It is a well-known fact that the Governments have become the biggest litigants. It keeps on growing because the government officials believe more in complicating the problems rather than resolving them. Regional Provident Fund Commissioner’s office is an important department of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO), which is supposed to be the custodian of the money of the lakhs of workers deposited with it on the one hand and prove to be the lever of development and more employment by not adopting the practice of harassing the employers. However, it appears that RPFC has forgotten its twin objectives. That is the reason that it has got a tough reprimand from the Madras High Court to wait till the final disposal of the Special Leave Petition pending with the Supreme Court of India.
The Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by Surya Roshni Ltd. through its Vice President (Legal and Commercial) vs. State of MP through RPFC which after several hearings was tentatively fixed for 10.7.2018 for disposal but did not reach for arguments.
The aforesaid appeals pertained to mulcting provident fund contributions on all except house rent allowances. Despite pendency of the appeals, the Provident Fund authorities have been levying and recovering contributions on various allowances.
Against such unwarranted acts of the RPFCs also some writ petitions were filed in the Madras High Court and while deciding the writ petitions by , Hatsun Agro Products Limited vs. RPFC, Vellore, W.P.No.389 of 2015 dt. 12.4.2018, in M/s. Magic Woods Exports (P) Ltd vs. RPFC in W.P.No.22638 of 2014 and M.P.Nos.1/2014 & 1/2015 decided on 17.04.2018, in M/s Gammon India Ltd. Vs. RPFC in W.P. No. No.9385 of 2015 and W.M.P.No.1 of 2015 decided on 03.05.2018, in SIFY Technologies Limited vs. RPFC in W.P.No.3202 of 2014 and W.M.P.No.1 of 2014 decided on 22.06.2018 and in M/s. BNP Paribas Sundaram Global Securities Operations Pvt. Ltd. v. RPFC in W.P.No.16106 of 2013 And M.P.No.1 of 2013 decided on 04.07.2018, the Hon’ble High Court of Madras barred the Regional Provident Fund Commissioners from demanding contributions on disputed allowances till the final disposal of the SLPs pending before the Supreme Court with following directions:
“13. It is made clear that the competent authorities are bound to follow the Act and Rules scrupulously, while undertaking the process in such matters. However, in respect of the disputed allowances shall not be demanded or effected till the final disposal of the cases pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The final decision in respect of the disputed allowances shall be kept in abeyance till such time.”
Therefore, in view of the above quoted clear directions it is expected and requested that in the interest of judicial wisdom and to avoid multiplicity of litigation as well as harassment of employers the EPFO will issue instructions/circular to RPFCs/APFCs to honor the judgments of Madras High Court. This is not for the first time such type of instruction/circular will be issued but in the past also these have been done. For instance when in 1994 the Bombay High Court in the case of Hindustan Lever Employees Union vs. Regional Provident Fund Commissioner and another, reported in 1995 LLR 416, the EPFO has immediately issued instructions to RPFCs/APFCs to determine and demand contributions on leave encashment. In 2003 when the Karnataka High Court in the case of Group Securities Guarding Ltd. vs. RPFC reported in 2004 LLR 540 pertaining to splitting of minimum wages, the instructions were issued by Chief Provident Fund Commissioner.
In view of the above, it is expected that the appropriate instructions will be issued and also the determining authorities i.e. RPFCs / APFCs would also honour the judgments of Madras High Court.