High Court Defends Andaman Daily Wage Workers, Suspends Chief Secretary, Fines LG for Contempt

The Union Territory, which is controlled by the Union home ministry. had sought to undermine implementation of a court order favouring 'daily rated mazdoors'.

New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, a double bench of the Calcutta high court has ordered the immediate suspension of Andaman and Nicobar Island chief Secretary Keshav Chandra Thursday. The court has also ordered lieutenant governor D.K. Joshi to deposit five lakh rupees from his personal funds with the registrar of the Port Blair bench of the high court.

The court has also ordered that the “next senior most officer in the administration” take over and “discharge the functions of the chief secretary”. A copy of the order is to be sent to the Union home ministry and the department of personnel and training as well.

The matter pertains to paying enhanced wages to over 4800 daily wage employees of the local PWD and other departments with retrospective effect from September 2017.

The Calcutta high court bench had upheld these demands in an order passed in December 2022. The court had said that the workers were entitled to 1/30th of the pay at the minimum of the relevant pay scale plus dearness allowance for work of eight hours a day as specified by the Union government. In its latest order, the court has ordered the administration to withdraw the preconditions they had laid before the employees before release of payment, in clause (g) of its May 9, 2023 order:

“The applicant has to submit an Undertaking to the effect that the enhanced wages to be granted by the department shall not bestow any right upon him for regularisation of service against any vacant post in future or any additional wages for any previous period before the date of issue of this Administration’s Order.”

The Andaman Sarvajanik Nirman Vibhag Mazdoor Sangh had taken the administration and the LG to court.

At the next date of  hearing on August 17, the chief secretary has been ordered to be present in person and the LG in virtual mode “and shall show cause as to why they should not be committed to prison for having committed contempt of court”.

On Thursday the court took umbrage to the fact that the contemnors, in this case the LG and the chief secretary, had not filed any affidavit on why the court’s order had not been implemented. Instead of challenging the court’s order in a higher court, the administration challenged the high court itself in an affidavit filed by a junior officer.

“The deponent of the affidavit had the audacity to challenge and reopen the issues decided before the single bench and confirmed by the division bench, without challenging the same before a higher forum… This conduct is ex facie contumacious and has reduced the contempt jurisdiction of a division bench of this court under Article 215 of the constitution of India to a mockery,” the court said.

“The findings of this court as recorded on July 27, 2023 are clear and explicit. The undertaking required by the administration from the DRMs as a precondition for release of payment has not been withdrawn till date,” the court said.

The bench was further incensed by the fact that while the “administration has condescended to withdrawing the requirement of signing the undertaking” after government counsel spoke to them, it has not said anything about framing of any scheme in favour of the employees called daily rated mazdoors.

“This court clearly finds flagrant and reprehensible contempt on the part of the contemnors Admiral D.K. Joshi, lieutenant governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Shri Keshav Chandra, chief secretary, Andaman and Nicobar administration,” the court said before suspending the chief secretary and penalising the LG.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a Union territory directly administered by the Union home ministry.