Desk Report: The Supreme Court restrained the government from taking coercive action for now against employers who don’t pay workers their entire salary during the lockdown in violation of a ministry of home affairs notification of March 29 that directed them to pay full wages.
District magistrates across the country have subsequently passed copycat orders under the Disaster Management Act asking industrial units and commercial establishments in their territories to follow the notification or face the consequences. Under the Act, violation of the district magistrate’s order would attract legal action under Section 51, which provides for a jail term of up to a year or fine or both. The sentence goes up to two years imprisonment if violation of the order results in loss of life or poses imminent danger to life.
“Companies are going out of work and are being prosecuted,” argued senior advocate Jamshed Cama, appearing for the Hand Tool Manufacturers Association, an association of MSMEs.
“If the government wants further time, the government must hold its hand,” he said, after solicitor general Tushar Mehta asked for time to address the issue.
A three-judge bench led by justice L Nageshwara Rao then issued notices on a number of similar pleas that are set to come up together next week. The bench also restrained the government from setting the legal process in motion against employers until next week.
When the bench asked how a concern that was not running can keep paying wages, Mehta conceded that these were issues that would have to be considered.
“This is an omnibus order,” said justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was also on the bench along with justice BR Gavai. “These are small industries. If the government doesn’t help them they will not be able to pay. It’s a large-scale problem.”
In a related petition, lawyer Jeetender Gupta sought a clarification from the bench on what employers should do if workers did not turn up for work. “Workers are not coming as they feel that they will get paid anyway,” he said. “If they are not coming, why should I pay?”
The bench rejected his plea saying that it was possible that the workers were in containment zones and were not able to travel to work. “How will you not pay them?” the bench asked. Mehta said that the notification on payment was a welfare measure. Workers may be in quarantine zones, he too said.
India’s lockdown began on March 25 and has been extended until May 17. Details about the next phase are expected to be unveiled shortly.
Courtesy: The Economic Times