New Delhi: The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to come out with a suitable policy or scheme to improve the working conditions of 'army porters' who are utilised for carrying arms, ammunition and ration for soldiers and officers in hilly border areas.
The apex court while examining the plea for improving the service conditions of army porters, the number of which as per Centre's estimate is around 1000, said there employment should not be terminated during pendency of the matter.
A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur gave three weeks to the Centre to formulate and file before it the draft rules and schemes for bringing out better working conditions of large number of porters in the army.
"The people in army know the utility of porters. So some light is needed at the end of the tunnel. They are in darkness. Show us for what period and years they have served army," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud observed.
Additional Solicitor General(ASG) P S Patwalia, said army has maintained the records of such porters since 2007.
"If the records of 10 years are maintained, they (porters) are entitled for some relief," the bench said and sought an assurance from the Centre that it would come out with a scheme to improve their conditions.
At the outset, Government said there are proposals to come out with the wage structure on the issue and examine the nature of work keeping in view the altitude at which these porters are deployed.
The ASG said the scheme would cover facilities like medical, accomodation, terminal benefits and compensation etc for porters and their family members.
Canteeen facility upto Rs 2000, leave encashment, festival grants and fund allocation for porters' children are also in the proposal.
"The proposals are under examination and will take three to four weeks for formulation," the law officer said, adding that the porters are employed where mechanical transport is not applicable and they carry goods weighing around 20 kg and their working hour is upto eight hours a day for 24-25 days in a month.
The bench said it would be wrong to say that only locals are appointed as porters and there are instances that people come from a distance of 200 to 300 km to take this job.
The ASG said "we are open for improving the service condition of porters".