The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to pay the arrears to its physically challenged employees for the days they failed to report to work during the lockdown.
The court said that the civic body’s decision to deduct salaries of such employees, who could not report to duty owing to the hardships imposed by the lockdown, was “illegal”.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni held that the corporation was a statutory body that had specific obligations to discharge for the interest of the people.
The bench said that the civic body was “not a private employer with a mindset of earning profits” and directed that it clears the pay arrears of its physically disabled employees in two instalments.
The court said that the first of the two instalments must be paid before Diwali, and the other one must be paid within 45 days of the first.
The court’s verdict came on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the National Association of the Blind.
It was filed through advocate Uday Warunjikar.
According to the plea, the BMC initially exempted its physically disabled staff members from reporting to work, informing such employees that they were entitled to a special leave without loss of pay.
However, in another circular issued on May 26, the BMC said that it was not a special leave, but a ‘permissible leave’ that needed to be sanctioned.
Therefore, such physically challenged employees, who did not have any leaves left, or those who failed to get their leaves sanctioned, would have to forfeit the salary for the days that they missed work.
The court noted that the central government, too, had exempted its physically disabled employees from reporting to work during the lockdown.
And the BMC’s “change of heart” over the same was not backed by sound reason, it held.
It stated that it was understandable that the physically disabled would have found it very difficult to report to work during the lockdown since most means of public transport remained suspended and there wasn’t any scope of help from other citizens due to the fear of spread of coronavirus.
“If indeed the corporation was not inclined to offer financial benefits like pay to the physically disabled employees who do not report for duty, it was its duty as a model employer to make special arrangements for public transport or special measures to ensure hassle-free travel by such employees to their respective work places,” the HC said.
The court also dismissed the BMC’s arguments of loss of revenue on account of paying such employees despite their absence of work.
The HC said that such a notion was “misconceived”.
“We declare the action of the corporation to withhold the monetary benefits to the physically disabled employees with retrospective effect, as assailed, to be illegal,” the HC said.
“We also hold that such employees would be entitled to all normal monetary benefits, which ought not to have been withheld by the corporation during the period of pandemic,” it said.
The BMC has around 1,150 physically disabled people, including 268 visually impaired employees on whose behalf the PIL had been filed.