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Labour laws play a crucial role in protecting the rights and welfare of workers in any country. In India, the definition of ‘industry’ holds immense significance as it determines the scope of applicability of various labour laws. However, the interpretation and understanding of this term have been subject to intense political debate and legal battles. In this blog, we delve into the definition of ‘industry’ under Indian labour law and explore the politics surrounding it.

Understanding the Definition of ‘Industry’:

Under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the term ‘industry’ is defined as any systematic activity involving the production, manufacturing, processing, or distribution of goods, or the rendering of services with the objective of earning profit. This definition is essential as it determines the application of laws relating to industrial disputes, trade unions, and employment conditions.

The Politics of the Definition:

1. Historical Perspective:

The definition of ‘industry’ has been a subject of political contention since its inception. In the early years after independence, the Supreme Court of India took a narrow interpretation, limiting the scope of ‘industry’ to traditional manufacturing sectors. This interpretation excluded many service sectors, leading to significant legal and political battles.

2. Expanding the Definition:

Over time, there has been a push to broaden the definition of ‘industry’ to include various service sectors, such as banking, insurance, telecommunications, and transport. Trade unions and workers’ organizations have advocated for this expansion to ensure better protection for workers’ rights in these sectors. However, this move has faced resistance from employers and certain political factions.

3. Judicial Interventions:

The judiciary has played a crucial role in shaping the definition of ‘industry’ through landmark judgments. In the case of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board vs. A. Rajappa (1978), the Supreme Court held that ‘industry’ includes both traditional manufacturing sectors and modern service sectors. This judgment expanded the ambit of labour laws, granting protection to workers in previously excluded sectors.

4. Political Alliances:

The issue of defining ‘industry’ has often been a matter of political alliances and interests. Different political parties have taken varying stances on the definition based on their ideological inclinations and support bases. Trade unions affiliated with political parties have actively lobbied for expanding the definition to safeguard the rights of workers.

5. Employer Concerns:

On the other hand, employers and business associations have expressed concerns about the potential impact of expanding the definition of ‘industry’ on their operations and competitiveness. They argue that extending labour laws to previously exempt sectors could increase costs, hamper flexibility, and adversely affect economic growth.


The definition of ‘industry’ under Indian labour law holds significant importance in determining the scope of protection and rights for workers. The politics surrounding this definition has been characterized by a constant struggle between trade unions advocating for an expansive interpretation and employers voicing concerns over its implications. Judicial interventions have played a pivotal role in shaping the definition and balancing the interests of various stakeholders. As India’s economy evolves, the ongoing debate on the definition of ‘industry’ will continue to influence the landscape of labour laws and the welfare of workers across sectors.


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April 2024