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Managements free to fix hours of work, rules Supreme Court

New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) The Supreme Court said that courts must exercise restraint and refrain from interfering with functions of the managements that involve administrative decisions including fixing of the working hours.

‘In our opinion, fixing of hours of work, provided they do not violate any statutory provision or statutory rule, are really management functions and this court must exercise restraint and not ordinarily interfere with such management functions,’ said a bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra in their judgment delivered Monday, but only made available Friday.

The bench’s ruling came as it disallowed an appeal by the Transport and Dock Workers Union of Mumbai Port Trust on two different and discriminatory working hours of typist-cum-computer clerks, before and after Nov 1, 1996.

Those appointed before Nov 1, 1996, had to put in seven hours’ work during the day which also included half an hour lunch break, while those appointed after this date had to put in eight hours of work with half an hour lunch break.

The union had contended that this was discriminatory and violated the Article 14 of the constitution providing for equality before law. The management of the Mumbai Port Trust said that it had to resort to these working hours because of the stiff competition from private players.

Dealing with the question of discrimination under Article 14, the judgment said: ‘Article 14 of the Constitution is a slippery slope, and a fine balancing act must be done by the court to avoid slipping down the slope.’

Speaking for the bench, Justice Katju said: ‘Differential treatment in our opinion does not per se amount to violation of Article 14 of the Constitution. It violates Article 14 only when there is no conceivable reasonable basis for the differentiation.’

In the present case, there was a reasonable basis for differential working hours and hence there was no violation of Article 14, the judgment said.

‘In our opinion it is not prudent or pragmatic for the court to insist on absolute equality when there are diverse situations and contingencies, as in the present case. In view of the inherent complexities involved in modern society, some free play must be given to the executive authorities in this connection,’ the judgment underlined.

It said: ‘In our opinion, Article 14 cannot be interpreted in a doctrinaire or dogmatic manner. Absolute and inflexible concepts are an anathema to progress and change.’

‘The judicial process is thus not a bucket of readymade answers, but a process, or technique, for easing an endless flux of changing social tensions’, the bench said and went on to add: ‘Judges must maintain judicial self-restraint while exercising the powers of judicial review of administrative or legislative decisions.’

‘In our opinion, adjudication must be done within the system of historically validated restraints and conscious minimisation of the judges’ preferences,’ it said.

The bench noted that the court ‘must not embarrass the administrative authorities and must realise that administrative authorities have expertise in the field of administration while the court does not’.

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