In a move that could potentially save Rs 1,800 crore every year, the centre has allowed the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to hire contract labour in emergency situations.
Solicitor-general Ranjit Kumar informed the Supreme Court on Friday that the ministry of labour had issued an order on July 6 that the FCI need not call upon its departmental or permanent staff for grain-handling during night hours.
Kumar made his submission before a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur, and said contract labour was being reintroduced in FCI depots after 40 years.
FCI counsel YP Rao told HT the government order would drastically reduce the financial burden on the corporation. He said FCI has to pay extra to its labourers, in the form of incentives, if they are summoned during non-office hours. “The order will not affect the permanent staff, who will continue to draw their monthly salary,” Rao said.
In a November 2015 judgement, the Bombay high court noted that in some cases the monthly salary of permanent labourers went up to Rs 4.5 lakh and asked the centre to look into the possibility of employing contractual labourers. This move, however, was challenged by the FCI employees in the apex court.
The Supreme Court formally issued a notice to the FCI and the government on the appeal. The petitioners’ counsel, senior advocate Amit Sibal, got liberty from the bench to file a fresh petition assailing the government order.
On the last hearing, the CJI expressed surprise that around 370 departmental labourers were paid Rs 4.5 lakh a month as salary, which the judge said was more than what the President of India drew.
“Labourers in FCI have an aggressive past. Officers have been murdered. There is a clique that is operating there and FCI has become a hen that lays golden eggs for them,” he said. “The FCI is literally held to ransom by the labourers and their unions, and there is something seriously wrong with it.”