Monday, February 26, 2024

Tripura High Court dismisses PIL related to tea garden labourers

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The Tripura High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation alleging that tea garden labourers in Tripura were not getting the benefit of beneficial social welfare legislation.

The case of the petitioner was that a large number of tea plantation workers have been working in 50 tea gardens of Tripura. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951 provides for the welfare of plantation labourers by regulating welfare measures and the conditions of work in plantations.

The Act applies to all Tea gardens which measured five hectares or more and in which 15 or more persons are employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months. 

The main provisions of the Act pertains to: 
(i) Health and Welfare, 
(ii) Hours of Work, Rest Intervals etc., 
(iii) Employment of children/adolescents and 
(iv) Annual leave with wages. 
The tea garden labourers in Tripura are not getting the benefit of beneficial social welfare legislation. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951 land and other labour laws in respect of minimum wages, bonus, EPF and Pension.

The Labour Commissioner,  recorded in minutes of the meeting held on 19.06.2019 regarding various issues related to the tea plantation workers that there were issues of non-implementation of minimum wages, ration facilities, drinking water, latrines and urinals in the tea gardens for the tea plantation workers.

The Regional PF Commissioner, Agartala, Tripura has in the minutes of 36th meeting of the regional committee meeting, circulated vide No. RO/TR/36th /RCM/18 dated 11.12.2018, recorded that in 50 tea gardens, 586 workers only have been covered under EPF & MP Act, 1952.

In the minutes, it has been recorded that there are 11 numbers of major defaulting tea gardens detected in the State of Tripura. Six tea gardens have been abandoned by the owners. As a result, the right to life and livelihood   of the labourers has been discarded. Tea gardens are not protected. They are not getting wages and other lawful entitlements from the recorded owners and State. 
Recently, some areas of land of two such abandoned tea gardens namely Hira Cherra Tea Garden and Noting Cherra Tea Garden have been acquired by the Government for construction of roads. Awarded compensation amount has been deposited in the bank. Poor labourers have a stake on this deposited amount. The poor labourers belonging to the weaker sections of the society are helpless, guardianless and unable to approach. Hence, the PIL have been filed for protection of fundamental rights and other legal rights, payment of all lawful entitlements including arrears of the Tea garden Labourers and Retired Tea garden Labourers, and immediate payment of lawful entitlements in respect of two abandoned Tea gardens of Tripura namely Hiracherra Tea Garden and Noting Cherra Tea Garden from the awarded compensation.

On perusal of the record and after hearing both sides, the Division Bench of Chief Justice (Acting) T. Amarnath Goud and Justice  S.G. Chattopadhyay opined that though the larger interest of the workers working in the tea garden is involved with regard to the benefit of their wages and other facilities, the present writ petition is filed under PIL.

Further, on perusal of the record it came to the knowledge of this court that there are several minutes which are recorded by the Labour Commissioner and also the other persons who are directly related to this issue. This court feels that this is not a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) as contemplated under the guidelines of the PIL and this is purely a private interest of the petitioner who is involved whether it is   an individual or larger extent. “Hence, on the sole ground, the present PIL is not maintainable.”

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