NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today slammed the Centre for not giving compensation to workers for delayed payment of work under MNREGA scheme in drought-like situation and said it "does not behove a welfare state" as "social justice has been thrown out of the window".
The apex court said it was extremely unfortunate that government had no provision for providing compensation to the workers and it was also regrettable that it cleared the pending wage bill for 2015-16, only during the pendency of the case and "the government of India must shape up in this regard".
"...a worker is entitled to compensation at the rate of 0.05 per cent per day for delayed payment of the wages due. We are quite pained to note that the government of India has made no provision for this compensation while releasing the wages for 2015-16 of Rs 7,983 crores.
"This is extremely unfortunate and certainly does not behove a welfare State in any situation, more so in a drought situation. Social justice has been thrown out of the window by the government of India," a bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and N V Ramana said.
The Centre has admitted before the apex court that the pending wage bill under MNREGA scheme till March 31, 2016 was around Rs 7,983 crores.
However, later the Centre in its affidavit has said in April that an amount Rs 11,030 crore will be released to the states within one week which will take care of the pending wage bill including Rs 2,723 crore of ten drought-affected states where additional 50 days of employment is given to households.
"The government of India is directed to ensure that compensation for delayed payment is made to the workers whose wages have been delayed beyond 15 days as postulated by paragraph 29 of Schedule II of NREG Act and the Guidelines for Compensation formulated pursuant thereto.
"Both the state governments and the government of India are directed to make all efforts to encourage needy persons to come forward and take advantage of the scheme. A success rate below 50 per cent is nothing to be proud of," the bench said in its three-part judgement given today concerning different drought-related issues. The first one was pronounced on May 11.
The bench directed the Centre to release to the state governments adequate funds under the scheme in a timely manner so that the 'workforce' is paid its wages well in time and observed that it is regrettable that the pending wage bill for 2015-16 was cleared only during the pendency of the case and "the government of India must shape up in this regard".
It further directed the Centre to ensure that the Central Employment Guarantee Council is immediately constituted under provisions of MNREG Act within a maximum period of 60 days and asked it to proactively request state governments to establish the State Employment Guarantee Council within 45 days.
The court also noted that job cards have been issued to about 13.26 crore households all over the country and the number of active job cards is about 5.72 crores and the total households that have worked in the financial year 2015-16 is about 4.77 crores.
Regarding the National Food Security (NFS) Act, the apex court said that even though the statute was passed by Parliament and have come into force on July 5, 2013, some states have not implemented it.
"It is surprising that the implementation of a law enacted by Parliament such as the NFS Act is left to the whims and fancies of the state governments and it has taken more than two years after the NFS Act came into force for Gujarat to implement it and Uttar Pradesh has only implemented it partially. This is rather strange," the bench said.
The bench said that a state government, by delaying implementation of a law passed by Parliament and assented to by the President of India, is effectively refusing to implement it and Parliament is left a mute spectator.
"Does our Constitution countenance such a situation? Is this what 'federalism' is all about? Deliberate inaction in the implementation of a parliamentary statute by a state government can only lead to utter chaos or worse.
"One can hardly imagine what the consequence would be if a state government, on a similar logic, decides that it will not implement other parliamentary statutes meant for the benefit of vulnerable sections of society. Hopefully, someone, somewhere, sometime will realize the possible alarming consequences," the bench said.
The apex court further said that it is the obligation of the Centre to comply with all the provisions of the laws enacted by Parliament and it should establish and constitute bodies and authorities provided for by law and make available the necessary finances.
"The State cannot say that it is not bound to follow the law and cannot adhere to statutory provisions enacted by Parliament and create a smokescreen of a lack of finances or some other cover-up. The rule of law binds everyone, including the State," it said.
The court said that for implementation of a policy and monitoring its implementation, the Centre and states are required to set up watch-dog committees or ombudsmen to see that the polices framed are faithfully implemented as "ad hoc measures really do not serve any purpose and eventually the consequence of an ad hoc reaction tends to travel to this Court for a response."
The bench also refused to appoint Court Commissioner as demanded by petitioner NGO Swaraj Abhiyan for implementation of directions of the court saying in-house checks have already been statutorily recognized for all the issues.
It, however, did not dispose of the petition and kept it pending while seeking a status report from the Centre on the action taken on various directions. It adjourned the case for August 1.
The apex court also asked states to extend the mid-day meal scheme for the benefit of children during the summer vacation in schools and said that if the extension has not yet been made, then it should be done within a week.
It said that at least one-fourth of the country s population (if not 1/3rd) is affected by drought and the state governments must take appropriate steps to ensure that at least the statutory requirement of foodgrains is made available to the people in drought-affected areas of the country.
It said that states shall constitute a State Food Commission for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of NFS Act within two months.
The apex court said that no household in a drought- affected area shall be denied foodgrains as required under NFS Act only because the household does not have a ration card.
It directed that Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh must within a month from today make adequate provision for the supply of eggs or milk or any other nutritional substitute for children under the mid-day meal scheme.