Central legislation would have effect of repealing the State Legislation on the same subject if it is in conflict with Central legislation.

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