In SC, government praises PV Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh for ending ‘licence raj’, opening economy | India News

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NEW DELHI: BJP-led NDA govt on Tuesday praised former PM Narasimha Rao and his then finance minister Manmohan Singh in Supreme Court for pioneering economic liberalisation in 1991 to end ‘licence raj’ while taking care to ensure that overarching control over any industry remained with the govt in order to deal with exigencies.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta told a nine-judge bench led by CJI D Y Chandrachud that while post-economic reforms ushered in by Rao and Singh liberalised many laws, including company law and MRTP Act, govts headed by different political dispensations over the next three decades did not consider it necessary to amend the Industry (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951.
He was responding to a question from the bench, also comprising Justices Hrishikesh Roy, A S Oka, B V Nagarathna, JB Pardiwala, Manoj Misra, Ujjal Bhuyan, Satish C Sharma and Augustine G Masih, which had sharply criticised IDRA, 1951, saying the archaic legislation appeared regressive and reflective of licence raj days.
Mehta said winds of change did not touch IDRA, giving the Centre overarching control over the entire spectrum of industries, even though with passage of time, the Union govt gave up regulating most of them. But the Centre relinquishing control over industries did not mean it did not have the power to regulate them, he added.
This regulating control was retained by the Centre in national interest and to meet exigencies like the Covid pandemic. If the Union govt did not have the power to regulate industrial alcohol and direct most of it to be utilised to produce hand sanitisers during Covid and had to wait for permission from states, the robust response to the pandemic would have suffered, Mehta said.
“The Centre retains its regulatory power over industries, though it may not exercise it, to meet unforeseen exigencies arising from situations not within contemplation right now,” he added.
Finding the SG getting good assistance from advocates Sansriti Pathak, Omar Ahmed and Tahira Karanjawala, the CJI allowed the three to supplement Mehta’s arguments to give them a feel of presenting a case involving a tricky constitutional question before a nine-judge bench.
Mehta said industrial alcohol, or denatured spirits, was fully covered under IDRA and that states had regulating control only over potable alcohol, or intoxicating drinks for human consumption. When the SG said too much raw material was being given to the court, the CJI said, “Our job is to distil the arguments and find what is so special about industrial alcohol.”
Justice Roy, with a serious face, asked, “What is this alcohol committee? What are the qualifications to be a member of this committee?” As Mehta and others realised it was a light-hearted question and said the members need not be proficient in the taste of alcohol, the CJI said, “They are members of ‘The Bar’.” Arguments will continue on Thursday.

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