Efforts to change bylaws of labour institute draw criticism

Plans are afoot to amend qualification criteria for the post of director

In the midst of its fight against COVID-19, the changes made by the State government to the bylaws of the Karnataka State Labour Institute (KSLI) allowing retired IAS officers to head it has come under cloud.

The Vice-Chancellor of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), which is a founding partner of the institute, has shot off a letter to the Labour Secretary, opposing changes being planned without discussion.

Instead of calling for the institutes’s general body meeting to discuss the amendment seeking to change the qualification criteria for director’s post, the Labour Department resorted to “circular resolution”. This meant the agenda was circulated and consent taken without discussion. The department justified this citing lockdown and urgency of the matter.

With this amendment, the qualification for the post of the institute’s director, which would otherwise go to a senior academic with Ph.D and research experience, will go to a retired IAS officer who has served as secretary or commissioner in the Labour Department. The justification for the change, according to the agenda, was that “it was becoming difficult to appoint a suitable candidate because most of the retired professors from universities were unavailable.” It further said, “Since most of the director’s work pertained to administration, it would be better to appoint those with experience as secretary or commissioner of Labour Department, who have not attained 67 years of age, instead of an academician.”

Interestingly, while changing the appointment criteria for the post of Registrar, the department had said that since the institute conducts research on labour, the Registrar should be a person with knowledge on labour issues. However, a Registrar’s role is largely administrative, sources pointed out.

The institute’s bylaws were modified in 2018 after a series of discussions with labour experts. It was then felt that an academician with a wealth of knowledge and experience would head the institute. In fact, sources aware of the developments pointed out that an effort to have retired IAS officers head the institute while bylaws were being redrafted was made then too but without avail. It has now made a comeback, amidst the pandemic.

Meanwhile, NLSIU Vice-Chancellor Sudhir Krishnaswamy, said in his letter dated May 12 to the Labour Secretary, “In the light of the objectives (of the institute), we are particularly concerned by the proposed amendments to bylaw no. 14(1)(a), which deals with the qualifications of the director. To achieve KLRI’s objective, the leadership of this institute must have adequate academic qualification to lead research and promote creative ideas.”

Eligibility criteria

Further, he said: “The eligibility criteria for selecting a permanent director should, above all, include academic qualifications like a Ph.D from a reputed institution and the ability to lead a group of researchers with multi-disciplinary PG qualifications.” Experience in the field of labour administration through various functions within the Labour Department will be an additional qualification but not substitute capability of leading research work, which is a core objective of KLRI, Prof. Krishnaswamy argued.

Warning of legal challenges that this amendment could face, he said: “I am not in favour of the proposed amendment. Ideally, these matters must be discussed in a general body meeting with members present through video conferencing.”

Labour commissioner K.G. Shantharam, who currently holds additional charge as director of the institute, was not available for comment.

KSLI can play key role

The Karnataka State Labour Institute (KSLI) can play a pivotal role using research-based work for two reasons — migrant labour distress in the short term, and work on the Labour Codes coming up in future, say experts.

“India is currently in the process of examining and converting -4 pieces of labour legislations into 4 Labour Codes. With labour in concurrent list, States will have herculean responsibility to draw rules and regulations to implement the code,” a labour expert said. “One must have a vast knowledge to understand the codes and their implications before making rules. There are very few experts in the field in India, and the institute under a research personality can take up the task,” he added.

National Law School of India University Vice-Chancellor Sudhir Krishnaswamy also pointed out the issue. He said that KLRI “must be a leader in participating and contributing to this phase of labour reforms.”

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 4:54:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/efforts-to-change-bylaws-of-labour-institute-draw-criticism/article31704993.ece

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