There is no element of doubt that the porters provide valuable support to the Indian Army and are an integral, if not indispensable, requirement of operations in border areas, the bench said.
Directing the Central government to review minimum wages to the porters so that they are paid wages at par at the lowest pay-scale applicable to multi-tasking staff, the Supreme Court in Yash Pal v. Union of India, has observed that they provide valuable support to the Indian Army and are an integral, if not indispensable, requirement of operations in the border areas.
A bench headed by then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur has also directed that regular medical facilities, including in the case of injury or disability, should be provided to them. The bench also said the amount of compensation, in the case of death or permanent disability, should be enhanced and the terminal benefits should be enhanced so as to provide for compensation not less than at a rate computed at 15 days’ salary for every completed year of service.
These directions were issued by the court while disposing of a plea of 29 persons engaged as porters in the Indian Army who complained that they have not been treated as regular employees and have been denied the benefit of minimum pay scale despite long years of service in arduous conditions prevalent in a difficult terrain.
Appreciating the service rendered by the porters to Indian Army, the bench said: “By all accounts, there is no element of doubt that the porters provide valuable support to the Indian Army and are an integral, if not indispensable, requirement of operations in border areas. They are engaged for the carriage of stores, stocking of posts, collection of water, replenishment of ammunition, clearance of tracks and evacuation of casualties. In high altitudes of the north and north-east, the porters trudge along with their mules, ponies and donkeys in terrain inaccessible to any other form of transport. They belong to the poorest strata of society. Many of the porters may not possess educational qualifications. However, the value addition which they provide to the Indian Army in terms of their knowledge of conditions makes them a sure footed ally in hostile conditions. To look at their work from a metro centric lens is to miss the wood for the trees. They work, albeit as casual labour, for long years with little regard of safety. Faced with disability, injury and many times death, their families have virtually no social security. Such a situation cannot be contemplated having regard to the mandate in Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.”
The court directed the Union government to finalise the scheme within three months.
Read the Judgment here.