ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dedicated to Social Justice

Social Justice and Labour Jurisprudence: Justice V R Krishna Iyer's Contributions by Sharath Babu and Rashmi Shetty;


Dedicated to Social Justice In the preface, the authors have stated
that the purpose of their work is to make
clear certain key aspects of industrial rela
tions in India, to those within the country
N G R Prasad and to the outside world, with a view to

his book is the result of the joint efforts of two authors, Sharath Babu and Rashmi Shetty, who are academically qualified and also possess rich experience in the field of labour studies.

The book is not just a sectionwise commentary on various provisions of the Industrial Disputes (ID) Act, 1947 and other sister enactments. The authors have divided the chapters on industrial law subjectwise and discussed the leading case laws falling under each subject. The landmark cases of Krishna Iyer and other learned judges find a place on the

Social Justice and Labour Jurisprudence: Justice V R Krishna Iyer’s Contributions

by Sharath Babu and Rashmi Shetty; Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007; pp 576.

relevant subjects. They have extensively quoted from these landmark cases and analysed them from the perspective of labour jurisprudence. In analysing and presenting these subjects the authors have shown a definite perception of law, its destiny and its role in the social dynamics of providing a new deal to the working class.

impressing upon the reader that the labour laws are not harsh but humane, oriented towards a protective mechanism for the economically weaker sections of this vast country. This makes the book both instructive and interesting. They have measured up to this promise by citing the relevant landmark cases decided by the apex court.

Issues under the Act, 1947

In the chapter dealing with Threshold Part Issues under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the authors have presented important definitions under the act, viz, industry, workman, industrial dispute and

march 22, 2008

Economic & Political Weekly


award. Here the authors refer extensively to the seven-judge bench landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in A Rajappa’s case, otherwise known as Bangalore Water Supply case. It was a judgment in which Krishna Iyer indeed played a radical role, of course, within the constitutional parameters. They refer to the zigzag pronouncements in the Gymkhana Club case, the Solicitor’s case and the Hospital Mazdoor Sabha case and conclude by saying as to how the Bangalore Water Supply case judgment rightly puts an end to the plethora of unending controversies. The authors have shown a keen understanding of political history and the value system in our courts when they describe the impact of the new political economy on Bangalore Water Supply case and the attempts made by the Supreme Court to dilute it by a fivejudge bench judgment seeking a reference of this case to a larger bench. The authors have taken exception to the five-judge bench judgment seeking a reference on account of an apparent conflict between a three-judge bench and two-judge bench decision. Under the heading ‘Ravage’ the authors pose a pertinent question, “Is this exercise by the apex court really necessary at this stage?” The constitutional philosophy of the authors comes to the fore in this question.

On US Inclination

It is appropriate to mention the powerful preface of Krishna Iyer at this stage. He quotes from Griffith on the politics of the judiciary that, “judges are the product of a class and have the characteristics of that class”. It is interesting to read in the preface a reference to Winston Churchill saying in the House of Commons, “Where class issues are involved it is impossible to pretend that the courts command the same degree of general confidence. On the contrary, they do not, and a very large number of our population have been led to the opinion, that they are, unconsciously, no doubt, biases.”

Krishna Iyer, with remarkable statesmanship, states that “there is a tendency especially after American capitalist influence has gained hold on Indian economic philosophy of rejecting Nehru and Indira Gandhi; but this trend must be corrected. A majority of the judges brought up

Economic & Political Weekly

march 22, 2008

contrary to the views of the founding fathers are inclined to ignore the progressive Preamble and the labour law set out in Part IV of the Constitution, Industrial law, after US economic domination of Indian legal thought has reached the vanishing point of social justice jurisprudence.” Krishna Iyer hopes that history in the long run will rewrite the current pro-west verdict of the judiciary and will vindicate what we, in our profound convictions, dreamt – India’s labouring people, in their vast majority would make India’s one billion and odd humans a happy family.

The book could not have been better timed when pro-globalisation thought has already invaded the executive and is trying to permeate in the judgments of the apex court. Therefore, a reading of the book is a must for people who want to reverse this trend.


The chapter on collective bargaining agreement, where the authors have extensively quoted from the judgment of the Supreme Court in the LIC vs Bahadur case, shows a brilliant exposition by Krishna Iyer on the importance of settlements, their continuity and how they can be replaced only by a settlement or award under law. Krishna Iyer states that bilateralism and not unilateralism is the signature tune of industrial law and basis of industrial democracy. The Supreme Court lays down that by taking recourse to the provisions of LIC Act, the management cannot deprive the employees of bonus agreed to in a settlement under the ID Act, thus giving industrial law its true place in labour-management relationship. The authors have devoted considerable time and attention to this important judgment, in which the apex court took a little more time, say a month, to deliver the judgment. Even here, Krishna Iyer explains the delay by saying that they were trying to reach a judicial consensus. Such is the notable role played by Krishna Iyer and it is not surprising that the authors have spent so much time, energy and learning in bringing out this book containing his contributions.

In a short chapter devoted to the government’s power of reference, the authors have rightly picked up the Supreme Court judgment in Avon Service’s case, decided by Krishna Iyer and Desai. The judgment makes it clear that when the power to refer an industrial dispute is left to the government, it does not mean that the government loses its power, once the reference is declined. The judgment lays down an important principle of social justice that there cannot be an administrative finality to social power affecting the rights of the workers, in the matter of access to courts.

On Retrenchment

Coming to the chapter on ‘Lay-off and Retrenchment’, the authors have referred to the famous case of SBI vs Sundaramoney, where the Supreme Court for the first time gave a broad interpretation to the definition of retrenchment, which brought a lot of protection to the workers who were engaged with deliberate breaks in service for more than 240 days in a calendar year without any compensation. This judgment gave relief to a number of workers who had been sent out without even minimum statutory benefits. Krishna Iyer remarks, “The breakdown of the definition of Section 2(oo) expands the semantics of retrenchment”. Whatever reason, every termination spells retrenchment, except, of course, those excluded by the definition. The social justice and labour jurisprudence in keeping with the Constitution come out prominently in this judgment, where the learned judges observe that to protect the weak against the strong, this policy of comprehensive definition has been effectuated. Repeated attempts by the powerful employers to see that the scope of this judgment is narrowed down, have failed.

Disciplinary Proceedings

In the chapter dealing with disciplinary proceedings, there is a reference to the Gujarat Steel Tubes case which dealt with mass termination of employees who went on strike, when the management did not implement the wage board recommendations. Krishna Iyer, applying the principles of social justice in the purposive interpretation of labour laws, held that an arbitrator appointed under Section 10-A of the Industrial Disputes Act would also come under the definition of tribunal and the


court could interfere even with such awards under Section 11-A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The Supreme Court held that the high court can mould the relief to the workman under Article 226 instead of remanding the matter to the tribunal. In this connection, Krishna Iyer observes, that, “the remedy under Article 226 is extraordinary and is an Anglo Saxon vintage but it is not a carbon copy of English processes”. In this judgment it was observed that the Constitution of India is not a non-aligned parchment, but a partisan of social justice with a direction and destination which it sets in the Preamble and Article 38 and so, when we read the evidence, the rulings, the statute and the rival pleas, we must be guided by the values set by the Constitution.

The authors have taken care to include all the landmark judgments, particularly the judgments of Krishna Iyer, which had moulded labour jurisprudence of this country. It becomes all the more relevant today, when we are trying to slide back to market economics and treat labour as a mere commodity and not as a social unit. The authors are anxious to point out that this goes against the constitutional promise and run of legal decisions so far.

Hence the urgent need for a book of this kind. It is a must for students, trade unionists, academicians, lawyers, judges, and more particularly, the judges of the Supreme Court, where we are noticing a wind of change, and to the people in public life. Though the book is priced slightly on the higher side, it is worth the price given the information. A paperback edition may be necessary to be within the reach of all. It will be a ready reference for further studies on any topic in industrial jurisprudence.


march 22, 2008

Economic & Political Weekly

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