Groundxero : 6 February, 2023
In a historic judgement on 6th February 2023, the Supreme Court gave an order for the payment of about Rs. 650 crores dues, along with PF penalties of 28,556 workers of 25 tea gardens in the state of Assam. These include 15 gardens under Assam Tea Company Limited owned by the Assam Government.
Tea Garden workers who had rendered their services for more than 20 years, were not paid their due wages as most of these gardens were abandoned by the management. These workers belonged to various tea gardens of Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal. They were living in a pitiable condition, with many dying of starvation and some of them resorting to suicide.
International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity along with two other unions of tea garden workers moved the Supreme Court seeking relief for these workers in the year 2006. [WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.365 OF 2006]. The petition was disposed of via an order dated 06.08.2010 directing the Central Government to carry out their statutory duties under the provisions of Tea Act, particularly, in terms of Sections 16B, 16C, 16D and 16E within a period of six months. However, as the workers did not get any relief, the unions moved the court again in 2012 under the contempt of court jurisdiction. [CONTEMPT PETITION (C) NO. 16 OF 2012]. A One-Man Committee headed by the Hon’ble (Retired) Mr. Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre was constituted by the Supreme Court vide its order dated 10.01.2020 to ensure that the dues of the tea garden workers are properly calculated and paid accordingly.
The committee has submitted its first report with respect to the state of Assam which was taken up for consideration before the bench today. The petitioner unions were represented by Shri Colin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate, Ms. Mugdha, and Mr. Purbayan Chakraborty. The committee concluded in its report that Rs. 414,73,00,935 (Approximately 414.7 Crores) is the total amount of various dues payable to 28,556 workers of 25 tea gardens in the state of Assam and Rs. 230,69,45,663 (Approximately 230.7 Crores) is the total amount payable to the PF department. The Assam Government would have to pay almost 80-90% of this amount, and they prayed for time and for the court’s leniency. However, the bench accepted the finding of the committee in its entirety and ordered for its compliance. Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity welcomes this order.
The next date of the case has been fixed for 28th March 2023, where the Court will consider a similar report for Kerala. In addition, Assam workers have raised the issue of non-payment of wages during lockdown. Also, workers in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal unions have raised the issue of anomalies in the payment of interim relief by their State Governments. This payment was ordered in 2018 by the Supreme Court. PBKMS has also prayed for the payment of dues of another 13 gardens. All these matters will come up on the next date of hearing by the Court.