J. Venkatesan IN THE HINDU , JANUARY 30 , 2010
Deprived of livelihood, a man loses all fundamental and Constitutional rights
Mantras of globalisation fast becoming raison d’etre of judicial process: Justice Singhvi
In large number of cases, relief denied to employees falling in the category of workmen
New Delhi: The Supreme Court has expressed anguish at courts’ apathy to the plight of workers being retrenched in the guise of globalisation and economic liberalisation. A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, in different but concurring judgments, regretted that there was a visible shift in the courts’ approach to cases involving interpretation of social welfare legislation.
Justice Singhvi said: “The attractive mantras of globalisation and liberalisation are fast becoming the raison d’etre of the judicial process and an impression has been created that the Constitutional courts are no longer sympathetic to the plight of industrial and unorganised workers.”
He said: “In a large number of cases like the present one, relief has been denied to the employees falling in the category of workmen, who are illegally retrenched by creating bylanes and sidelanes in the jurisprudence developed by this court in three decades. The stock plea raised by the public employer in such cases is that the initial employment/engagement of the workman-employee was contrary to some or the other statute or that reinstatement will put an unbearable burden on the financial health of the establishment.”
Harjinder Singh, appointed in the Punjab State Warehousing Corporation in March 1986, was dismissed in July 1988. Acting on a writ petition, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the order and he continued in service. Finally in September 1992, the petition was dismissed as withdrawn.
In November 1992, another order was passed sacking 22 workers including the appellant. While the labour court directed their reinstatement with 50 per cent back wages, a single judge of the High Court, entertaining an appeal, ordered compensation of Rs. 87,582. The present appeal is directed against this judgment.
Justice Singhvi pointed out that “Courts have readily accepted such plea unmindful of the accountability of the wrongdoer and indirectly punished the tiny beneficiary of the wrong, ignoring the fact that he may have continued in the employment for years together and that micro wages earned by him may be the only source of his livelihood. It needs no emphasis that if a man is deprived of his livelihood, he is deprived of all his fundamental and constitutional rights and for him the goal of social and economic justice, equality of status of opportunity, the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution remain illusory.”
In a separate judgment, Justice Ganguly said: “I am in clear agreement with Justice Singhvi that this court has a duty to interpret statutes with social welfare benefits in such a way as to further the statutory goal and not to frustrate it.”
“In doing so, this court should make an effort to protect the rights of the weaker sections in view of the clear Constitutional mandate. Social Justice, the very signature tune of our Constitution and being deeply embedded in our constitutional ethos, in a way is the arch of the Constitution which ensures rights of the common man to be interpreted in a meaningful way so that life can be lived with human dignity,” he said.
He said: “I share the anxiety of Justice Singhvi about a disturbing contrary trend which is discernible in recent times and which is sought to be justified in the name of globalisation and liberalisation of economy. Any attempt to dilute the constitutional imperatives in order to promote the so-called trends of globalisation may result in precarious consequences. Reports of suicidal deaths of farmers in their thousands from all over the country, along with escalation of terrorism, throw a dangerous signal.”
The Bench restored the labour court order and awarded Rs. 25,000 in costs.