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Since 1st March, 1999
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I am one of the three staff members at the office of an Iron Merchant's Association which is registered under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act and is run by subscription of the members. I would like to know (i) are we covered under the Shops and Establishments Act and can get the benefits of leave as prescribed in that Act and (ii) if we are eligible for provident fund'

N. C. Majumdar, Calcutta

A: In general, the West Bengal Shops and Establishments Act, 1963, applies to inter alia, all 'commercial establishments' which term has been given a wide definition in Section 2 (2) of the Act and includes a commercial agency or a clerical department of a commercial undertaking or any establishment which carries on any business, trade or profession or any work in connection therewith or incidental or ancillary thereto and specifically includes a society registered under any enactment which carries on any business trade or profession or any work connected therewith.

Prima facie, the association of which you are an employee, seems to be a commercial establishment within the meaning of the Act and you should be entitled to all the benefits including those pertaining to leave, as prescribed in the Act.

If you are not granted the benefits, your remedy would be to make an application to the Inspector appointed under the Act. The penalty prescribed for contravention of any provision of the Act is fine which may extend to Rs 500 for the first offence and which may extend to three months imprisonment and or fine which may extend to Rs 1,000 or both.

Regarding your second question pertaining to whether or not you are eligible for provident fund, in my view, you will not be eligible for it. The Employees' Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provision Act, 1952 applies to every establishment which is a factory engaged in any industry specified in Schedule I to the Act and in which 20 or more persons are employed and to any other establishment employing 20 or more persons which the central government pay, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in that behalf.

Since the concerned association appears to have only three employees, the same will ordinarily not come within the purview of the 1952 Act. However, the central government has power to apply the provisions of the Act by notification to an establishment employing less than 20 persons.

In the absence of such central government notification you would not be entitled to the benefits of provident fund under the 1952 Act.

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