September 6, 2002
Jana To Industry: Change Must Promote National Interests
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – Industry Representatives seeking an overhaul of labour and other laws were impressed upon by Law and Justice Minister K Jana Krishnamurthi today that ”the change must not only benefit you, but also promote the national interests.”
Opening a conference on legal reforms sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Bar Association of India, Mr Krishnamurthi told the hosts his Government ”will welcome any suggestions from you for any change in law.”
But the Minister underscored that ”one factor which has to be kept in mind is that while recommending a change in provisions of law governing the field which FICCI represents… a ground rule must be observed– the change must not only benefit you, but also promote the national interests.”
A discussion paper prepared for the ‘National Conference on Legal and Judicial Reforms– the Bird’s Eyeview on Balancesheet and Projections’ argued for scrapping the Essential Commodities Act, overhauling labour laws and spelling out ”as early as possible” an exit policy– a euphemism for provisions for industry to fire employees it no longer considers needed.
The paper also questioned the practice of the nation’s biggest litigant– the Government– just ”sitting pretty” when it came to implementing judgements or simply filing appeals.
Mr Krishnamurthi dwelt at length on the ancient concept of Dharma which sets individuals in a range of groupings such as family, community, region, period, profession, nation, universe and so on.
”All these are arranged in such a way that one does not come in conflict with the other, but each is in harmony with the other. If there is a conflict, then a wider Dharma takes precedence,” he said.
The Law and Justice Minister stressed that ”the modern law must also a take a cue from this ancient concept of ours.”
He acknowledged that industry, commerce and trade must have their own laws to promote growth of these sectors, but cautioned that ”care will have to be taken to see that these laws, which promote the interests and advancement of these groups, do not come in conflict with the laws intended for promotion of good and advancement of other groups in the society or the society as a whole.”
He made it clear that ”group interest must yield to the interest of the nation as a whole.”
Thanking the Minister for his remarks, FICCI President Rajendra S Lodha said the tone for the Federation’s functioning was set by Mahatma Gandhi some seven decades ago in terms of the concept of trusteeship, from which the organisation had not deviated ”too much.”
Earlier, Krishnamurthi spoke of applying information technology in courts to substantively solve the problem of as many as 24 million pending cases in various subordinate and higher courts across India.
He emphasised designing a judicial database which would facilitate this process by providing such data as the number of cases filed daily under criminal or civil heads, the section of the Act under which cause of action is invoked or advocates appearing for the parties.
He said non-utilisation of judges who retire after the age of 60 or 62 years was a colossal waste, especially when there are some 1800 vacancies in subordinate courts for want of suitable candidates and suggested involving them in arbitration sort of alternative mechanisms of resolving disputes.
He also underscored the need for a National Judicial Commission empowered for selecting judges of High Courts and Supreme Court.
The Minister told participants about Fast Track Courts aimed at reducing the number of pending criminal cases, especially those relating to undertrials long in prison and said he firmly believed that “any citizen of India should not be deprived of his freedom more than a minute than the law requires.”
Currently, more than 200,000 undertrials languish in custody pending adjudication, costing the exchequer Rs 430 crore annually for maintenance of remand prisoners alone, the conference was told.
Mr Krishnamurthi also spoke of setting up Law Schools along the lines of Indian Institutes of Technology and Management, which have become world famous brand names by virtue of the quality of graduates they have produced over decades.
In his welcome address, Mr Lodha called for new enactments to keep pace with changes in such areas as Taxation Laws, Company Law, Labour Legislation, Standards of Weight and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 1977.
Mr Lodha suggested consulting the Law Ministry before filing an appeal, taking multi-pronged corrective actions to overcome delays, encouraging entrusting judicial work to administrative or quasi judicial tribunals and referring more cases to arbitration.
Bar Association President F S Nariman stressed need for judges to push cases towards speedy conclusion and suggested setting up Supreme Court benches in various zones and hiring judges who retire at 61 or 62 as ad-hoc judges in the high courts.
UNI MJ AR HS2139
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