The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Assam government to respond on a plea seeking direction to ensure that workers in all tea gardens are immediately paid wages and ration, including for the period of lockdown, imposed amid COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao was hearing through video-conferencing, a plea which has also sought a direction to the Assam government to strictly implement the March 29 directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs for payment of wages to migrant workers.
The apex court asked the state to file its reply affidavit on the plea within 10 days and said the matter would be heard thereafter.
The plea, filed by 'Assam Sangrami Chah Sramik Sangha', said that as per information available on the website of Tea Tribes Welfare Department of Government of Assam, there are 803 tea estates and around 10 lakh tea garden workers there.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, told the bench that tea garden workers in Assam are suffering owing to non-payment of wages and ration due to lockdown.
The plea, filed through advocate Satya Mitra, claimed that the organisation has found that no wages have been paid to workers for the period during which several tea estates were under closure due to the lockdown.
"Despite specific government orders were passed and demands were raised by different workers union in several tea gardens, workers are not being paid their wages and rations by their employers. The workers in the tea gardens are in dire circumstances and facing extreme poverty," the plea said.
"The earlier reports from the tea gardens suggest many starvation deaths due to non-payment of wages. With the lockdown, this situation will further aggravate and may put many lives at stake," it claimed.
The plea has been filed in a pending contempt petition which has sought to ensure implementation of earlier order passed by the apex court in a matter related to timely payment of wages to tea garden workers in different states.
It has also sought a direction to the state to strictly implement the April 2 order by which it had directed the plantation owners to disburse wages and ration to workers during the lockdown period.
It said the petitioner organisation had written a representation on April 7 to the Labour Commissioner of Assam requesting him to take appropriate action against the employers or management of tea estates for violating government orders and to also take appropriate steps to ensure that workers immediately receive wages for lockdown period, but no concrete steps have been taken by the authority in this regard.