New Delhi, May 26 : The Supreme Court Tuesday told the Centre that many people are affected and asked it to treat with urgency pleas challenging the March 29 Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notification asking private companies to pay full wages to workers during the Covid-19 lockdown.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprising Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah, hearing the matter through video conferencing, asked the Centre to file its response on the matter, and posted it for further hearing next week.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, representing the Centre, contended before the bench that the Centre has issued a new notification on May 17 which supersedes the March 29 MHA order.
Earlier, the apex court had observed that small industries have been badly affected due to the nationwide lockdown, and if they cannot earn, then through what means these industries could pay full salaries to the employees.
On May 15, the apex court ordered administrations across India not to take coercive action against employers who were unable to pay full wages to workers during the Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown. This direction from the top court virtually stayed the operation of the March 29 circular of the MHA.
The top court’s response came on a bunch of petitions filed by industrial units, which moved the court claiming that they have no means to pay since there is no production.
The petitioners argued that the government of India has not taken any steps for the workforce and instead put the entire burden on the employers/owners to pay full wages. The petitioners submitted before the top court that organizations should be completely exempted from paying their workforce during the nationwide lockdown implemented in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The petitions were filed by a Mumbai-based textile firm and a Punjab-based collective of 41 small scale organizations, urging the court to set aside the March 29 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) directing private establishments to pay full wages to the workers during the period of the lockdown. The petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of Section 10(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Punjab-based Ludhiana Hand Tools Association claimed that the March 29 MHA order under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, was violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(g), 265 and 300 of the Constitution and that it must be “struck down”. The petitioners maintained that Section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act provided for the right to layoff workmen due to natural calamity.