While the government is trying hard to crush every voice against Aadhaar, one person from Mumbai not only fought, but also received interest on his salary, held back due to non-linking of his account with Aadhaar, along with an interest. Last month, the Bombay High Court asked Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) to pay interest at the rate of 7.5% on the 30 months’ salary of Ramesh R Kurhade.
This judgement will hopefully be a big warning to all organisation that have been forcing employees to link Aadhaar for receiving salaries and other legitimate benefits.
In the order, the bench of Justice Akhil Kureshi and SJ Kathawala, says
, "None of the contentions would persuade us to deny the interest on the delayed payment of salary. Firstly, because the petitioner was a sole objector can hardly be a ground to test the correctness of his stand. Secondly, the respondents (MbPT) are not in a position to show any authority under which they could have withheld the salary of an employee simply because of pending clarity in the proceedings before the Supreme Court the petitioner refused to divulge his Aadhaar card details. Now that the Supreme Court has given its final verdict pursuant to which his salary is also released, the petitioner must receive reasonable interest on delayed payment."
The HC asked MbPT to pay a simple interest of 7.5% on the delayed payment to Mr Kurhade before 31 July 2019.
A report from Mumbai Mirror
describes Mr Kurhade as an active member of several employee unions and an ardent follower of famed trade union leader Dutta Samant, who single-handedly fought a four-year battle against this 'arbitrary diktat' and won last month.
Mr Kurhade’s fight pre dates the historic Aadhaar judgement that upheld the Aadhaar Act, including the mandatory use of Aadhaar-based identification for government welfare schemes, but struck down the mandatory private use of Aadhaar. Mr Kurhade fell under the latter, the newspaper says.
On 23 December 2015, the Port Trust had issued a circular asking all its employees to link their Aadhar cards to their bank accounts before 15 February 2016 in order to receive their salaries. MbPT has 800 employees.
All except Mr Kurhade linked their Aadhaar numbers to their bank accounts. Mr Kurhade objected to the circular saying that MbPT cannot insist on Aadhaar linking for releasing his salary.
“Like others, I thought they were only threatening us. But when our salaries weren’t disbursed, the rest gave their details. I knew I wasn’t bowing out without a fight,” the report says quoting Mr Kurhade. All through 2016-17, Mr Kurhade exchanged a series of letters with Port Trust officials, finally resulting in a writ petition that he filed in the HC in January 2018 through advocate DP Sawant, it added.
Since he did not provide Aadhaar linking details, MbPT did not release his salary from July 2016 for the next 30 months. Mr Kurhade then filed a petition before the Bombay HC. At that time, the permissibility of linking of Aadhaar details with various schemes and payments was under challenge before the Supreme Court.
On 26 September 2018, the apex court delivered its judgement which limited the mandatory use of Aadhaar only to schemes and benefits for which money was spent from the Consolidated Fund of India.
The apex court clearly ruled that a person or account-holder cannot be forced to link his/her bank account/s with Aadhaar. "This linking is made compulsory not only for opening a new bank account but even for existing bank accounts with a stipulation that if the same is not done then the account would be deactivated, with the result that the holder of the account would not be entitled to operate the bank account till the time seeding of the bank account with Aadhaar is done. This amounts to depriving a person of his property. We find that this move of mandatory linking of Aadhaar with bank account does not satisfy the test of proportionality," the SC had said.
After the Supreme Court judgement, the MbPT released Mr Kurhade's 30 months pending salary without insisting on Aadhaar linking.
Advocate Dilip Sawant, appearing for Mr Kurhade, contended before the Mumbai HC that since the salary was withheld without authority of law by MbPT, Mr Kurhade must be paid interest on delayed payment of salary.
Adwait Sethna, counsel for MbPT, contended that the issues were pending before the Supreme Court and the government had directed the Port Trust to link the Aadhaar details of the employees. Mr Kurhade was the sole employee, out of nearly 800 employees, who had objected to this, the counsel told the HC.
The High Court, however rejected the contention saying, "....because the petitioner was a sole objector can hardly be a ground to test the correctness of his stand. ...MbPT are not in a position to show any authority under which they could have withheld the salary of an employee..."
The HC then directed the Port Trust to pay an interest of 7.5% on the 30 months’ salary withheld by MbPT to Mr Kurhade.