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Tuesday, July 10, 2001

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Industrial jurisprudence

INDUSTRIAL DISCIPLINE AND NATURAL JUSTICE: D.V.S.R. Prabhakara Rao; Law Publishing House, 39, Sheo Charan Lal Road, Allahabad- 211003. Rs. 400.

THE WORLD is whirling forward holding the standard of advance as industrialisation. Industry, be it in the public, private or joint sector, involves employer and employee, and progress postulates harmony and justice in industrial relations. Whether the system is capitalist or socialist or other, if friction and break-down afflict the smooth working of the industry, flames of strike and lock-out will spoil or stall production and victimise society which is the ultimate beneficiary of satisfactory industrial discipline and consequent flow of goods and services. These are basics but legal problems arise, where a clash or brush breaks out, the management takes disciplinary action against workers or the workers go on lightning strike and paralysis in the factory creates a crisis. The function of the law is to intervene and, by a justice process, resolve the dispute. ``Hire and fire'' is not our jurisprudence. Even so, lawlessness is anathema.

What then are the parameters of mutual discipline and procedural norms? Complex questions, puzzlesome situations and involvement of conciliation, arbitration and other alternatives have to be resorted to. The subject is critical, the battle is marked by obdurate tension and, when things hot up, explosive aberrations mar reasonable settlements. Everything about the play of natural justice and enquiry into workers' conduct has to be regulated by law. The author, with painstaking thoroughness, has written the book under review fairly comprehensively covering industrial discipline and natural justice. A welcome addition to the lengthy labour law literature, good for the practitioner in this branch of law.

Not all can afford or need great legal classics, highly priced and prized, heavy and weighty, demanding much time and scholarship from foremost leaders of the bar in industrial law like a G. B. Pai. Labour Law in India by G. B. Pai is a marvel but costly and comprehensive. The ordinary rim of lawyers and law teachers, students and consultants in labour jurisprudence really need a fairly exhaustive, accurately covering all the fundamentals, leading cases and dealing with daily disputes engaging managements and workers and other important problems which need expertise. To resolve without long-drawn-out litigation common disputes is the desideratum. A solecism of initial blunder may generate legal heat and forensic spiral from court to court. This book fills the bill and should be a popular presence in every labour lawyer's library and management's constancy literature.

Disciplinary proceedings are frequent and the law is not as simple as one would expect, with the Supreme Court and High Courts weaving nuances in the law. We are governed by the law but the law is what the judges say it is. And when judicial pronouncements play dice with law, industrial justice becomes a Las Vegas visit with gambling uncertainty.

By his discussion of case law, the author has stabilised the law and imparted clarity where obscurity baffles. Indeed, in law as Holmes once indicated, it is more important to emphasize the obvious than to investigate the obscure. In this respect, Rao has done well, especially where disciplinary enquiries and natural justice seek reconciliation.

A book is more than a collection of essays. It has a progressive dimension, unfolding chapterwise various facets of a large subject. Continuity, homogeneity and a developmental sequence differentiate a book from an olio of articles. Viewed from this angle, the author has done a sensible job. The very prolegomenon reads sensible. Appropriate and up-to- date case-law enriches the usefulness of the text. The historical variations in Indian and English law regarding natural justice are significant. We are ahead and that is welcome. He has dealt with the idea of natural justice corruptively and contents-wise. He argues for the need for writing of reasons in disciplinary enquiries to reduce chances of arbitrariness. Remedies by way of appeal and writ and other principles integrated with natural justice have also found thoughtful mention and discussion. Domestic enquiry is where managements often stumble or adopt a make-believe cult. Naturally, he has thoroughly dealt with investigations, enquiries, requirement of personal hearing and other common infirmities, which beset such proceedings.

What is misconduct for which a worker can be punished? What is the bearing of standing orders in regulating the relationship between the two partners of an industry? Model standing orders and their application in practice plus a variety of other related issues have been considered and answers suggested. Chargesheets, interim suspensions, role of tribunals, permissible evidence beyond the Evidence Act, proportionality of punishment are some of the matters of consequence which have been lucidly examined. Industrial adjudication and judicial review are important matters in industrial law. Rightly the book examines these questions without legalese and mystiques.

Industrial law is rapidly (though wrongly) under mutation. The sound system we have will soon be surrendered when foreign corporations fall foul on them. MNCs are allergic to industrial justice. Gargantuan institutions, hungry for huge profits, find human justice anathematic impediments.

The Indian rulers these days are often ruled by corporate power from abroad and sacrifice socio-economic justice of the Indian working class to tempt the appetite of trans-national big business. When our laws regulating labour and its rights are jettisoned, as part of the package inviting powerful corporates, the people of India, judges, jurists and lawyers must resist the operation.

The book does not deal with the futuristic syndrome. Therefore, it is the task of Indian labour to begin the struggle against operation industrial injustice. Labour law apart, we cannot concept consent to the dollarophilic chaos in the Indian cosmos - a proposition which applies to ``Swaraj jurisprudence'' as a whole.

V. R. KRISHNA IYER

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