New Delhi , April 5 : The Supreme Court has directed the Central Government to proceed against defaulting tea companies by calling the statutory authorities to issue notices to the companies, for recovery and payment of wages to the workmen, who lost their source of revenue due to closure of tea estates majorly in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala & Tamil Nadu.
A writ petition was filed by the International Union of Food & Agricultural Workers. Explaining the plight of the workers, the petition said that 240 workers died of starvation between March 2002 and February 2003. Workers were left to drink water from the contaminated river streams as supply of rations and drinking water was stopped to the sick and closed tea gardens. To add to the misery of the workers, hospitals were closed hence treatment was not possible. Also PF, Gratuity & earned wages weren’t paid to the workers for years.
A committee on plantation labor in 2003 found that out of the 4819 registered plantations, 1367 were defaulting in payment of workers dues. Though having adequate powers under the Tea Act 1953, to grant relief to workers, the Tea Board failed to fulfil its regulatory role and did not hold the tea estate managements accountable for wage and PF defaults.
For the period from April 1, 2007 to March 31, a Tea Quality Upgradation and Product Diversification Scheme was introduced under which Rs.1500 crores were allocated for the tea gardens. Yet, workers of sick and closed tea gardens did not benefit from this.
The writ petition filed by the International Union of Food & Agricultural Workers was disposed of on August 6, 2010 after a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court took note of the plight of the workers of abandoned tea estates and directed the Central Government to carry out its constitutional duties as per the provisions of the Tea Act, 1953 within a period of six months.
The Additional Solicitor General, P.S. Narasimha gave an assurance of order compliance within a period of 4 weeks and also a comprehensive report would be submitted stating the steps taken.
Notices were issued to Advocates General of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, asking them to submit a report on the present status and the steps that need to be taken for recovery of the workers’ dues.