Delhi HC holds chief secretary, special commissioner of transport and another official guilty of contempt of court
The Delhi High Court has held the chief secretary, special commissioner (Transport), and the secretary (Labour) of the Delhi Government guilty of contempt for wilfully disobeying a 2017 HC order directing them to enhance the minimum wages of staff for the operation and maintenance of buses plying in the national capital.
A Division Bench of the HC in its December 6, 2017, order had directed the Delhi Government to make necessary amendments to the agreements entered into with private parties running private stage carriages in the national capital and increase the wages of the staff. The payment was directed to be made within four weeks from the date of the order.
The court was hearing three pleas moved by various private “concessionaires” seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the Delhi Government’s officials for wilful disobedience of the High Court’s orders.
As per the Concessionaire Agreement, the petitioner concessionaires were required to provide the services of drivers and other staff for buses plying in various clusters. The agreement also contained a stipulation for amendment of the formula for payment of service rate per hour to the concessionaire in case of any “change in law”.
Before the Division Bench, the petitioners sought an amendment to the formula after the minimum wages were enhanced by the Delhi government through notifications dated September 15, 2016, and November 3, 2017.
They had argued that the quantification of the amount on which they had submitted their tenders was premised on a particular minimum wage payable to their employees. They said that once there was an upward revision it was incumbent on the government to make additional payments to increase the cost of providing stage carriage services on account of the enhancement of the minimum wages.
Going through the order of the Division Bench, a single-judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli in its April 21 order said, “I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the Division Bench had, in no uncertain terms, directed the respondents to amend the formula for calculating the amount payable to the concessionaires by taking into account the incremental increase of each cluster separately. I am of the considered view that the directions to the respondents were to calculate the amount payable to the concessionaires of the different clusters by taking into account the factual matrix of each cluster separately and it is only for this purpose that the Division Bench had directed the petitioners to furnish their calculations to them”.
The High Court said the Division Bench’s directions were “crystal clear”, and the respondents were expected to effectuate necessary amendments to the formula by working out the amount payable to each cluster individually. The court noted that even when the matter was argued the respondents did not deny that the claim of the petitioners before the Division Bench was for directions to the respondents to make additional payments to them to the extent of an increase in the minimum wages thereby making good the increase in the costs of providing stage carriage services on account of the enhancement in minimum wages.
The court noted the respondents’ insistence in applying the incremental increase of one cluster to all other clusters despite being well aware that the factual matrix of each cluster is different and in fact, even the initial service hour rate of each cluster was always different, “leaves no manner of doubt that the disobedience on the part of the respondents is willful”. “In the light of the aforesaid, I am of the opinion that in the present case, all the four pre-conditions for holding the respondents guilty of contempt are made out,” Justice Palli said and rejected the respondents’ contention that there was no requirement to work out the incremental increase separately for each cluster, as “wholly misconceived”.
“While exercising contempt jurisdiction this Court has to keep in mind that the very purpose of the law of contempt is meant to serve the public interest and build confidence in the judicial process. In the present case, the respondents, despite having repeatedly failed in their challenge to the order passed by the Division Bench are deliberately attempting to circumvent and undermine the unambiguous directions issued by the Division Bench. It is, therefore, necessary to deal with the respondents with a heavy hand,” the HC said holding the respondents guilty of contempt.
The court directed the contemnors—special commissioner (Transport), the chief secretary and the secretary (Labour)—to remain present in court on July 14 and listed the matter for arguments on sentence. It also noted that the respondents had challenged the Division Bench’s order in the Supreme Court which was rejected.