The Supreme Court has upheld the rights of Gujarati tribals to permanent employment

Published: Sunday 15 September 1996

in what may turn out to be a case of substantial significance, the Supreme Court (sc) has dismissed a special leave petition filed by the chief conservator of forests (ccf), Gujarat. The petition had sought to review an order passed by the industrial tribunal in Ahmedabad, to provide permanent employment to tribals working as casual labourers for a forest project.

Earlier, the Gujarat high court had also dismissed the petition for review, upholding the tribunal's decision. In its order, the tribunal had ruled that all casual workers who had completed 240 days of service in each of the four or more years preceding January 1, 1989, or a total of 900 days of service preceding the same date, be regularised. Interestingly, the project employing the tribals is funded by the World Bank (wb).

The tribal workers organised under the banner of the Gujarat Forest Produce Gathering Forest Workers Union (gfpgfwu). The case had been initiated at the tribunal in November 1988, and the award announced in May 1992. "The case assumes significance as other tribal workers employed by the various state forest departments may use this dismissal as a precedent," states Nitya Ramakrishnan, advocate for the gfpgfwu.

The counter affidavit filed by the respondent on July 10, 1996, at the sc discloses that the tribals had been employed for the past 10-15 years for general upkeep works like digging pits, repairs of drains, raising saplings and as caretakers in plantations. It also points out that the wb project was not a scheme or grant, but more permanent in nature as 4,144 others had been employed as permanent employees. The respondent also referred to an earlier judgement of the sc which had noted that "the very practice of keeping persons as casual workers for long years would entitle them to permanency."

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