The central government on Monday took exception to newspaper managements seeking a mandamus from the Supreme Court to the Union Cabinet not to consider the recommendations of the Justice Majithia Wage Board on salary hike and other issues for journalists and non-journalists.
Additional Solicitor-General Parag Tripathi told a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma that when the final report was under consideration, it would be premature for the managements to say that the Cabinet should not take a decision on it. He said, “Can a mandamus be issued to the Cabinet not to take a decision on the report?”
Earlier, a battery of senior lawyers led by K.K. Venugopal and Harish Salve assailed the final report. They said “its implementation would result in chaos in the newspaper industry.”
Mr. Venugopal, appearing for the Indian Newspaper Society, said the INS represented over 1,000 newspapers, and “we have challenged the validity of the Act [under which the Wage Board was constituted]. The composition of the board itself had serious fundamental flaws.”
Mr. Salve, appearing for Bennett Coleman Co. Ltd. (publishers of The Times of India and other newspapers), said they were also questioning the validity of the Act. He found fault with the Central government for failing to draw a distinction in the working of the electronic media and the print media and the changes that had taken place the world over. “Let them [the Centre] not implement the final report; otherwise it will create all sorts of problems.”
Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for employees' unions, opposed the managements' contentions. He said nothing should be done to prevent the government from notifying the recommendations.
The Bench said it would hear the matter in detail on September 14 to mainly decide on the interim prayer of the managements for a direction to the Central government not to notify the recommendations.
The Central government, in its response to the first petitioner, ABP Pvt. Ltd., publishers of The Telegraph and other newspapers, said the wage structure was determined on the basis of the capacity of the employer to pay. Though the wage board was constituted specifically to fix or revise wages, the wage board, in its wisdom, made recommendations on retirement age and other issues.
Tracing the history of the constitution of various wage boards from time to time, the government said such wage boards could not be considered as unworkable, arbitrary and unreasonable. It rejected the charge that the recommendations of the wage board would infringe the petitioner's right on freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution. The apprehensions of the petitioner at this stage were premature and unfounded, it said.