Saturday, April 19, 2008


By Ashok Agarwal, Advocate

A well known adage that “JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED” could not have a better example than the case of the 50 female workers of the Super Bazar, the Cooperative Store Ltd., New Delhi (India) who have finally been paid the difference in pay between male and female workers doing the same or similar work, amounting to a paltry sum of Rs. 5210.40 each, without any interest or any compensation whatsoever, after 20 long years of protracted and heroic legal battle. The most positive aspect of this long and arduous legal battle is that the female workers could not have won the case without the dedicated and unrelenting support and solidarity rendered by the legal fraternity who stood by them through thick and thin over 20 long years.

This case highlights not only the individual sufferings of female workers, the discriminatory treatment in work and pay to which the female workers are subjected even in Government enterprises, the pitfalls of the justice delivery system but foremost the fact that the final outcome may be seen only as a pittance in terms of money alone but which otherwise is a golden harvest in terms of the lessons that it has regarding availability of committed and quality legal services for the weak and down trodden in a society overridden by inequity, discrimination and injustice. Advocate Ashok Agarwal who also happened to be the Secretary of the Super Bazar Employees Union, provided his expertise legal services to these female workers right from identifying the violation of the Act, filing of claims before the Authority and representing them to the last.

These female workers as back as in April 1987 filed their claims before the Authority under Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 seeking computation of difference of pay for the period from 01.09.1984 to 31.03.1987 amounting to Rs.5201.40 each. It was submitted that they were working as piece rate packers since 1978. On 08.10.1984, the Super Bazar issued orders regularizing the services of the piece rated female and male packers in the regular pay scale w.e.f. 01.09.1984. What the Super Bazar did was that all the female piece rated packers were given the pay scale of Rs. 150-360 whereas the male packers were given the pay scale of Rs.185-440 though both female packers and male packers continued to perform same and similar work, which they had been performing prior to 08.10.1984. It is interesting to note that one Sujjan (female worker) was included in the list of men workers and so was getting a higher remuneration but when it came to be known that she was a female worker, her name was excluded from the list of male workers and included in the list of female workers and her remuneration was reduced.

The Authority by orders dated 13.05.1988 allowed the claim of the female workers. The Super Bazar filed appeal before the Appellate Authority. The Appellate Authority by orders dated 06.03.1989 reversed the order of the Authority and dismissed the claim applications of the female workers. The female workers filed writ petition in the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in 1989 challenging the orders of the Appellate Authority. A Single Judge bench of the High Court by Judgment dated 13.08.2004 reversed the orders of the Appellate Authority and restored the orders passed by the Authority. The Super Bazar filed appeal before a Division Bench of the High Court and the Hon’ble Division Bench was pleased to dismiss the appeal on 29.05.2005. Thereafter, the female workers approached the Labour Department for implementation of the orders. . The amounts have been disbursed by the Super Bazar only in the months of March-April 2008.

The High Court took the view that the concept of the equality in all its aspects is enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution. There may be some discrimination on certain well defined principles but in the matter of pay-scales, there cannot be any inequality or discrimination only on the ground of sex. In fact, Article 39 (d) of the Constitution also provides for equal pay for equal work. The constitutional basis for the claim of the petitioners is, therefore, firmly established and needs no elaboration.

It is unfortunate that some of the female workers have died and could not enjoy the fruits of their dedicated fight against gender injustice. It is submitted that after the High Court decisions, the Super Bazar ought to have at their own paid the difference of pay for the period from 01.04.1987 onwards till the female workers remained in its services but it has not been done and the female workers have been compelled to go for another round of litigation. Is it not a travesty of justice?

The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 is one of the significant social legislations aimed at providing gender justice in regard to the pay and emolument in the matter of same or similar work between the male and the female workers. Section 4 of the Act provides that no employer shall pay to any worker, employed by him in an establishment or employment, remuneration, whether payable in cash or in kind, at rates less favourable than those at which remuneration is paid by him to the workers of the opposite sex in such establishment or employment for performing the same work or work of similar nature.. In terms of Section 9 of the Act, it is the duty of the Government to ensure that the provisions of this Act are complied with. Section 10 of the Act makes the non-compliance of the provisions of the Act punishable with fine which shall not be less than 10,000 rupees but which may extend to 20,000 rupees or with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than three months but which may extend to one year or with both for the first offence, and with imprisonment which may extend to two years for the second and subsequent offences.

It is a well known fact that the female workers particularly in unorganized sector are quite often discriminated against in the matter of pay and emoluments and the government is merely a mute spectator. However, there are rare cases having been dealt with under the provisions of this Act. This social legislation is more often violated with impunity. This long successful battle having been fought by the 50 female workers of the Super Bazar at least gives a hope to the masses that the rights are won by dedicated struggle, no matter how long this struggle may be. However, one cannot loose sight of the fact that without the help of committed and dedicated legal expertise, such successes are difficult to achieve.
(author can be contacted at Email:, M-09811101923)

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