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Plea in Supreme Court against unlawful lay-offs in media industry not maintainable: News Broadcasters Association, Indian Newspaper Society

The News Broadcasters Association has replied that the entire plea is in the “personal” interests of the journalists.

Debayan Roy

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) have vehemently opposed the petition filed in the Supreme Court by National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) against mass retrenchment and salary cuts by media houses during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The NAJ had submitted before the Supreme Court that various employees of the media industry faced inhuman treatment by their employers, based on unilateral decisions to either slash salaries or issued termination notices.

It was the case of the petitioners that these steps were taken despite an advisory from the Centre directing that no services be terminated during the period of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

On April 27, Supreme Court had observed that the plea highlighting the concern of journalists had raised "serious issues". The Bench headed by Justice NV Ramana had then issued notice to the Centre in the petition filed by journalists' unions.

In the counter reply filed by the NBA, which is headed by India TV Chief Rajat Sharma, it is submitted that the entire plea was in the “personal” interests of the journalists.

“Nowhere in the entire petition has it been brought out that the issue raised and the relief prayed is in the interest of the public. Rather, the petition is in self-interest of the petitioners and clearly the employment and economic interests of the members of the petitioners are involved.”

The NBA has stated that it is composed of members who are private bodies and thus a plea under Article 32 of the Constitution would not lie against it.

The counter further states that the petitioners in the matter - National Alliance of Journalists, Delhi Union of Journalists, and Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists - neither “represent the journalists of the country nor have the locus standi to file this petition.”

Indian Newspaper Society has also assailed the writ petition, challenging the argument that employers cannot be retrenched. The petitioners cannot take refuge of government notifications, as the same government orders were not “valid constitutionally", INS has claimed.

“That advisories issued by the Labour and Employment Ministry, Government of India do not differentiate between the workers who report to work and the workers who refuse to work, when it comes to entitlement for wages for lockdown period as concerned, and are thereby contrary to the principle of 'Equal work, equal pay’."

Further, INS states that the notifications and advisories by the government compelling wage payment and discouraging termination of jobs “did not” differentiate between workers engaged in establishments which are permitted to operate during the lockdown period.

“A worker in such an establishment can continue to feel entitled to wages despite not showing up for work. This is contrary to Article 14 as well as Article 39 of the Constitution of India because the principles of 'Equal work, equal pay' and 'No work, no pay' are both violated.”

The reply by INS also states that the Government of India was only made a party to the case so that the plea could be placed under the ambit of Article 32.

Union of India has been impleaded with the sole purpose of bringing the lis under Article 32 in as much as a writ would ex facie not lie against the answering respondent as the answering respondent is neither "State" within the meaning of Article 12 nor does it perform any public functions.”

Thus primarily INS states that the government orders were “arbitrary or excessively invaded the right of an employer". For many of the newspaper establishments, such a “blanket ban, as prayed for, would effectively mean that all of these establishments will have to close down”.

It is also stated that the newspaper industry, which was already under a lot of pressure before the outbreak of the pandemic, has been hit very hard by the outbreak with advertisement revenues taking a hit and circulation revenues too going down.

“Government of India ought to have considered that Provident Fund Department has bounteous accumulation of over Rs. 351 crores as unclaimed Provident Fund Deposits' and this amount can be utilised to financial support the workers at the times of these unprecedented crisis.”

[Read the replies here]

Counter Affidavit on behalf of R2.pdf
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NBA-Counter Affidavit- highlighted.pdf
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