Government wants to make newspaper industry subservient, say managements

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused again to restrain the Union Cabinet from taking a decision on the report of the Justice Majithia Wage Board for journalists and non-journalists, even as newspaper managements strongly pressed for such an order, alleging that the government wanted to make them subservient.

Additional Solicitor-General Parag Tripathi said though the court, at the last hearing, permitted the Cabinet to take a decision, it could not do so because of a letter written by one of the petitioners to the Labour Secretary, asking the government not to take any decision until the court disposed of the matter. “I make a strong objection to the letter,” he told a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Dipak Misra.

Letter to be withdrawn

At this, Justice Bhandari told senior counsel Fali Nariman, representing ABP Ltd., “This letter ought not to have been written when the matter is pending before us. This is not fair.” Mr. Nariman immediately said, “We will withdraw this letter.”

When senior counsel K.K. Venugopal and P.P. Rao, representing the Indian Newspaper Society, Bennet Coleman & Co. Ltd. and two others, insisted that the Cabinet should not take any decision on the report, Justice Bhandari said, “When the matter is before the Cabinet propriety demands that we wait for the decision.”

Mr. Venugopal asked: When it was not a wage board at all in the eyes of law as the government had appointed like-minded people on it, “how can the Cabinet take a decision one way or the other?”

Already the managements had been paying a 30 per cent interim relief from 2008 and any Cabinet decision and government notification would result in demands from employees for implementing the recommendations. This would create labour unrest and chaos in the industry, counsel said.

He alleged that the object of the government in setting up this wage board was to render the newspaper industry subservient to the government.

Justice Bhandari told counsel: “We can't pre-empt the Cabinet from taking any decision. Maybe some of the recommendations may not be accepted and the decision may be in your favour. If the decision is against you, it is always open to you to challenge it. Any such decision would be subject to the final outcome of our order.”

Mr. Rao wanted the Bench to ask the Cabinet to convey its decision to the court and only after court approval could the notification be given. Justice Bhandari, however, said, “No such direction can be given to the Cabinet.”

Justice Misra told counsel: “Unless we declare the provisions of the [Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees] Act ultra vires, we can't ask the Cabinet not to take any decision. You can argue all these points later.”

Mr. Tripathi said the Cabinet might take a decision in two-three weeks and the Centre would file a comprehensive reply on all points raised by the petitioners. The Bench granted the Centre four weeks for filing its response, and the petitioners two weeks thereafter for filing a rejoinder. The matter would be listed for final hearing on December 7.

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