Section 2(j) of The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 states as “Industry” means any business, trade, undertaking, manufacture or calling of employers and includes any calling service, employment, handicraft, or industrial occupation or avocation of workmen.
The Supreme Court carried out an in-depth study of the definition of the term industry in a comprehensive manner in the case of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board v. A Rajiappa, AIR 1978 SC 548 (hereinafter referred to as Bangalore Water Supply case), after considering various previous judicial decisions on the subject and in the process, it rejected some of them, while evolving a new concept of the term “industry”.
Tests for determination of “industry”
After discussing the definition from various angles, in the above case, the Supreme Court, laid down the following tests to determine whether an activity is covered by the definition of “industry” or not. It is also referred to as the triple test.
1. (a) Where there is
(i) systematic activity,
(ii) organised by co-operation between employer and employee,
(iii) for the production and/or distribution of goods and services calculated to satisfy human wants and wishes (not spiritual or religious but inclusive of material things or services geared to celestial bliss e.g., making, on a large scale, prasad or food) prima facie, there is an “industry” in that enterprise.
(b) Absence of profit motive or gainful objective is irrelevant wherever the undertaking is whether in the public, joint, private or other
(c) The true focus is functional and the decisive test is the nature of the activity with special emphasis on the employer-employee
(d) If the organisation is a trade or business, it does not cease to be one because of philanthropy animating the
2. Although Section 2(i) uses words of the widest amplitude in its two limbs, their meaning cannot be magnified to over-stretch Undertaking must suffer a contextual and associational shrinkage, so also, service, calling and the like. This yields the inference that all organised activity possessing the triple elements in (i) although not trade or business, may still be “industry”, provided the nature of the activity, viz., the employer – employee basis, bears resemblance to what we find in trade or business. This takes into the fold of “industry”, undertaking, callings and services, adventures analogous to the carrying on of trade or business. All features, other than the methodology of carrying on the activity, viz., in organising the co-operation between employer and employee, may be dissimilar. It does not matter, if on the employment terms, there is analogy.
3. Application of these guidelines should not stop short of their logical reach by invocation of creeds, cults or inner sense of incongruity or outer sense of motivation for or resultant of the economic operations. The ideology of the Act being industrial disputes between employer and workmen, the range of this statutory ideology must inform the reach of the statutory definition, nothing less, nothing
Hence, the Supreme Court observed that professions, clubs, educational institutions. co-operatives, research institutes, charitable projects and other kindred adventures, if they fulfil the triple tests listed in (1), cannot be exempted from the scope of Section 2(j). A restricted category of professions, clubs, co-operatives and gurukulas and little research labs, may qualify for exemption if, in simple ventures, substantially and going by the dominant nature criterion, substantively, no employees are entertained but in minimal matters, marginal employees are hired without destroying the non-employee character of the unit.
If in a pious or altruistic mission many employ themselves, free or for small honoranum or like return, mainly drawn by sharing in the purpose or cause, such as lawyers volunteering to run a free legal services clinic or doctors serving in their spare hours in a free medical centre or ashramites working at the bidding of the holiness, divinity or like central personality and the services are supplied free or at nominal cost and those who serve are not engaged for remuneration or on the basis of master and servant relationship, then the institution is not an industry even if stray servants, manual or technical, are hired. Such undertakings alone are exempt – not other generosity compassion, developmental compassion or project.
Criteria for determining dominant nature of undertaking
The Supreme Court, in Bangalore Water Supply case laid down the following guidelines for deciding the dominant nature of an undertaking:
- Where a complex of activities, some of which qualify for exemption, others not, involves the employees on the total Some of whom are not “workmen” or some departments are not productive of goods and services if isolated, nature of the department will be the true test. The whole undertaking will be “industry” although those who are not “workmen” definition may not be benefit by the status.
- Notwithstanding with previous clause, sovereign functions strictly understood alone qualify for exemption and not the welfare activities or economic adventures undertaken by Government or statutory
- Even in departments discharging sovereign functions, if there are units which are industries and they are substantially severable, then they can be considered to come within Section 2(j).
- Constitutional and competently enacted legislative provisions may well remove an undertaking from the scope of the
The above decision of the Supreme Court has a wide sweep. The triple test along with dominant nature criteria will cover almost the entire labour force in the country. The charitable or missionary institutions, hospital, educational and other research institutions, municipal corporations, firms of chartered accountants, solicitors’ firms, etc., which were not held to be “industry” earlier will now are covered by the definition of “industry”.
Now let us see whether the following activities would fall under industry or not:
- Sovereign functions: Sovereign functions strictly understood alone qualify for exemption, not the welfare activities or economic adventures undertaken by Government or statutory Even in departments discharging sovereign functions, if there are units which are industries and they are substantially severable then they can be considered to come within Section 2(j). (Bangalore Water Supply case). If a department of a municipality discharged many functions, some pertaining to “industry” and other non-industrial activities, the predominant function of the department shall be the criterion for the purposes of the Act (Corpn. of City of Nagpur v. Employees, AIR 1960 SC 675).
- Municipalities: Following Departments of the municipality were held, to be “industry” (i) Tax (ii) Public Conveyance (iii) Fire Brigade (iv) Lighting (v) Water Works (vi) City Engineers (vii) Enforcement (Encroachment) (viii) Sewerage (ix) Health (x) Market (xi) Public Gardens (xii) Education (xiii) Printing Press (xiv) Building and (xv) General If a department of a municipality discharges many functions some pertaining to industry and others non-industrial, the predominant function of the department shall be the criterion for the purpose of the Act.
- Hospitals and Charitable institutions: Exemptions to charitable institutions under Section 32(5) of Payment of Bonus Act is not relevant to the construction of Section 2(j), FICCI Workmen, (1972) 1 SCC 40, there is an industry in the enterprise, provided the nature of the activity, namely the employer-employee basis bears resemblance to what is found in trade or business. This takes into the fold of industry undertakings, callings, services and adventures ‘analogous to the carrying on of trade or business’. Absence of profit motive or gainful objective is irrelevant for “industry”, be the venture in the public, joint, private or other sector. The true focus is functional and the decisive test is the nature of the activity with special emphasis on the employer-employee relations.
If the organisation is a trade or business it does not cease to be one because of philanthropy animating the undertaking. Charitable institutions fall into three categories: (a) those that yield profit but the profits are siphoned off for altruistic purposes; (b) those that make no profit but hire the services of employees as in any other business, but the goods and services which are the output, are made available at a low or at no cost to the indigent poor; and (c) those that are oriented on a humane mission fulfilled by men who work, not because they are paid wages, but because they share the passion for the cause and derive job satisfaction from their contribution. The first two are industries but not the third, on the assumption that they all involve co-operation between employers and employees (Bangalore Water Supply case). The following institutions are held to be “industry”:
(1) State Hospital (State of Bombay v. Hospital Mazdoor Sabha, AIR 1960 SC 610); (2) Ayurvedic Pharmacy and Hospital (Lalit Hari Ayurvedic College Pharmacy v. Workers Union, AIR 1960 SC 1261); (3) Activities of Panjrapole (Bombay Panjrapole v. Workmen, (1971) 3 SCC 349).
4. Clubs: A restricted category of professions, clubs, co-operatives and even Gurukulas may qualify for exemption if, in simple ventures, substantially and going by the dominant nature criterion substantively, no employees are entertained, but in minimal matters marginal employees are hired without destroying the non-employee character of the unit. But larger clubs are “industry” (as per Bangalore Water Supply case).
5. Universities, Research Institutions etc.: As regards institutions, if the triple tests of systematic activity, cooperation between employer and employee and production of goods and services were to be applied, a university, a college, a research institute or teaching institution will be “industry”. The following institutions were held to be “industry”: Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association, Tocklai Experimental Station. Indian Standard Institute, and Universities. However Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad was held not to be an Industry by the Supreme Court (1997 Lab. IC 1912 SC). Since it is carrying on research not for the benefit of others and moreover, it is not engaged in commercial or industrial
6. Professional Firms: A solicitors establishment can be an “industry” (as per Bangalore Water Supply case). Regarding liberal professions like lawyers, doctors, etc., the test of direct cooperation between capital and labour in the production of goods or in the rendering of service or that cooperation between employer and employee is essential for carrying out the work of the enterprise. The personal character of the relationship between a doctor or a lawyer with his professional assistant may be of such a kind that requires complete confidence and harmony in the productive activity in which they may be
7. Voluntary services: If in a pious or altruistic mission, many employ themselves free or for small honoraria or like return, mainly drawn by sharing in the purpose or cause such as lawyers volunteering to run a free legal services clinic or doctors serving in their spare hours in a free medical centre or ashramites working at the bidding of the Holiness, divinity or Central personality and the services are supplied free or at a nominal cost and those who serve are not engaged for remuneration or on the basis of master and servant relationship, then the institution is not an industry even if stray servants manual or technical are hired. Such eleemosynary or like undertakings alone are (Bangalore Water Supply case)
Following are held to be “industry”:
Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce,
Company carrying on agricultural operations,
Bihar Khadi Gramodyog Sangh,
Indian Navy Sailors Home,
Public Health Department of the State Government,
Forest Department of Govt.,
Primary Health Centres, and
Indian Institute of Petroleum.
Some other instances of ‘Industry are:
Rajasthan Co-operative Credit Institutions Cadre Authority (1985 Lab IC 1023 (Raj.),
A trust for promoting religious, social and educational life but also undertaking commercial activities (1987) 1 LLJ 81, M.P. Khadi and Village Industries Board,
Dock Labour Board, Management of a private educational institution (R.C.K. Union v. Rajkumar College, (1987) 2 LLN 573).
But the following are held to be not “Industry”:
Posts and Telegraphs Department (Union of India v. Labour Court, (1984) 2 LLN 577),
Telecom Deptt. (Bombay Telephones Canteen Employees Association v. Union of India),
Central Institute of Fisheries (P. Bose v. Director, C.I.F., 1986 Lab IC 1564), and
Construction and maintenance of National and State Highways (State of Punjab v. Kuldip Singh and another, 1983 Lab IC 83),
Trade Unions (RMS v. K.B. Wagh, 1993(2) CLR 1059).