Plea in SC against SAIL & NBCC directing employees to work during nationwide lockdown
Plea in SC against SAIL & NBCC directing employees to work during nationwide lockdown
Litigation News

SAIL and NBCC violating MHA order by forcing employees to work during COVID-19 Lockdown: Plea in Supreme Court

In a notification issued on April 17, SAIL and NBCC had directed employees above the post of Manager to report to work in the Corporate office even though national lockdown was extended till May 3.

Debayan Roy

A petition in the Supreme Court alleges that Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) Limited have misconstrued the April 15 notification of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) by directing their employees to report to work during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The petition filed by Advocates Anil K Aggarwal and KS Wahi states that they received incessant calls and messages on April 20 from SAIL and NBCC who were asked to report to work during the period of lockdown.

The role of the majority/sole shareholder in SAIL and NBCC is performed on behalf of the Central government by the Ministry of Steel and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs respectively. Given this fact, the petitioners searched the official websites of the said ministries to find out whether any relaxation or permission has been granted by them.

However, the petitioner notes that it could not find any order/circular/OM etc. allowing the SAIL or NBCC to open their offices and enforce “attendance of their officers and staff in any manner for any purpose whatsoever during the lockdown period extended up to May 3.”

The plea notes that on April 12, the Centre decided to scale up government activities at the ministry level in policy matters and for “effective governance and administration”.

Thus, under the para 18 (ii) of the Consolidated Guidelines dated April 15, the officers including and above the rank of Deputy Secretaries of the Government of India were directed to attend their offices with 33% of the assistance officers and staff in attendance to assist them.

MHA order dated April 15
MHA order dated April 15

However, the petitioner notes that such a directive could not be imposed on the SAIL and NBCC employees, because though they are public sector companies having been incorporated under the Companies Act, they have a separate juristic entity distinct from the Central/state government.

"This does not make the incorporated company as Government or Government Department or an office controlled by the Government or Government Department. Unlike the Government Department which is not only completely controlled and financed by the Government and does not have any identity of its own and money earned by such a department goes to the exchequer of the Government."

Plea filed in Supreme Court

The petition further states that the respective Chairmen and Managing Directors of SAIL and NBCC “deliberately misconstrued para 18(ii) of the statutory Order and Guidelines of April 15 with personal motive to protect and earn Performance Related Bonus (PRB)".

The petitioners have thus prayed that the Court strike down the April 17 orders issued by SAIL and NBCC, as they are "unconstitutional and illegal", and violate the statutory order and guidelines issued by the MHA on April 15 under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The plea also seeks direction to both NBCC and SAIL to "immediately close down their all offices and operations and keep the same closed during the entire lockdown period till May 3 or till such period extended by the Central government and also grant paid leave to their employees for entire period of lockdown."

Further, a direction has been sought from the Court to the Centre to track down such other PSEs or companies who have kept their offices open during the lockdown, so that disciplinary action can be taken against the CMDs and Boards of Directors of all such PSEs.

[READ THE PETITION]

Plea Against SAIL NBCC _compressed.pdf
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