The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to certify names of kamgaars (workers) who are involved in Covid-19 related duties and pay them a daily allowance of Rs.300, the same amount that is being provided to employees of the said Corporation as 'they are risking their lives' in the line of duty.
Justice SJ Kathawalla heard the writ petition filed by Samaj Samata Kamgaar Sangh, a union representing the 6277 kamgaars working for NMMC seeking directions to the civic body to ensure basic protective gear like masks etc. for these workers who fight the pandemic of Covid-19 on the frontlines everyday. Petitioners alleged that apart from "providing low quality face masks and hand gloves on one occasion", the Corporation has not provided any protective gear to the workers.
The petitioners also sought directions to NMMC to grant daily allowance of Rs.300 as per its own notification dated April 7, 2020, to the kamgaars.
Although, NMMC's lawyer Sandeep Marne submitted that the Members of the petitioner Union are contract workers, the petitioner's counsel Bhavesh Parmar refuted the said stand taken by the Corporation and pointed out that there is a dispute pending in this regard before the Industrial Tribunal.
According to the Petitioner Sangh / Union, out of 6277 kamgaars, 3261 are involved in Solid Waste Management, including day-to-day road cleaning and transportation of garbage. About 693 Kamgaars are employed in the health department, which includes duties at four Corporation Hospitals and 23 urban health posts across Navi Mumbai. About 65 Kamgaars are employed on cemetery cleaning duty.
Commissioner of NMMC issued the circular dated April 7 wherein he observed that despite the workers of the Corporation facing difficulties in reaching their workplace and in procuring food/meal services due to the lockdown, the workers are "fulfilling their responsibilities by risking their lives". The circular also mandates a daily allowance of Rs.300 to working officers and working staff of NMMC.
Court enquired from NMMC's Counsel as to why the Corporation is not considering extension of the same benefit to Kamgaars who are involved in Covid-19 related duties assigned by the Corporation. In response, Advocate Marne stated that since the members of the petitioner Union i.e. the Kamgaars are employed by the contractors to carry out the work of the Corporation under contracts executed by and between such contractors and the Corporation, the Kamgaars are not entitled to claim parity and receive the said allowance which the Corporation has agreed to pay to its officers and its workers, including the workers who are directly appointed by the Corporation on contract basis.
Justice Kathawalla disagreed with NMMC's stand-
"In my view, the above stand of the Corporation is unfair, especially under the present circumstances. Some of the contract workers are admittedly carrying out the Covid-19 related duties, assigned by the Corporation through the contractors.
It cannot be disputed that the Kamgaars too, who are involved in Covid-19 related duties assigned by the Corporation through the contractors, are facing the very same difficulties as those faced by the officers and the workers of the Corporation, including the workers who are directly appointed by the Corporation on contract basis, and the Kamgaars are also "fulfilling their responsibilities by risking their lives".
Thus, the Court concluded that the risk taken by Kamgaars in carrying out Covid-19 related duties for the Corporation cannot be differentiated/distinguished on their employment being directly with the Corporation or through the contractors.
"In so distinguishing between its own employees and the Kamgaars, the Corporation is seen to be making a tacit statement, that the Kamgaars though discharging the Covid related duties as the Corporation's own employees, are either not 'risking their lives', or despite doing so, need to be paid differently only due to their employer being the contractor and not the Corporation. To say the least, this would be an extremely unfair and unjust yardstick to use, to value human lives differently."
Thereafter, NMMC informed the Court that all Kamgaars are not involved in Covid-19 related duties, thus if allowance is to be paid to the contract workers, the Corporation may be allowed to certify the exact contract workers who are involved in Covid-19 related duties, and payment of special allowance be restricted only to such certified contract workers, on the basis of their attendance.
Court directed the Corporation to certify the names of the Kamgaars involved in Covid-19 related duties and forward a list of the same to the Advocate for the petitioner Union within a period of one week. Also, NMMC was directed to pay an allowance of Rs.300 per day just like other employees of the Corporation under its Circular dated April 7, on the basis of attendance.
Finally, the petitioners referred to the Press Conference conducted by the Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitaraman on March 26, wherein she had announced a Special Insurance Scheme that would cover the Kamgaar working as Safai Karmacharis, ward boys, nurses, ASHA workers, paramedics etc. The Corporation has not accepted that the said ccheme is also applicable to the workers of the petitioner Union.
Additional Solicitor General of India Anil Singh submitted on behalf of the Union of India that once the said Corporation certified the names of the workers in health care facilities and involved in direct contact and care of Covid-19 patients, irrespective of whether they are direct employees of the Corporation or contract workers, shall be covered under the Special Insurance Scheme.
NMMC accepted that the insurance claims would be certified by the Corporation in respect of all contractual workers working in direct contact or care of Covid-19 patients. This case will now come up for hearing on June 12.
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