The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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All’s not quiet on industry front

New Delhi, Aug. 28: The government may like to play down the standoff between the judiciary and the legislature on reservation in private colleges but trouble is brewing on another important issue.

The Left has taken strong exception to what it calls the Supreme Court’s effort to redefine “industry” in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury has declared that the Left would not allow redefinition. “We will raise it in Parliament and persuade the government to do the needful. This exercise to dilute the term will simply not be allowed. The court is already intruding too much on the functions of Parliament,” he said.

In May, a five-judge bench in the case of State of UP versus Jai Bir Singh decided to refer the definition of “industry” given in a judgment in 1977 to a larger bench for reconsideration.

While doing so, the judges said the definition was too “worker-oriented” and “unmindful of the interests of the employer and the public”.

The definition was established in a landmark case ' Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board versus A. Rajappa ' by a seven-judge bench, including Justice Krishna Iyer.

It broadened the term “industry”, describing it as an organised activity that is not a casual venture. Several other parameters were listed (see chart), which brought within the sweep of “industry” all charitable services, public servants and public enterprises, professionals engaging a large workforce, cooperative societies, clubs, hospitals, irrigation departments and educational institutions.

The areas excluded were policing, legislating, tax collection, the army and the judiciary.

On May 5, as the Supreme Court referred the definition for re-examination, it cited several grounds: it is too pro-worker, it does not protect employers’ interests and it was not a majority view of the seven-judge bench that framed it.

At a seminar at the weekend, Yechury, also a Rajya Sabha MP, asked: “Has the Supreme Court taken it upon itself to direct India on the path of free market and globalisation'”

“The judiciary is to interpret the law in the interest of India’s people, India’s poor, not in the interests of MNCs.”

In reconsidering the definition, the judges had said: “'Experience of the past years shows that Bangalore Water Supply, instead of ushering in industrial peace, has given rise to a large number of awards granting reinstatement in service and huge amounts of back wages to workers, compelling the employers having moderate assets to close down their industries, causing harm not to the employers and workers but to public in general.”

The decision created a stir in legal circles. The Labour Law Association, which organised the seminar, has enlisted the Left’s support to stop a possible redefinition.

Rajeev Agarwal, a member, said: “Bangalore Water Supply was a landmark case that settled the confusion about the term ‘industry’. Before this case, neither the employer nor the government was clear what activity or organisation can really be defined as an industry.”

The association ' of lawyers who represent management as well as labour ' has found a more than willing backer. Yechury said: “Already, the policy of hire and fire is being implemented surreptitiously. Trade unions are not being allowed to register, in complete violation of workers’ rights. This is where the judiciary should intervene.”

He added: “We have seen that the judiciary does not intervene where they ought to but seeks to change the law when it is absolutely clear like in the case of Bangalore Water Supply,” Yechury added.

Amarjeet Kaur, of the CPI, asked: “What is the need for such a revision'”

“The judiciary needs to understand the workers’ plight at a time when their rights are being trampled on with impunity. The need is to make the term ‘industry’ more inclusive rather than trying to shrink it further,” she added.

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