Wednesday, October 20, 2010

High Court stays provisions in Industrial Disputes Act

The Madras High Court on Wednesday granted a stay of certain provisions in the Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act 2010 published in the Union Government's gazette on September 15, for two weeks.

Justice N.Paul Vasanthakumar passed the interim order on a petition which sought to declare the amendment as unconstitutional and illegal.

In his petition, K.M. Ramesh, Secretary, Labour Law Practitioners' Association, Chennai, said the ID Act was enacted in 1947. Since then only judicial officers in the rank of District and Sessions Judge were posted as Presiding Officers of Labour Courts and Industrial Tribunals. While so, the Tamil Nadu government amended sections 7 and 7 A of the Act in 1998 which provided for the State governments Labour Department officials in the rank of Joint Commissioner to be appointed as Presiding Officers of Labour Courts and tribunals. A writ petition was filed in the Madras High Court challenging the amendments. Ultimately, the Tamil Nadu government decided not to go ahead with the amendments and the petition was dismissed as withdrawn in December 2007 with liberty to challenge the amendments as and when it was notified.

While so, the Maharashtra government made similar amendments to the Act in March 1979. A single Judge and a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court set aside the notification. The Supreme Court confirmed it.

The Centre has now notified the amendment to sections 7 and 7-A according to which a Deputy Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) or Joint Commissioner of the State Labour Department could be appointed as Presiding Officer.

The petitioner contended that the amendments would erode the independence of the judiciary and prejudicially alter the status of the Presiding Officers. The amendment was contrary to the Constitution which stated that only persons in the judiciary could be appointed to the post. It directly hit at the Supreme Court judgment.

In his order, Mr.Justice Paul Vasanthakumar said as the Supreme Court had confirmed the Bombay High Court's order, he was prima facie satisfied for granting an interim stay. If the stay was not granted, irreparable damage would be caused by persons other than district judges who preside over the Industrial Tribunal.

Notice was taken and time was sought to file counter. The matter has been posted after two weeks.

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