The High Court has asked J&K’s Commissioner Secretary, Labour to ensure at the earliest registration of workers in the unorganised sector after considering a representation by an NGO, National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour, if the same would be filed.
A division bench of Chief Justice PankajMithal and Justice VinodChatterjiKoul issued the direction while disposing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by the NGO through NirmalGorana.
The PIL had sought to appoint immediately nodal officers in each district of J&K and setting up of temporary help desks at Tourist Reception Centres and other public places for registration of migrant workers for security benefits in keeping with Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and Unorganised Sector Worker’s Social Security Act, 2008.
Deciding the PIL, the court held that in view of the facts and circumstances stated, it did not intend to keep the matter pending and relegate the petitioner before J&K’s Commissioner Secretary, Labour.
“The petitioner is expected to file a comprehensive representation venting therein its grievances in public interest and in case such a representation is filed within a period of one month from today, the concerned officer should consider it in accordance with the law most expeditiously and ensure that the registration commences at the earliest,” read the order of May 12.
Prior to the court’s pronouncement, counsel Syed Musaib on behalf of the petitioner submitted that in a plea pending before it, the Supreme Court has issued direction to Chief Secretaries of the states and Union Territories to start registration of 10 percent estimated number of workers every month starting from January 2019 and submit their report to it by 31st of January 2019.
“Even then, the work of registration is not being done,” Musaib told the court.
In response to the submission, the bench said: “In view of the said direction, if the registration is not being done, since the Supreme Court is seized of the mater, it will be taken care of by the Supreme Court itself.”
Citing Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, the petitioner submitted before the court that there was a provision of registration of workers of the Unorganised Sector for social security benefits and it was mandatory for the state authorities and Union Territories to register such type of workers.
In response to the submission, the bench said: “Section 10 of the act provides that every unorganised worker shall be eligible for registration subject to fulfillment of certain conditions. We, from the pleadings in the writ petition, are unable to ascertain if the unorganised workers, desirous of being registered, fulfill the above conditions therein or not and whether they have applied for registration in the prescribed form.”
Regarding the submission that the registration was available only online and that the site of the J&K for this purpose was completely blank, Advocate General D C Raina told the court that there was no difficulty for registration as per the requirement of the law but for the unprecedented pandemic.
“It would be proper if the petitioner submits a representation to the Commissioner Secretary, Labour, who will look into the matter and in case the site is not working, it will be made workable,” he said.
The PIL had raised the contention that Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and Unorganised Sector Worker’s Social Security Act, 2008 were not being implemented in J&K.
While the petition underscored that Section 4 of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, required the registration by the appropriate government of establishments employing inter-state migrant workers, it said, “Section 6 prohibits the employment of inter-state migrant workmen without registration.”
Section 12 of the act, the petition said, mandates duties and obligations of contractors to provide full details regarding the migrant workers to the state government.
“Section 12 also requires the contractor to furnish reports to the state government from time-to-time and to give a declaration to the government that all dues payable and the fare for the return journey has been paid,” it said.
Section 14 of the act, the petition said, deals with the displacement allowance paid to the workmen at the time of recruitment and which is equal to 50 percent of the monthly wages while Section 15 requires that the contractor pays a journey allowance which is not less than the fare from the residence to the place of work and the return journey and include payment of wages for the period of such journey.
After registration of the workers, the petitioner had sought direction for issuing them identity cards and grant amenities as provided in Section 10 (3) of the Unorganised Sector Worker’s Social Security Act, 2008 and the Social Security Schemes set out in Schedule I of the act.
The petitioner NGO had submitted that that during 2019 lockdown its activists on the ground in different parts of the country witnessed on the pitiable situation of these workers.
“Nowhere could feeding centers be seen. Men, women and children were walking for days. Not even drinking water was available on the way,” the petitioner said. “As India witnesses the second wave of the mutant COVID-19 strain, the marginalised struggle again.”