The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Starvation death buck stops in state

New Delhi, May 12: The Supreme Court has said states cannot “escape liability” for sta-rvation deaths and suicides cau-sed by non-payment of salaries and pass the buck to the Centre.

A division bench of Chief Justice V..Khare and Justice S.B.Sinha on Friday directed Bihar to deposit Rs 50 crore with Patna High Court to be handed to employees deprived of salary for more than 10 years.

In the same 53-page order, the bench ruled that “the state is directly or vicariously liable to pay salaries and remunerations”.

“If the state or state agencies have failed to perform their duties, they cannot use lack of funds as an excuse to shift liability to the Union of India.”

“The states of India are welfare states. They, having regard to the constitutional provisions adumbrated in the Constitution of India, and in particular, part IV thereof, laying down the directive principles of state policy, and part IV-A, laying down the fundamental duties, are bound to preserve the practice to maintain the human dignity,” the court said.

Bihar did not pay employees of over 14 state corporations and argued that the Centre had to take responsibility for the starvation deaths.

But the Supreme Court said the state could not escape its liability. “By no stretch of imagination can the Bihar government’s liability be shifted to the Union of India,” it added.

“Just because the Union of India allegedly is the repository of funds raised by it through central excise and other levies, it does not mean it is indirectly or vicariously liable for failings on the part of the state public sector undertakings,” the bench said.

It rejected the argument that “financial stringency” resulted in non-payment of salaries. The bench said: “Investments made by the state in public sector undertakings in pursuit of social justice are from the public account. It is in this respect accountable to the public through the legislature”.

The judges said “it might have been different” if the state had required financial assistance owing to a “natural calamity” or “matters beyond its control”.

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