Farmers and their families should not be denied benefits due to them under the Tamil Nadu Agricultural Labourers- Farmers (Social Security and Welfare) Act, 2006 if they had given sufficient explanation for the delay in filing applications, the Madras High Court has held.

A Division Bench of Justices Prabha Sridevan and B. Rajendran passed the ruling while dismissing a writ appeal filed by the Ramanathapuram Collector in the High Court Bench here challenging a single judge’s order. The Collector claimed that the enactment does not provide for condoning the delay in filing applications.

Rejecting the claim, the judges said that the object behind the enactment should be taken into consideration while dealing with applicants seeking relief. The TNALF Act was a welfare legislation. Therefore, “we should advance the cause of the objects rather than restrict the rights of poor agricultural labourers,” they observed.

No time limit

In the present case, the Collector had rejected an application filed by P. Thomaiyar of Mudukalathur taluk, who sought relief two months after the death of his son, on May 7, 2008. The farmer had claimed that the delay was due to the time taken in obtaining the death certificate, legal heir certificate and post-mortem certificate.

Disagreeing with the Collector’s conclusion in the matter, the Division Bench pointed out that the enactment did not indicate any time limit to file applications seeking relief in case of the death of a registered farmer/agricultural labourer. The limitations were provided only for availing other benefits.

“Even if time limit is indicated, we think that the authorities should consider the reasons as to why there was a delay in making the application… All that the authorities should do is to verify whether the deceased was a registered member, whether the accident had taken place as described and whether he is entitled to the benefit,” the judges said.

Writing the judgement, Ms. Justice Prabha Sridevan recalled that the State government had constituted a committee in 1981 to assess the living conditions of agricultural labourers who were suffering due to seasonal availability of work and intermittent monsoon failure over the years.

The committee recommended the enactment of a legislation to implement various welfare measures aimed at socio-economic improvement of the agricultural labourers. Consequently, a welfare board was constituted in 2000 for implementation of a social security scheme to assist the farmers during various contingencies.

Purposive interpretation

In 2006, the TNALF Act was enacted to provide for comprehensive social security besides ensuring the well being of landless agricultural labourers and farmers engaged in direct cultivation. The Act provided relief for contingencies such as death, injury and funeral expenses of registered members.

The judge also pointed that the Supreme Court in Bharat Singh Vs. Management of New Tuberculosis Centre, New Delhi (1996), had observed that “a welfare legislation should be given a purposive interpretation safeguarding the rights of the ‘have nots’ rather than giving a literal interpretation.”

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