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HC Rejects Plea Challenging SAIL & NBCC Order To Call Employees Amid Lockdown

The High Court of Delhi today has dismissed the petition challenging validity, legality of orders issued by Central PSE’s, SAIL & NBCC dealing in non-essential and un-exempted goods and services, directing their employees to resume duty and attend offices during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

It was alleged in the petition that Steel Authority of India and National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) Limited have misconstrued the April 15 notification of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) by directing their employees to report to work during the COVID-19 Lockdown. 

A division Bench of the Delhi High Court comprising of the Chief Justice and Justice C. Hari Shankar observed that if these PSE’s are government offices, then they can be controlled by the Government. The Court however did not delve into the question whether these PSE’s will come under the definition of a Government office or not. 

The petition was filed Advocates Anil K. Aggarwal and K. S. Wahi challenging Constitutional validity, legality and rationality of orders issued by Central PSE’s directing their employees to resume duty and attend offices during lockdown period in abject contravention and manifest violation of statutory orders and guidelines by Central Government directing people to stay at home and closing of  offices, establishments and enterprises involved in manufacturing, distribution, supply and sale of non-essential and non exempted goods and services.

While talking to India Legal Advocate Anil K. Aggarwal, who had filed the present petition said that “If these Companies are registered under the Company Act, how can they come under the definition of  a Government office. Through the petition, were asked the MHA to close these places down and stop these companies dealing in non-essential and unexempted goods to stop functioning , and the NDMA to take steps in this regard.” He also added that “even though the Court did not interfere in the decision, it also did not say that these PSEs will come under the definition of government office.”

According to the petitioner, the lockdown resulted in stalling of government’s sovereign and legal functions and impaired the effective governance and administration the Government decided to scale up the government activities at ministry level and directions were issued to the officers above the level of and including Joint Secretaries of Central Government’s Ministries to attend their respective offices and assist the Ministers, while observing standard operating procedures of social distancing and protective measures.

After the lockdown was extended till May 3rd , MHA issued guidelines stating that all non-essential industrial and commercial activities continue to remain prohibited, but in order to mitigate caused to the public due to prolonged lockdown conditions, certain additional activities were allowed on fulfilment of pre-conditions and subject to final decision to be taken in this regard by the State Governments , UTs , or District administration. According to these guidelines, the Central Ministries and their Department and offices under their control were allowed to resume their limited functioning and officers including and above the rank of Deputy Secretaries of the Govt. of India were directed to attend their offices with 33% of the assistance officers and staff to assist them.

According to the petitioner, several PSEs/government companies, like SAIL, NBCC, etc decided on their own to open their office and resume their operations and issued orders and circulars to most of their employees to start attending office from April 20th under these guidelines, when in reality no no such relaxation was granted for the offices, officers, and staffs of PSEs/Government Companies.

These PSEs thereby deliberately and wrongly equated and identified Government owned Companies as the Government Department and office under the control of the Ministries and/or departments of the Central Government, overlooking the health safety concerns of the employees and their family members.

The Union Government through the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Disaster Management Authority were the respondents in the petition.

The petition was filed praying for directions to the Government to recognise inherent risk and danger to the health safety and lives of employees who are being forced to move out of their house and to attend the office of the PSE/Govt. Companies dealing in non-essential and unexempted goods and services, during the lockdown period. 

-India Legal Bureau

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