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Supreme Court Orders Payment Of Rs. 650 Crores To Workers Of 25 Tea Gardens In Assam

Rintu Mariam Biju
8 Feb 2023 4:02 AM GMT
Supreme Court Orders Payment Of Rs. 650 Crores To Workers Of 25 Tea Gardens In Assam

Assam Tea garden (Image Courtesy : North East Today)

The Supreme Court, on Monday(February 7) directed the payment of about Rs. 650 crores towards dues of 28,556 workers of 25 tea gardens in the state of Assam. These include 15 gardens owned by the Assam Government owned Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL).

A Bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar accepted the report submitted by Retired Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre with respect to the State of Assam in the case seeking proper dues to tea garden workers.

"We accept the report submitted by committee consisting of Justice Sapre so far as the amount payable to workers, public staff and sub staff of the tea gardens run by ATCL of the Assam government and private tea gardens in the state of Assam. We direct that the amount payable as per the committee's report be paid to the concerned staff within time stipulated by the committee and on due proper identification".

Justice Sapre committee was constituted by the Supreme Court via its order dated January 10, 2020 to ensure that the dues of the tea garden workers are properly calculated and paid accordingly.

The committee concluded in its report that Rs. 414.7 Crores (approx.) is the total amount of various dues payable to the 28,556 workers of 25 tea gardens in the state of Assam and Rs. 230.7 Crores (approx.) is the total amount payable to the Provident Fund department.

As the interim payment of Rs. 99 crores were directed by the Supreme Court in 2018, the State government had made the payment to the respective workers. The State can now recover this amount from ATCL, the report stated.

However, Senior Advocate Sanjit Kumar, appearing for the State of Assam objected to the report and amount to be payable with respect to 7th pay commission recommendation. However, Advocate Gaurav Agarwal appearing for the committee pointed out that in its earlier order dated 19 May, 2022, it had specifically dealt with the same issue of arrears of liability as per the 7th pay commission recommendation.

During the hearing, Kumar sought to a week more to file an affidavit in the matter.

"There's an affidavit which is required to be filed by the State of Assam".

"Now Justice Sapre committee has given its report. Now you deposit the has to respect the painstaking efforts taken by Justice Sapre", the Bench said while adding that previously when the matter was taken up, it had adjourned the case by a week at the State’s request.

Kumar then argued that the State of Assam had objected to the application of the 7th pay commission’s recommendation in computation of dues for workers of the ATCL.

The committee said that the pending dues have to commuted as per the 7th pay commission- workers, staff and sub staff are all included in this.

So far as staff and sub staff are concerned, they cannot be given the benefit of the 7th pay commission because they form a different class altogether. In different PSUs in Assam, there are staff and sub staff. If the staff and sub staff (in tea gardens) are given the benefit of 7th pay commission, then the same has to be done for staff and sub-staff in other PSUs. There’s some fiscal discipline that the State have to maintain. So, if this report is accepted, it would be a huge burden on the State, he argued.

“….the 7th pay commission will create problem for the State", it was told. The Bench was not moved by this argument.

This objection was already dealt by the Committee in a reasoned order which explained why the 7th pay commission would be applicable, Agarwal apprised the Court.

The Apex Court, however, allowed the parties to approach the committee if there's any difficulty for disbursement and that ordered that the requests be considered.

So far as reports pertaining to other tea gardens in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the matter will come up on March 20. Agarwal stated that the Committee’s report pertaining to the tea gardens in Kerala would be completed in a month’s time.

In 2020, the Supreme Court had directed four States to make an interim payment of approximately Rs. 127 crores to tea garden workers whose legal dues had remained unpaid for over 15 years. The Court had directed the States of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal to make the payments in the contempt petition.

The petitioner unions were represented by Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, Advocates Mugdha and Purbayan Chakraborty.

Case Title: International Union of Food Agricultural & Ors vs UOI | Contempt Petition (C) No. 16/2012

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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