Mumbai: BEST asks ex-employees to absorb interest cuts on gratuity dues

Iram Siddique
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A Mumbai labour court had earlier directed BEST to pay 10 per cent annual interest to affected ex-employees for delay in payment of gratuity. (File photo)

Facing financial crisis, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking has now turned to its retired employees for help. In an unconventional move, the cash-strapped civic agency is urging its ex-employees to absorb cuts in interest on their gratuity dues.

On Saturday, in a Lok Adalat hearing, which took place at an industrial court, the agency, citing its “precarious” financial position, appealed to 35 of its ex-employees with the offer. Gratuity is an additional 15-day salary paid to an employee when she completes at least five years in service or an additional one-month pay for every year as she reaches superannuation.

The crisis-laden agency has struggled to settle the gratuity dues of its employees since 2016. It has now accumulated dues worth Rs 350 crore in this respect, which are payable to over 3,000 employees, sources said.

A Mumbai labour court had earlier directed BEST to pay 10 per cent annual interest to affected ex-employees for delay in payment of gratuity. On Saturday, an industrial court conducted hearings regarding recoveries and appeals in 35 cases. According to sources, only six of them have so far agreed to consider payments at a lower rate of interest (8 per cent).

In its 2020-21 budget, BEST has projected that its net loss will rise up to Rs 2,250 crore by March 2021. While the agency had requested the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for a fiscal aid of Rs 2,300 crore to tide over the cash crunch, the civic body has earmarked Rs 1,500 crore for the purpose. Nandkumar Parab (60), who is among those who agreed to settle for a lower interest rate, said, “I waited for a year to get my gratuity amount from BEST and finally filed a case in June 2018. I live in Navi Mumbai and have been coming to court regularly to get Rs 17.7 lakh in gratuity in the last year or so. Now, as they had agreed to pay the amount within four weeks, I wanted to get done with it, even if it meant at a lower interest rate. It is only so long that one can fight.”

Naresh Dalvi, another retired employee, said, “I agreed to 8 per cent interest rate as BEST agreed to deposit the amount within four weeks. If I drag the case, I won’t get the amount until it is resolved and by then, if I keep this money in my account, I will get that amount as interest.”