SC asks nine-judge bench to decide on definition of word 'industry'

The Supreme Court has referred to a bench of nine judges the contentious issue pertaining to the interpretation of the definition of word 'industry' under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 considering its "wide-ranging implications".

A seven-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said it was of the opinion that the appeals before it be placed before a bench comprising nine judges keeping in view the "serious and wide-ranging implications" of the issue.

"Having given our anxious consideration to the contentions urged at the Bar and the serious and wide-ranging implications of the issue that fall for determination as also the fact that serious doubts have been expressed in the reference order about the correctness of the view taken in the Bangalore Water Supply's case, we are of the opinion that these appeals need to be placed before a bench comprising nine judges to be constituted by the chief justice," it said.

"We order accordingly. The papers be now placed before the chief justice for constituting an appropriate nine-judge bench to answer the questions raised in the reference order of 2005 passed by the five-judge bench," the bench, also comprising Justices M B Lokur, S A Bobde, A K Goel, U U Lalit, D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, said in its order on Monday.

In May 2005, a five-judge bench of the apex court had referred the matter to a larger bench on the interpretation of the definition of word 'industry' in section 2(j) of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

It had said the larger bench would have to necessarily go into all legal questions in all dimensions and depth.

"We do not consider it necessary to say anything more and leave it to the larger bench to give such meaning and effect to the definition clause in the present context with the experience of all these years and keeping in view the amended definition of 'industry' kept dormant" for many years, the five-judge bench had said in its 2005 verdict.

"Pressing demands of the competing sectors of employers and employees and the helplessness of legislature and executive in bringing into force the Amendment Act compel us to make this reference," it had said while referring the issue to a larger bench.

First, the matter had reached the five-judge bench after a three-judge bench had found an "apparent conflict" between the two decisions passed by the apex court in 1996 and 2001 on the issue.

Earlier, a three-judge bench, in its 1996 judgement, had relied on a 1978 seven-judge bench verdict and had held that social forestry department was covered by the definition of 'industry'.

Later, in 2001, a two-judge bench took a different view on the issue after which the matter was referred to a five-judge bench

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