Morung’s Legal Digest: Minimum scale of pay, dogs meat ban, NH-1 construction issues

In this YouTube screen capture, a session of the Gauhati High Court Kohima Bench is seen in progress. (Photo Courtesy: @ecourtsnagaland/YouTube)

In this YouTube screen capture, a session of the Gauhati High Court Kohima Bench is seen in progress. (Photo Courtesy: @ecourtsnagaland/YouTube)

A weekly roundup of ‘law in action’ in HC Kohima Bench

Moa Jamir
Dimapur | May 19

A contempt petition for defying the directive on minimum scale of pay, regularisation work-charge employees, ongoing dog meat ban issue, and challenges related to National Highway-2 road construction were among the diverse legal matters heard at Nagaland's ‘highest’ court, the Gauhati High Court Kohima Bench, last week. 

The Express presents a roundup of ‘law in action’ in the HC Kohima Bench from May 13-17.

Appeal against dog meat ban verdict
After People for Animals (PFA) and Humane Society International/India (HSI) filed a writ appeal against the judgment and order passed by the single-judge Bench of Gauhati High Court, Kohima Bench, regarding the dog meat ban in August last year, another organisation called Akhil Bharat Krushi Go Seva Sangh joined the fray.

In the June 2, 2023 verdict, the single judge of HC Kohima Bench had quashed and set aside the Nagaland State Government’s July 4, 2020 notification order, putting a blanket ban on ‘commercial import, trading of dogs and dog markets as well as commercial sale of dog meat in markets and dine-in restaurants.’ 

Accordingly, the appeals were filed against the single judge's verdict in the Division Bench of the Court. 

On May 15, the Division Bench tagged the two appeals together and listed them for further hearings after three weeks.

Kohima-Mao Gate road construction

Resuming the hearing of the Public Interest Litigation (Suo Moto) on May 15, Nagaland’s Additional Advocate General sought some more time to file additional documents on the issue of 'Land Acquisition by the Central Government/State Government' as directed by the Court on April 24. 

The Division Bench of Justice Budi Habung and Justice Kakheto Sema listed  the matter for next hearing  on June 12.

As per the Court’s records, the contract agreement for the project was signed on October 7, 2020.  The work should have started on October 20, 2020, and completed by April 22, 2022. However, as the work on the ground did not get started, the Court took up the matter on Suo Moto on April 2, 2022. 

On March 27, the contractor reported a physical progress of 63.18% of the contract-work, while NHICDL reported around 62.12%.

HC directs regularisation of 283 PWD employees
On May 13, Justice Habung disposed of a writ petition directing the Government of Nagaland (GoN) and the Chief Engineers of various arms of Nagaland Public Work Department to “regularise the services of the 283 work-charged (scale) employees within a period of six months from the date of receipt of a certified copy of its order. 

The 283 employees (petitioners) had filed the writ petition seeking regularization of their services as per the office memorandum dated March 17, 2015, issued by the GoN. 

The petitioners submitted that they all have completed 30 years of continuous service in the department and are eligible to be considered for regularization in terms of the March 17, 2015 OM, which provides a scheme for regularisation and absorption of work-charged and casual employees and revision of pay/wages, etc.

Among other provisions, the OM stated that “all existing work-charged and casual employees of various departments who are enjoying scale pay and who have completed 30 (thirty) years or more continuous service as on January 1, 2015, will be regularized by conversion to their posts into regular ones personal to them and subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions.” 

The conditions included availability of service record including appointment order, date of initial appointment, proof of length of service/age, suitability for continuation in service to be recommended by the head of department concerned, etc. 

The petitioners also submitted in three letters to the Engineer-in-Chief, NPWD, in June 2022, who later forwarded their names to the Secretary, Works & Housing Department, Kohima, for consideration of the petitioners’ service regularisation.

Further, on July 7, 2023, the petitioners submitted another representation to the Engineer-in-Chief. 

With no action by respondent authorities, the petitioners approached the Court praying for issuance of an appropriate direction in terms of the March 17 OM so that their services may be regularized at least before their retirement.

Further noting that some petitioners have already retired or are about to retire and the respondent authorities are taking longer time than is normally required for regularisation, they sought a timeframe for this implementation. Meanwhile, the counsel for the State respondents contended that the case of the petitioners has already been forwarded to the State Government but it is yet to be taken up by the Manpower Rationalization Committee (MRC), the third of the four-stage process of regularization. The final approval is from the Cabinet. 

Accordingly, the Government counsel contended it is a lengthy process and sought sufficient time for completion of the process for regularisation. 

To this, the petitioners sought for a stage stipulated time for completion of the process for regularisation. 

After considering the submission of the counsels for both parties, the judge made the decision noting that the matter is urgent as some petitioners are retiring from their services.

‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’
In a contempt petition for non-compliance with the direction given by HC Kohima Bench in a batch of writ petitions in 2021, the Government Advocate submitted on May 16 that due to the imposition of Model Code of Conduct for the Urban Local Bodies elections, the meeting of the Committee constituted to examine the existing legislation and the Supreme Court directive with regard to pay parity could not be held. 

The Government Advocate therefore urged the Court to list the matter after June 26, which the latter obliged. 

The petitioners, all employed under NPWD, in the writ petitions had first approached the Court for granting the scale of pay by the department and were disposed of by the common order on September 4, 2020, directing the State respondents to examine and dispose of the representation submitted by the petitioners. 

As per the Court’s record, after examining the case, the State respondents informed the petitioners that as there is no policy formulated by the for granting the minimum scale of pay to the work-charged fixed pay employees, the case of the petitioner cannot be considered. 

However, the petitioners contended that similarly situated person has been granted the minimum scale of pay by an office order dated January 23, 2020.

In a judgment order on May 25, 2021, Justice Kakheto noted that the employees who were granted the scale of pay by January 23, 2020, hold similar posts as the petitioners. 

According, the judge concluded that there is no legitimate ground as to why the present petitioners should be treated differently for receiving the minimum scale of pay and termed the ground taken by the State respondents as unsustainable. 

Citing Supreme Court in the Jagjit Singh & Others case, he concluded that the petitioners are entitled to receive the minimum scale of pay as extended to the similarly situated persons discharging identical nature of work, duties, and responsibilities.

The State respondents were directed to take steps for consideration of granting the minimum scale of pay to the petitioners within a period of 3 months from the date of receipt of a copy of the order. 

With no positive response, the contempt petition was filed in 2022.

Dentist appointment
On May 14, Justice Sema disposed of the writ petition directing the State respondents, more particularly the Commissioner & Secretary and Principal Director, Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, to make necessary corrections in the notification dated November 2, 2022, to notify for 3 posts of the Junior Dental Surgeons which was created by the Cabinet in its meeting held on June 26, 2020, to be recruited through the NPSC by the Special Recruitment Drive. 

The remaining 2 posts shall be filled up strictly in terms of the Nagaland Health Service Rules, 2006, it added. 

The direction was made after the concurrence of both the State respondents and petitioners’ counsels over the issue.

NH-29 Landowner Union
The counsel for NH-29 Landowners Union (Purana Bazar-Chümoukedima) submitted before Justice Budi on May 14 that while the petitioner the verification of land compensation and property damages was done by the Deputy Commissioner Dimapur and Chümoukedima, it was not undertaken in adherence to the direction of the Court. 

The petitioner also informed that an application has been filed before the authority requesting for direction for re-verification of land compensation and property damages in strict adherence of the Court's direction. 

Accordingly, the judge directed the counsel for the petitioner to file documents based on which the submission in the form of an affidavit. 

“The pendency of this petition shall not be a bar on the respondent authority for making re-verification as prayed for,” the Court’s order read.