Supreme Court today asked the Centre to come up with a “considerate” scheme to regularise 12,000 civilian porters working with the Indian Army, saying they should “see some light at the end of the tunnel”.
“There is more of a negative than positive in the scheme. You should not be against their absorption. If somebody has worked for 20 years carrying your luggage and ammunition and other things, don’t you think that there has to be some human consideration,” a bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justice A M Khanwilkar said.
Additional Solicitor General P S Patwalia appearing for Centre said a scheme has been worked out for hiring of such porters, the procedure and nature of such engagement, insurance policy, one-time financial grant against minimum service of 10 years and canteen service upto Rs 1000.
The bench, which seemed unhappy with the scheme, said these porters should look at the scheme as “a way forward and can say will have something for their subsistence.”
“For you, they may be doing a menial job but it’s a very critical job for your men in uniform. Do something so that they can see some light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t condemn them,” the bench said, adding “there should be some hope. People should not leave hope. They live on some hope”.
“They have been working for you in harsh conditions for last 15 years and can’t be treated like animals. They have been working and carrying your rations and ammunitions, weapons to Kargil heights,” the bench observed.
When one goes to Vaishno Devi shrine, it can be seen they are involved in carrying lot of things and here they are reduced to animals carrying the baggage and treated as a burden, the apex court bench said.
It said those who complete 10 years, some percentage of posts must be created for them and at least 10-15 percent of them should be regularised after a certain specific period.
To this, the ASG said he understood the mood of the court and will seek instruction and return with “more humane scheme.”
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on September 30.
The apex court had earlier asked the Centre to come up with a suitable policy or scheme to improve the working conditions of porters who are utilised for carrying arms, ammunition and ration for soldiers and officers in hilly border areas.
The apex court during the hearing on July 22 had stopped short of passing an order asking the Armed Forces Tribunal to examine the service conditions of porters who have been agitating with the Centre for regularisation of their services and had sought the ‘real picture’ about them.
The court had framed questions for the tribunal to examine the issues plaguing the army porters, the civilian part of the army, deployed in sectors like Nowshera (Rajouri) in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, but the Centre had sought a week’s time to analyse the aspect.
It had said it wanted the report of the tribunal on the number of porters deployed by army, the condition of their employment and nature of work they are asked to perform.
It had said it would like the tribunal to examine the duration of hours the porters are pressed into service and their requirment for the security forces.
The bench had also framed questions about arms and ammunition carried by the porters and wanted to know what type of records were maintained on them.
The matter was being argued by senior advocate Bhim Singh, who is also chief of Panthers Party and is well-versed with the J and K region. Singh had accused the Centre of not complying with the 2013 order of the apex court.
The porters had sought a direction to the Centre and the Ministry of Defence to regularise the services of those working for 15 to 25 years.
It was submitted that the Central Administrative Tribunal had taken note of their plea in its order on May 21, 2009, but rejected their claim while relying on the judgement of a Constitution Bench of the apex court.
When the porters appealed before Armed Forces Tribunal, it did not hear the matter on the dispute of jurisdiction.
The apex court, however, had said it was keeping the issue of jurisdiction open.