No further delays in payment, pay Rs. 127 crores to Tea-Garden workers of Four states: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court bench comprising SA Bobde and LN Rao passed an order today directing the state of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal asking them to make an interim payment of approximately Rs. 127 crores to the tea garden workers of these states in a contempt petition (Contempt Petition 16/2012) filed by the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity(PBKMS) and Nilgiri District Estate Workers Union (NDEWU). The bench has also insisted that no further delay could be allowed seeing the condition of workers who have suffered for long.

Tea Garden Workers
Their dues have remained unpaid for over 15 years, an event that has led to a lot of distress among workers, even causing deaths due to starvation during these years.

The Huma Resources Law Network (HRLN) has pursued this cause under the guidance of senior counsel Colin Gonsalves.
Hundreds of the workers had died out of starvation during this period. Their cause has been diligently pursued by HRLN and senior advocate Colin Gonsalves through these 15 years. The submission of the Central government was that the dues of the workmen was 249 crores in Assam, 27 crores in Kerala, 70 crores in Tamil Nadu, and 30 crores in West Bengal. In view of this gross underpayment and negligence, the SC ordered that each state government should pay approximately half the dues outstanding by way of interim relief to the suffering workers and their families, within a period of 60 days.
All the companies that have been running the tea estates have been summoned by the SC as per a list submitted to the court. The companies have been asked to appear in the next hearing.
As per submissions by PBKMS it was recorded that rogue employers had abandoned gardens with unpaid dues of 135 crores for 29 garden in West Bengal and they intend to raise the recovery of total amount in the next hearing. The unions also intend to monitor payment of dues by the State Government and the employers and regular status reports should be provided to the SC order to ensure that money has reached the workers.

In 2010, a Supreme Court Bench presided over by CJI SH Kapadia had stated in its order, “We find that till 2006, this writ petition has been pending, No steps have been taken. The tea estates have been abandoned by the tea companies. The workers are left high and dry. They are living in a pitiable condition. They have not received their dues”. This was the first intervention by the Court in which it ordered the Central Government to use its powers under Sections 16B, 16C, 16D and 16E of the Tea Act to take over gardens and recover dues.
The decision comes as an enormous relief to over 300,000 tea garden workers who were forced into a precarious life for the last two decades. Thousands of them had died of starvation and the remaining live in sick state in closed tea garden without ration, drinking water, electricity, school for children and medical dispensaries.



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