Centre & States must stop passing on the burden on one another for time-bound payment of wages: SC

Supreme Court: The bench of Madan B. Lokur and NV Ramana, JJ directed the the Ministry of Rural Development to prepare an urgent time bound mandatory program to make the payment of wages and compensation to the workers in consultation with the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations. The Bench said:

“This is not only in the interest of the workers who have expended unskilled manual labour but also in furtherance of the rule of law which must be followed in letter and spirit.”

On the issue pertaining to the delay in payment of wages and compensation to the beneficiaries under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (Act) and the Scheme framed thereunder, the Court said that in terms of the Act and Schedule II thereof a worker is entitled to payment of wages within a fortnight of the date on which the work was done, failing which the worker is entitled to the compensation as prescribed in paragraph 29 of the Schedule II of the Act. Stating that one entity cannot pass on the burden to another and vice versa, the Court said that the burden of compliance is on the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations as well as the Central Government.

On Central Government’s argument that it has no responsibility after the second signature is placed on the Fund Transfer Orders, the Court said:

“The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility or taking advantage of a person who has been placed in the unfortunate situation of having to seek employment under the Act and then not being paid wages for the unskilled manual labour within the statutorily prescribed time. The State Governments and Union Territory Administrations may be at fault, but that does not absolve the Central Government of its duty.”

Stating that delays are simply not acceptable, the bench said that the law requires and indeed mandates payment of wages not later than a fortnight after the date on which the work was done by the worker or labourer. Any reason for the delay in receiving wages is not at all the concern of the worker. He or she is entitled to get the due wages within a fortnight of completion of the work. It was hence held that if there are any administrative inefficiencies or deficiencies or laxity, it is entirely for the State Government and the Ministry of Rural Development to sort out the problem. [Swaraj Abhiyan (VI) v. Union of India,  2018 SCC OnLine SC 578, decided on 18.05.2018]

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