The Kerala High Court on Thursday directed the State government to take necessary steps to ensure that the practice of demanding nookukooli or gawking charges by headload workers and trade unions, is stopped so as to attract more investors to the State (TK Sundareshan v. District Police Chief).
Single judge Justice Devan Ramachandran termed the illegal practice of demanding gawking charges, often violently, as “militant trade unionism” and asserted that the practice must be stopped to make Kerala more investor friendly.
“There can be little doubt that if the provisions of the (Kerala Headload Workers) Act are implemented properly, the impression of Kerala having a militant trade unionism would vanish without much of a delay. This is because in the event of any employer refusing to engage a headload worker, the consequence would not be violence but a proceeding initiated before the (headload workers welfare fund) board which would then lead to the statutory consequences under the act,” the Court said.
The Court emphasised that the provisions of the Kerala Headload Workers Act, 1978 (the Act) must be implemented effectively.
“The real remedy in ensuring that entrepreneurs and industry are not intimidated from coming and operating in Kerala is by ensuring that there is a peaceful atmosphere in the realm of labour and employment scenario and to a large extent this is possible only if the headload workers and their unions act totally within the confines of the provisions of the Act”, the court said.
The Court went on to say that “it is in the interest of the workers and trade unions more than anybody else that kerala becomes a truly investor friendly destination which will then offer larger engagement and employment opportunities”
Pertinently, the Court also declared in no uncertain terms that any demand of gawking charges is illegal and must be dealt with by the police regardless of the allegiance of the workers.
“As far as gawking charges is concerned this court hereby declares that any such demand by any person, headload worker, union, is illegal and unlawful; consequently direct the Station House Officer of the areas concerned to take stringent and strict action including under the various provisions of the Indian Penal Code depending on the nature of the allegations and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book without any leniency, whatever be the colour of the flag they be working under or whatever flag they may hold allegiance to”, the Court ordered.
At the hearing today, Standing Counsel for Headload Workers Welfare Fund Board conceded that if any employer illegally refuses to employ a headload worker, the latter can approach the board and seek redressal in accordance with law
However,Government Pleader EC Bineesh, admitted that this is not the manner in which normally headload workers or their unions get employment.
The government also filed a statement with the steps it has taken affirming that they are against the extortionist demands of gawking charges are illegal and cannot be tolerated.
While the court commended the measures taken, it emphasised the need to implement the same without reservation or delay so that “the name of Kerala is recognised as a premier destination not just for tourism but also for investment”.
The Court then decided to post the matter on November 1 noting that it is Kerala Piravi Day, which marks the birth of the State of Kerala.