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Uttarakhand HC asks state govt to call meeting to ensure payment of salaries to transport staff

Petitioner Ranjit Kumar Sinha had filed an affidavit with regard to the steps taken in pursuance of the directions issued by the Court in its order dated June 29, 2021.

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The Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday asked the Uttarakhand Government to expeditiously convene a meeting in order to resolve the issue of payment of salaries to State Transport Corporation employees.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma passed this order while observing that deprivation of salary to employees is violative of their rights under Article 21, 23 and 300A of the Constitution.

Petitioner Ranjit Kumar Sinha had filed an affidavit with regard to the steps taken in pursuance of the directions issued by the Court in its order dated June 29, 2021.

According to the affidavit, Rs 23 crore was released to the Transport Corporation on June 29, 2021. Using the said amount, the salaries of the employees for the month of February 2021, and the salaries of the “contractual employees” for the month of March 2021 have been disbursed. Moreover, the Corporation has submitted a new detailed working plan to overcome the present financial crisis of the Corporation. The said working plan was received by the State Government on July 7, 2021, and was presented before the  Cabinet on July 14, 2021.

The Cabinet has taken a decision to authorize the Chief Minister to take a decision for giving financial assistance to the Corporation. Consequently, the Chief Minister has approved the release of Rs 34 crore from the State Contingency Fund to the Transport Corporation. Resultantly, a GO bearing No 198 dated July 17, 2021 has been issued for release of the said amount.

During the course of the proceedings, Abhishek Rohila, the Managing Director of the Transport Corporation, informed the Court that necessary papers have been moved today before the State Treasury. Amit Negi, the Secretary, Finance, informed the Court that the amount of Rs 34 crore would be released to the Transport Corporation either today, or positively by tomorrow.

Rohila informed the Court that with the availability of Rs 34 crore, the Corporation would be in a position to pay the salaries of its regular employees for March 2021 and the salaries of all the employees, both regular and contractual, for April.

Ranjit Kumar Sinha informed the Court that in the last meeting of the Board of Directors, a decision was taken to defer 50% of the employees’ salary for the coming months.

The Court has asked a pointed query to Sinha as to under what law, such a decision could be taken to defer the salaries of the employees? To this query, Sinha could not point out any provision of law that permits the Board of Directors to defer the salaries of its employees. Interestingly, despite the fact that Sinha was present in the meeting of the Board of Directors, a decision has been taken, which is per se contrary to and violative of Articles 21, 23 and 300A of the Constitution of India.

When it was pointed out to Sandhu, the Chief Secretary, that violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India tantamounts to an offense being committed,  Sandhu assured the Court that the Board of Directors will be requested to review their decision to defer the payment of salaries to the employees of the Corporation.

Moreover, Sandhu submitted that a new proposal for pulling the Transport Corporation out of its financial crisis would be presented before the Cabinet in its next meeting. According to him, the next meeting of the Cabinet could take place prior to 31st July, although he is not in a position to make a positive statement about the convening of the Cabinet.

The Court has also asked both Sandhu, the Chief Secretary, and  Ranjit Kumar Sinha, who is looking after the issues of re-organisation of the State as to why the Chief Ministers of both the States have not been able to resolve the financial issues, which continue to linger on. To this query, the Chief Secretary informs the Court that he will try his level best to ensure that both the Chief Ministers do meet, and resolve the financial issues between the two Governments.

“It is rather surprising that the employees of the Transport Corporation continue to be denied their rightful monthly salaries. They continue to be subjected to not only denial of salary, but according to the latest decision taken by the Board of Directors subjected to the deferment of present salaries. Considering the fact that these employees do not belong to the upper echelon of the Corporation, and are mere workers, as most of them happen to be drivers, conductors, and other employees, it is surprising that both the Corporation, and the State Government have abandoned them out in the cold. Needless to say, the deprivation of the salary is violative of Articles 21, 23 and 300-A of the Constitution of India”, the court said.

The Court held, “It is, indeed, trite to state that any dispute that arises between the two States should necessarily be resolved as expeditiously as possible, and within a reasonable frame of time. As noted by the Court, in its order dated February 24, 2020, the issue with regard to the payment of salaries by the Government of U.P. to the Government of Uttarakhand has been hanging fire for the last sixteen years. Therefore, the callous attitude of both the State Governments certainly cannot be appreciated by the  Court. Moreover, under Section 59 of the U.P. Reorganization Act, 2000, the Union of India is expected to play a proactive role, to call both the States on the negotiating table, and to resolve the difficulties being faced by the State of Uttarakhand. Due to the silence of the Union of India, and the Government of the U.P., it is the State of Uttarakhand that continues to suffer.

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“Needless to say, it is not just the State of Uttarakhand, but, more importantly, the people of Uttarakhand who continue to suffer. Therefore, this Court expects the Union of India to play a proactive role in resolving the lingering issues between the two States with regard to the payment of monies by the State of U.P. to the State of Uttarakhand. It is hoped that the Union of India would resolve this issue as expeditiously as possible, and preferably within a period of three months” the court observed.            

Meanwhile, it is hoped that the meeting of the Cabinet would be convened as expeditiously as possible, so as to resolve the financial crisis being faced by the Corporation. After all, the employees cannot be abandoned either by the State of Uttarakhand, or by the Corporation, the Court said.

S.S. Sandhu, the Chief Secretary, Amit Negi, the Secretary, Finance, Ranjeet Kumar Sinha, the Secretary, Transport, and Abhishek Rohila, the  Managing Director of the Corporation, are directed to be present before the Court on the next date, the Court ordered.

The Court has fixed the next hearing of the Petition on August 4.

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