New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Centre to “treat with urgency” the issues raised in the petitions challenging the home ministry’s March 29 notification asking private establishments to pay full wages to workers during the COVID-19 lockdown, saying lot of people are affected by it.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, conducting hearing through video-conferencing, asked the government to file its response on the batch of petitions and posted the matter for hearing after a week.
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the bench, also comprising Justices SK Kaul and MR Shah, that the Centre has issued a new notification on May 17 which supersedes the March 29 Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) order.
“Treat this with urgency. Lot of people are affected,” the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was also appearing in the matter.
“Although, notices were issued in these matters but no counter affidavit has yet been filed on behalf of the Union of India,” the bench noted in its order.
“Solicitor General prays for and is granted a week’s time to file counter affidavit to the writ petition(s) to enable the court to know the stand of Union of India on different issues raised in the writ petition(s),” the bench said.
The apex court had May 15 observed that the March 29 notification, directing companies to make payment of full wages to workers even while not being in operation during the lockdown period, was an omnibus order and there was a larger question involved which needs to be answered.
It said there may be small industries which are affected due to the lockdown and if they cannot earn, how are they going to pay wages to their workers.
It had also observed that if government does not help these small companies, then they might not be able to pay their workers.
The counsel appearing for one of the petitioners had argued that firms are going out of work as they do not have orders for production of goods and they are being prosecuted due to the government circular.
An association of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) has said in its plea before the apex court that the MHA order was passed without due care and deliberation on the financial implications for employers.
The small industrial units have said that making full payments would lead to their closure, which, in turn, would cause permanent unemployment and adversely affect the economy.
The association has further contended that during this unprecedented situation, various governments across the globe have taken measures for the benefit of workers/ employees, but the Centre without taking any such step has put the entire burden on the employers/owners to pay full wages.
The top court May 15, while hearing a plea filed by Hand Tools Manufactures Association, comprising of MSMEs, on the issue had asked the government not to take any coercive action against them for failing to pay full wages to its employees till next week.
It said Tuesday that its interim order of no coercive action passed in one the pleas would continue.