Coming to the aid of 12,000 civilian porters working for Indian Army in high risk and active field areas like Rajouri, Jammu and Poonch, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to finalise a scheme having better pay, medical facilities, enhanced compensation and a severance grant higher than the Rs 50,000 proposed by the government.
The apex court also asked the Centre to bear in mind the large pool of porters while enhancing the proportion of the sanctioned strength for regularisation, so that the benefit of security of tenure is made available to a reasonable number of persons who complete a stipulated minimum tenure of service.
A bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justice AM Khanwilkar issued the directions while noting that though the porters belong to the poorest strata of the society and may not even possess educational qualifications, they provide valuable support to the srmy and are an integral part of operations in border areas.
“The value addition which they provide to the Indian Army in terms of their knowledge of conditions makes them a sure footed ally in hostile conditions. To look at their work from a metro-centric lens is to miss the wood for the trees. They work, albeit as casual labour, for long years with little regard of safety.
“Faced with disability, injury and many times death, their families have virtually no social security. Such a situation cannot be contemplated having regard to the mandate in Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution,” the bench said in its 11-page judgement which directed that these suggestions be included in the Centre’s proposed scheme for the porters.
The court ordered that the scheme be finalised within three months and disposed of the pleas moved by 29 porters who had contended that they were not treated as regular employees and have been denied the benefit of minimum pay-scales despite long years of service in arduous conditions prevalent in a difficult terrain.
The bench said the scheme proposed by the Centre, during pendency of the proceedings, “marks a welcome improvement over the present conditions of porters”, as it contains provisions for maintenance of records of hiring, paid weekly and national holidays, hours of work and a six-day week, medical facilities in emergent circumstances, compensation in the event of death or permanent disability, canteen services, insurance cover, and a one-time financial grant on severance.
It, however, was of the view that the payment of minimum wages at the prevailing rates “requires a fresh look so that the porters are paid wages at par with the lowest pay-scale applicable to multi-tasking staff”.