Porters provide valuable support to the Indian Army and hence, should be paid wages at par at the lowest pay-scale applicable to multi-tasking staff

Supreme Court: In the matter where the rights of the posters working for the Indian Army were I n question, the Court said that the porters provide valuable support to the Indian Army and are an integral, if not indispensable, requirement of operations in border areas i.e. the high risk/highly active field areas and hence, they should be paid wages at par at the lowest pay-scale applicable to multi-tasking staff.

Taking note of the fact that the porters are civilians who possess an innate knowledge of the terrain and its hazards who are engaged for the carriage of stores, stocking of posts, collection of water, replenishment of ammunition, clearance of tracks and evacuation of casualties, the Court said that the porters belong to the poorest strata of society but 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.

Considering the fact that a scheme has already been finalized by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Indian Army for the engagement of “seasonal civilian labour in high risk/highly active field areas”, the Court gave the below mentioned directions to be kept in mind while finalizing the scheme:

  • The aspect of payment of minimum wages at the prevailing ‘Nerrik Rates’ as provided in the scheme requires a fresh look. Further, if there are provisions enabling additional payments to be made (either by way of allowances or otherwise) for work in high altitude areas or in high risk/active field areas, such payments shall be allowed under the scheme.
  • The scheme must provide for regular medical facilities including in the case of injury or disability.
  • The amount of compensation in the case of death or permanent disability should also be looked at afresh and suitably enhanced. The present scheme provides for an interim relief of Rs. 20, 000 to be sanctioned at the discretion of the local formation commander. A maximum payment of Rupees two lakhs as applicable under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 is contemplated. The provision for compensation shall be enhanced to provide for dignified payments in the event of death or disability.
  • A onetime severance grant of Rs. 50, 000 is provided in the proposed scheme subject to a minimum service of ten years. This measly payment on severance does not fulfil the mandate of fairness, on the part of the State. Hence, 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.

The bench of T.S. Thakur and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ asked the Union Government to finalise the scheme within 3 months. [Yash Pal v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 8, decided on 02.01.2017]

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