It is a common experience that in proceedings before Judicial and quasi-judicial authorities, in certain cases, the appearing advocates and authorised representatives are asked to put their signatures on blank order-sheets. The authorities or their readers record the orders as per their convenience. This process though not authorised by the rule of law, is very common. The practice shows utmost faith in authority that they will not misuse the discretion.
The problem occurs when the authorities makes reverse orders. In a case, the presiding judge adjourned the case because he was unable to pass judgement, but his order-sheet reflected that parties have sought times for further arguments. In another case, an Income Tax Authority had opted signature of advocates and recorded arguments which was not made before him. In yet another case, a magistrate recorded in blank order-sheet that separate order is being passed before signing order-sheet, but order was passed after one day.
The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Agra in the case of Samagra Mahila Vikas Samiti vs. Commissioner of Income Tax, reported in (2014) 23 Income Tax Judgement 204 has made observation as follows –
“The advocates/members of bar are recognized as officers of the court. Therefore, they are expected to maintain their status and decorum in the court. They are not expected to sign blank order-sheet as admitted by Shri S.M. Sinha, Advocate. Shri S.M. Sinha, Advocate is, therefore, directed not to indulge in any type of malpractice in future otherwise his conduct would have been reported to the State Bar Council for taking disciplinary action against him as per law.”
Another aspect of this approach is very serious. In Indian Penal Code, 1890, Chapter XVIII based on offences relating to documents and other property marks. In certain cases, opting signature of advocates and / or parties on blank order-sheet and thereafter writing, typing or printing order comes within Forgery as defined in Section 463 of Indian Penal Code. In the Rule of Law, no one is superior than law. The act of a judicial authority directing the advocate to sign a blank order-sheet is itself a type of criminal contempt of court under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.
The collapse of under-construction buildings is a common feature in India. This problem is the result of many reasons including corruption, gross-negligence and gross-violation of law. Such collapses cause financial and other losses to builders and owners. In turn, this is a loss to national properties. The accidents during building and other construction works are also very common. They may be singular but creates multiple consequences. Such accidents are big challenges for the society and even humanity. It is difficult to understand why the collapse of building is taken seriously than the deaths of building workers during the course of employments.
Needless to mention it is a pious obligation and constitutional duty of the State to secure to all workers a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure. In this regard, Article 43 of the Constitution of India must be remembered. Not only that, the directive principle proposes the safety and welfare of the workers but Article 21 of the Constitution directs that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to established by law.
Whether deprivation of life and health of building workers by making violation of safety provision of law does not come within the purview of breach of fundamental rights of workers? Whether employers or builders and law enforcement authorities of the State cannot be held guilty for the violation of fundamental rights in such accident cases?
The parliament in 1970 enacted the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970. In 1976 another important law, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 was enacted. Two more important legislations came into force i.e. the Building & Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and the Building & Other Construction Workers Cess Act, 1996 which cover maximum issues relating to building workers.
Though these legislations are very effective measures to address the safety and welfare matters but implementation of these provisions is very slow. In other words, the executive performance of the State shows that the problem of building workers’ health and safety is beyond control. Particularly in Madhya Pradesh, the building workers work in hazardous situations. The migrated, poor and unskilled building workers are exploited and this can be witnessed in any city or town.
The Madhya Pradesh Building and Other Construction (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2002 imposes various responsibilities on different officers of the Labour Department, the Industrial Health and Safety Department, the Police Department and the District Administration. But in these departments, the officers are not genuinely and seriously interested in addressing the issues of building workers. It is most unfortunate that there is no co-ordination between the aforementioned departments of the State. Due to this, all the central laws mentioned above only have ornamental values.