Karnataka, HC, Confirm Termination, UK Library Director, Merchant Employer, Foreign Country, British High Commission, ICCR

The Karnataka High Court has upheld the dismissal of a British Library director for misconduct. In the process, the HC took a stand against the Employment Tribunal in England, which has statutory jurisdiction to hear many types of disputes between employers and employees, as well as the Central Administrative Court (CAT).

The HC held that the British Library was the manager’s employer and not the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). Ajay Merchant was appointed Director of the British Library in Hyderabad in 2008. He was appointed through the ICCR with whom the British High Commission entered into a Memorandum of Understanding for Library Collaboration and Administration British in India.

In 2012, allegations were made against Ajay Merchant for “inappropriate comments and harassment” of female colleagues, and a memo or charges were brought against him. However, he declined to respond stating that the British Council was not his employer and did not appear for the inquiry process.

In 2013, Merchant went to the Employment Tribunal in England, which ruled on September 27 of that year that the British Council was not his employer and that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the claim. On October 16, 2014, the ICCR terminated Merchant’s service. He approached the Bangalore CAT, which overturned the dismissal and ordered his reinstatement. The ICCR challenged the CAT order before the HC. The merchant also approached the HC for back pay.

In their recent judgment, the divisional bench of Judge PS Dinesh Kumar and Judge MG Uma overturned the CAT order and upheld Merchant’s dismissal. Asked who Merchant’s employer was, the HC said the ICCR offered him the job on behalf of the British Library because the British High Commission and the ICCR had reached an agreement.

“This is a separate case in which a foreign country is running its libraries in various cities of India and has taken the assistance of ICCR to disburse the budget amount. It is undisputed that the letter of offer was for a placement at the British Library,” said CH. Asked if his dismissal was lawful, the HC said that “several opportunities were given to the applicant to defend his case”.

However, Merchant took contradictory positions and did not appear before the inquest or defend his case, the court heard. “A careful perusal of the entire record shows that the Applicant engaged in correspondence rather than appearing before the Investigator and making his case,” the HC said.

(With PTI inputs)

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