KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has granted another opportunity to the federal authorities to find out a way to refund the amount meant for gratuity and provident funds of the retired employees of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) within a month.
Headed by Justice Mohammad Shafi Siddiqui, a two-judge bench of the SHC also warned that the court might order the PSM’s senior officials to contribute significant part of their salaries to address the present financial crunch and attachment of immovable property of the PSM if the court order was not complied with.
Last month, the bench had observed that the PSM chairman and some delinquent officers were responsible for misappropriation of the amount and ordered to attach assets and immovable properties of the PSM and account of the ministry of industries and production till further orders.
The retired employees of the PSM petitioned the SHC in 2017 and contended that they were not being paid their gratuity, leave encashment and provident funds since 2013.
At the outset of hearing, a deputy attorney general again submitted a report claiming that since there was no budgetary allocation, therefore they could not pay any amount to those petitioners.
The bench observed that the matter had been pending since long and petitioners were running from pillar to post and despite attachment of the account, nothing emerged.
The bench also said that it had not been assisted with any legitimate reason as to why and in what manner, the trustees of the PSM asked to release such amount, but it was an admitted fact that the money was released to the PSM as it was facing financial crunch.
The bench was informed that the chairman and other elite class officers of the PSM were being regularly paid their handsome salaries despite the crunch situation which still persisted.
The court observed that the underprivileged employees could not be deprived of their lawful rights while the privileged class of employees continued to enjoy.
“Thus, we felt that it is now time for the elite class officers/employees, who are serving, to contribute as did by the applicants/petitioners when they consented to release their gratuities and provident fund for the operation of the Pakistan Steel Mill. The serving class should now contribute significant part of their salaries,” it added.
However, the bench said that before such an order was passed and implemented, another opportunity was being provided to the federal government to find a way out to compensate petitioners within 30 days.
The court also directed the Nazir of the SHC to mark a lien on the immovable property of the PSM, which would be liable for attachment in case the amount was not paid.
The deputy attorney general also filed a review application against the last order of the bench about attachment of the account of the ministry of industries and production, contending that the ministry concerned had nothing to do with the payment of subject amount and since a lien was being marked over the property of the PSM, no purpose would be served if the account continued to remain as attached.
The bench issued notices to the all the petitioners and their counsel on the review application and said that in the meantime, the attachment of the account was being released till further orders.
While adjourning the matter for four weeks, the bench directed its Nazir to take into consideration all applications pending for release of amount and submit report after proper scrutiny and identification in terms of earlier orders of the court.
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2019