(2018)2 SCeJ 1201

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

 

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 - Section 3(3) read with Section 3(4) and paragraph 29 of Schedule II - Mandates timely payment and compensation for delayed payment - This needs to be emphasized - Central Government does admit that there has been delay in payment of wages and some of the causes for delay have been explained - While admitting and appreciating that there is delay in payment of wages (whatever the cause) the Central Government has stated in its affidavit of 4th December, 2017 that steps have been taken to ensure that payment of wages is not delayed - Initially, the onus to prove the delay and to claim compensation was on the worker but now it has been provided (since January 2014) that the responsibility for payment of compensation is that of the State Government which may recover the compensation from the defaulting functionary/agency responsible for the delay in payment of wages -  In other words, the Central Government has realized and appreciated the importance of timely payment of wages to the workers and has taken steps in this regard - Notwithstanding the large number of pay orders, we are afraid delays are simply not acceptable - The law requires and indeed mandates payment of wages not later than a fortnight after the date on which the work was done by the worker or labourer - Any reason for the delay in receiving wages is not at all the concern of the worker - He or she is entitled to get the due wages within a fortnight of completion of the work - If there are any administrative inefficiencies or deficiencies or laxity, it is entirely for the State Government and the Ministry of Rural Development to sort out the problem - Bureaucratic delays or red tape cannot be pedalled as an excuse to deny payment of wages to the workers - It is precisely to overcome any inefficiency or deficiency that payment of compensation is postulated, otherwise the purpose of Section 3 and paragraph 29 of Schedule II of the Act would get completely defeated - Delayed  payment  adds  several  crores  to  the compensation bill - This is to nobody’s advantage and merely adds an avoidable financial burden on the Central Government - The wages due to the worker in terms of Stage II above must be transferred immediately and the payment made to the worker forthwith failing which the prescribed compensation would have to be paid - The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility or taking The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility or taking advantage of a person who has been placed in the unfortunate situation of having to seek employment under the Act and then not being paid wages for the unskilled manual labour within the statutorily prescribed time - The State Governments and Union Territory Administrations may be at fault, but that does not absolve the Central Government of its duty - Annual Master Circular (FY 2017-2018) -  Surely, the Central Government cannot violate its own Master Circular and seek to otherwise absolve itself of any liability.

Held,

 

We therefore make it clear and direct that in terms of the Act and Schedule II thereof a worker is entitled to payment of wages within a fortnight of the date on which the work was done, failing which the worker is entitled to the compensation as prescribed in paragraph 29 of the Schedule II of the Act. The burden of compliance is on the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations as well as the Central Government. One entity cannot pass on the burden to another and vice versa.                                                                                                                           [Para 31, 32, 35, 39, 40, 41, 44]