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Gujarat govt 'considers' temples, charitable institutions as shops and establishment

By Pankti Jog*
The Gujarat state assembly recently passed a new law which would "govern" the working condition of shops and establishments. One of the most talked about provisions of the Act is, it allow shops and establishments across Gujarat to function 24 hours.
Already effective for more than six weeks, while the claim is, it would generate more employment opportunities for youth, what has surprised man an observer is, the Act considers all trusts and societies also as shops.
Introduced by the Gujarat government in the state assembly in February 2019, cleared by President of India, and begun being implemented on May 1, 2019, it is called Gujarat Shops and Establishment (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act 2019. It focuses on registration of all organizations, consultants (both individual, as well as firms), trusts, societies, companies, shops and all other working spaces with the authorities concerned.
The Act defines an establishment in 2 (c) (ii) not just an industrial and trade unit, but also, to quote, "a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, and a charitable or other trust, whether registered or not, which carries on, whether for purposes of gain or not, any business, trade or profession or work in connection with or incidental or ancillary thereto."
Not just NGOs, voluntary organisations, trust-run educational institutions, hospitals and other welfare organisations are registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, but even religious institutions, social organizations run by them, as also major temples of Gujarat are registered under this 19th century Act.
The Act says, those who have more than 10 employees would have to inform the authorities to get themselves registered, while others would have to complete registration procedure along with fees.
The Act comprehensively looks at working hours, payment for extra hours' work, leave, and facilities at work spaces like toilets, crèches etc. It identifies the responsibility of the ‘Owner’, which in the case of temples, charitable trusts and societies would be their respective trustees.
The Act says that the owner cannot make an employee work for more than nine hours a day, and there should be a break after five hours. Each hour after nine hours would be considered “overtime”, and the employee would need to be paid 1.5 times of the regular payment. There should be proper facility of water, light, aid circulation, fire safety, and sanitation at workspaces, the Act adds.
The Act talks about the inspection of “shops and establishments” by shop inspectors and checking of records, and empowers officials concerned to interview/inquire with an employee about its proper implementation. Interestingly, local self-governance bodies (panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations) would be looking after the implementation and monitoring of the law.
“A shop inspector appointed by local self-governing bodies has immense power under theCriminal Procedure Code (CrPC), to inspect and inquiry with an employee, seize records etc. Also interrupting this process or non-cooperation from employer’s side will also attract CrPC sections for violations like preventing government officer from conducting duty under the law”, says Harinesh Pandya, executive secretary, Janpath, a state-level network of voluntary organization of Gujarat.
“There are severe punishment provisions for violations, which range from Rs10,000 to Rs 50,000 fine, and six months' imprisonment, for which trustees of NGOs, temples, or board members of a society too would be held held liable”, continues Pandya.
"These provisions of penalty will deal a body blow on charitable trusts, including temples. It seems that the government wants to govern all kinds of working spaces with a single stick, which is unrealistic. The objective and purpose of a charitable trust is totally different than industry or trade bodies, their working spaces or places have to be different”, he added.
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*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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