The Rajasthan High Court has declared that non revision of the wages payable to the prisoners for last five years is ex facie violative of the provisions of Rule 31 of the Rajasthan Prison Rules, 1951 and amounts to defiance of directions issued by the Supreme Court.
As per mandate of Rule 31(1) of Part XII of the Rules of 1951, all the prisoners sentenced to rigorous imprisonment and such classes of the prisoners who volunteer to labour are entitled to the wages as specified by the Government from time to time after deducting the expenses on food, clothing and other maintenance item of such business. The wages are payable on the basis of the actual work done according to the prescribed task. Further, as per sub-rule (3) of Rule 31 out of the amount payable to the prisoners as above, 75% amount shall be given to them and 25% of the wages shall be deducted and paid to the victims or his legal heirs.
On Wednesday, Division Bench comprising of Justice Rameshwar Vyas and Justice Sangeeta Lodha directed the State Government to revise the wages payable to the prisoners in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision in State of Gujarat & Anr. vs. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat [AIR 1998 SC 3164] and Rule 31 of 1951 Rules.
The Bench has directed that the State Government to constitute a committee for determining the quantum of equitable wages payable to the prisoners within a period of two weeks.
The Court instructed that the committee shall make its recommendation for the revision of wages payable to the prisoners for various work within a period of two months from the date of constitution of the committee by the State Government.
The Bench ordered that on the recommendations made by the committee, the State Government shall take a decision for revision of the wages within a period of four weeks thereafter.
The Justices further instructed that until the State Government takes any decision on such recommendations, every prisoner must be paid wages for the work done by him at such revised rates as fixed by the State Government.
The Court added that the State Government shall determine the rate of the such interim wages within a period of four weeks from today.
The grievance raised in the petition by the prisoner Indrajeet Singh lodged in Central Jail, Jodhpur is that the wages payable to the prisoners sentenced to Rigorous Imprisonment or such other classes of prisoners who volunteer to labour were last revised vide order dated 17.3.15. Thereafter, though the wages payable to the unskilled, skilled and highly skilled employees have been revised by the State Government from time to time vide notifications dated 17.12.15, 5.7.16 and 16.1.18 issued under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the wages payable to the prisoners have not been revised and they are being paid wages at the rate specified vide notification dated 17.3.15.
The State Government submitted that the categories of employees to whom the notification post 17.03.2015 apply have been specifically mentioned in the notifications issued and the same do not cover the prisoners employed on work in prison.
Mr. R.S. Saluja, Amicus Curia, submitted that of course, it is permissible to deduct the amount towards the food etc. from the wages payable to the prisoners as also towards the payment of compensation to the victim but there is no reason as to why the wages payable to the prisoners should not be fixed at par with the employees governed by the notifications issued under the Act of 1948.
He added that the action of the State of Rajasthan in not revising the wages payable to the prisoners from time to time is ex facie violative of the provisions of Article 14, 21 & 23 of the Constitution of India and this non payment of the equitable wages to the prisoners is apparently in defiance of the directions issued by the Supreme Court.
The Amicus Curia submitted that the State Government is under an obligation to revise the wages from time to time and thus, payment of wages to the prisoners at the rate fixed in the year 2015 is absolutely unjustified.
The Bench opined that it is not understandable that if under the provisions of the Act of 1948, the minimum wages payable to the employees of different categories were revised by the State Government from time to time while the similar exercise was not undertaken in respect of the prisoners on work as well.
The Court relied upon State of Gujarat & Anr. vs. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat [AIR 1998 SC 3164] wherein, it has been stated that "while considering the quantum of wages payable to the prisoners we are persuaded to take into account the contemporary legislative exercises on wages".
The Bench asserted that when the minimum wages payable to the various categories of employees under the Act of 1948 have been revised by the State Government from time to time, inaction on the part of State Government in revising the wages payable to the prisoners on work cannot be countenanced by this Court.
The Bench concluded by directing the State Government to file a compliance report within three months.
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