You Have Got It Wrong, Mr. Prime Minister
A friend told me this story. His five-year-old daughter put a quiz to him (only kids can imagine such situations!): ‘A man falls from the twentieth floor of a building and another one falls from the second floor. What difference will you notice?’ My friend gave up! He could not answer. The kid had the answer ready – ‘The man falling from second floor will first hit the ground with a thud and then shout ‘mar gaya, mar gaya’. But the man falling from the twentieth floor will first shout ‘mar gaya, mar gaya’ and then hit the ground with a thud!’
Moral of the story: Time lapse inverses things!
People were voicing the need to change the labour laws, Mr. Prime Minister, and the noise only got shrill from the early nineties with liberalization. The seventies and eighties saw violence and crippling resistance in industrial relations. ‘Ease of Doing Business’ was a concept not even thought of, though the need was felt and voiced at many levels.
Then the winds changed. The Government finally acknowledged the constraints and complications of labour laws. ‘Labour’ is a subject in the concurrent list. This meant three things: (a) The Central Government can make labour laws, (b) The State Government can make laws, and (c) The State Government can amend the Central laws. Effectively industrial relations were governed by different set of laws in the various states.
To cite one example: Some state laws, like those in UP and Rajasthan, have a different definition of ‘Employer’ than the one in the Industrial Disputes Act. In some states the employer must give twenty-one days’ notice to the workmen to effect a change in service conditions, but in some other states it requires forty-two days’ notice. With several organizations setting up plants in more than one state, and wanting to create a cohesive policy, is it good to have one set of rules or many?
Have you provided a solution to the avoidably complicated situation this reality creates?
Okay, we understand that it will require amending the constitution of India. And understandably there will be reluctance to take that step among political leaders. But there is a more important aspect you have simply ignored. And we cannot understand why!
If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: ‘Thou shalt not ration justice.’ – Sophocles
What matters in the industrial relations is a quick resolution of disputes and differences. The Government has already abdicated its role. There are complaints that the labour department acts slowly, if at all it does, in disputes. And it takes ten to fifteen years to obtain conclusive and binding decisions of labour disputes. This works grossly against the interests of the workmen. In the situation today, where some employers (there is no dearth of them) disregard labour laws with impunity, and implementation of labour laws is not the agenda of the Government, the only option for the workmen is to seek justice from Labour and Industrial Courts.
And as I said earlier, it takes ten to fifteen years before ‘justice is delivered’! Some workmen reach the other world before the judge signs the judgment. The disputes die with the workmen; they might not in the eyes of law, but not in reality!
If the system of justice is not overhauled for quick redressal of disputes, what is the use of any law, new or old, for the workmen? And will such a situation create ‘ease of doing business?’ These are, in my eyes, the basic issues.
The need for changes in labour laws was voiced in the nineties. Revised laws finally came in thirty years later, this month! A lot of water has flown under the bridge. Contract labour appointment on a massive scale, redundancies and retrenchments, closures are happening with scant regard to law. These have ceased to be the issues for the employers. Now they are big issues for the workmen. Time lapse made labour law constraints redundant. The insight of the little girl that ‘time inverts things’ has come true.
The US ambassador to India and a renowned economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, had called India a “functioning anarchy”. The country somehow does well, no matter the chaos within. But somebody is paying cost. In the industrial relations scenario, it is the workmen who do! They will continue to pay!!
Reforms are essential. But there is no word on rigorous implementation of laws and quick delivery of justice. You have got it wrong, Mr. Prime Minister!
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”
Photo courtesy: Feature: TingeyInjuryLawFirm on Unsplash, Poster Equality: JonTyson on Unsplash. Demonstrators: copyright author.
True and thought-provoking!
Unfortunately, the PM is more inclined to speak than listen, Vivek!
Sir Very studious post. Keep it up
Brilliant! You made a fundamental point thereby making all discussions on acts & clauses redundant! Our experience tells us when you advice anyone it is never followed. If ask anyone to listen s/he promptly plugs ears. You are asking PM to listen. You are an anti-national and will soon be slapped a court case for instigating. Hope you are not arrested.
In democratic societies, Justice has often upheld equality between people. What is being said is given credence over ‘who’ says it. Audi altarem partem, was considered a substantive principle of natural justice. Gabriel Marquez remarked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that ‘loudspeakers’ want to hear their own voices. Authority speaks at you than with you. Does not matter if the fall is from the second floor or the 20th. Voice. “By love that closes its mouth before calling a name”. Am seized by the prisoners of sound. We’ve neglected how we sublimed our collective unconscious in projections on singular figures. We will most likely as a society need to offer a second history to the aggrieved.
In your book, time inverses logic. In the book I am reading ‘Time is a blind guide’.
You have made very valid observations/comments. Justice delayed is justice denied. In the bargain, weak (In this case workers) unfortunately suffer. This is a reality. Strengthening of legal system to deliver justice in time would help as mentioned by you. Hopefully people in power would take notice and do needful. Time inverses logic gave new insight.Thank you for the blog. Regards
Where did he get it wrong? As you have recapitulated the labour reforms have been deferred over several decades . Obviously for political gains. A daring attempt is made to bell the cat which is not to be decried Long accepted ‘Justice delayed is just denied ‘ . Means of expediting judicial processes need to be tackled. This is again not a new issue. Let us not put spokes whenever a long pending reforms are attempted.
Thanks for reminding of excruciating delays in India’s judiciary and the justice system, especially in labour matters. Millions of workers are dependent on the legal system have to bear the brunt of delayed decisions and denied justice. I experienced that the issues like illegal termination takes around 15 years. In one of the Company, 6 workers were given charge sheet along with pending enquiry suspension in the month of Jan 2017 and the enquiry report is given by the Company on 25th Nov 2020 saying that all 6 workers are guilty and decided to terminate them. Now, the matter will be referred to court and based on the past experience it will take minimum 10 years. Same experience is with the issue of “General Demand”. In one of the Company, the union submitted its Charter of Demand in the year 2001 and matter was referred to conciliation in the year 2002. In the year 2003, conciliation officer given failure report and referred to Industrial Tribunal for adjudication, the matter was pending before the Industrial Tribunal till 2013 and finally union and management settled the issues out of the court. There are millions of such cases. The Indian judiciary is infamous for the pending cases piled up in its closet, which, according to a 2018 report, are estimated to be around 30 million.
I would like to point out that one of the main reasons behind the delay in delivering justice is the lack of an adequate number of judges. Further, vacancies of judges don’t get filled up for the longer period. “Inadequate number of judges ends up overburdening the legal system in our country. I have seen cases piling up year after year, gathering dust, with no judges present to deliver justice on time. I have always believed that delaying a case for an indefinite time is great injustice to the victims. Law cannot be taken into one’s own hands and neither is it practical. However, in such a situation, there is a dire need for the judicial system or labour systems to respond rapidly and ensure timely justice to all. It is unfortunate that PM is not talking about the same and you are right by saying “You have got it wrong, Mr. Prime Minister”
In my above response the date instead of 25th September, by mistake it is written 25th November 2020. Please forgive for the same.
Thought-provoking and Very well scripted. Being an eternal optimistic, I believe while the number of forums reduction in labour code may bring down justice delivery lead time (though may not be at the desired level) however these may not be the last reforms hence the speed of justice could be the next. Unlike Aligarh lock manufacturing industry where the key is made before lock, I think reforms will only follow the requirements with a big gap. Sooner than later government mechanisms would be more proactive and hopefully that day justice delivery will not have latency. Till then we will lean on eminent thinkers like you to enlighten the path and remind the society that here lies void and fill it faster….