Journalist crusades against top Indian newspaper for justice
Bhopal: The Provident Fund (PF) department has indicted The Times of India (TOI) for engaging a journalist for nine years in the name of a fictitious news agency and depriving him of several benefits of an employee.
Saji Thomas, who had worked with TOI in Jabalpur, was summarily terminated without notice. The journalist joined the media company on December 15, 2000 and continued to serve it until December 15, 2009.
The TOI management also did not reply to his e-mails seeking justice to him, apparently as part of its strategy to escape from paying the minimum wages and other benefits of an employee.
Subsequently, the journalist approached the PF Commissioner seeking direction for releasing his PF. The commissioner, Ajay Mehara, however, did not act upon the complaint apparently under the influence of the powerful media house.
Following which he moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Jabalpur Bench, seeking direction to the PF department to act upon his complaint.
The High Court in its direction to the PF department said, “… the concerned authority shall consider and decide the same in accordance with the law after keeping all the facts and facets into consideration.”
The matter was thus, referred to the Regional PF Commissioner, Bhopal, Dheeraj Gupta for adjudication.
The commissioner, in his order on November 29, ruled, “…I find that as per the definition of Employees under Section 2f of EPF and MP Act 1952 Shri Saji Thomas was working for the establishment with wages in or in connection with the work of the establishment and accordingly he is eligible for PF being an employee getting wages directly or indirectly.”
Besides the PF, he is also entitled for other benefits under the Act.
The modes operandi of the TOI, according to the complainant was that it (TOI) created a fictitious news agency – Thomas News Agency – in his name after obtaining a signature on a stamp paper.
During the hearing the TOI contended that the complainant was proprietor of the said news agency and hence not liable for any employee benefits as he was not an employee.
The PF department in its probe found that the TOI could not prove the authenticity of the firm which it claimed to have existing, other than the agreement to substantiate its stand.
On the contrary, the journalist produced stories published in his name in TOI during his nine years tenure, the passes issued to him for covering the assembly and Lok Sabha elections among other documents.
The PF finding also said, “…the agreement was merely a paper arrangement to avoid the legal liabilities.”
According to the complainant, the TOI adopted such illegal employment practice and deprived poor journalists of their legal benefit of an employee taking advantage of it being one of the market leaders in media industry.
“It is true that it got my signature on a stamp paper on the day of joining saying it as part of its employment practice,” Thomas said.
“In a way it is a fraud on the country to evade tax and deprive employees of their legal benefits promised under labor laws,” said the journalist who studied the law.
It is high time that the government conducted a probe into the employment condition of journalists working with TOI, he said adding, “This illegal practice was going on in the last 13 years with me and it must have been going on for several decades.”
“Just signing on a stamp paper does deprive a citizen of his constitutional rights and if this practice is allowed no employer will pay wages to an employee and the laws meant for employees will in effect, become useless,” Thomas added.
Besides this, the journalist has also lodged separate cases for back wages and his reinstatement with the Labour Court and another one for claiming his gratuity which is now pending in Madhya Pradesh High Court.
The TOI has a network of hundreds of stringers under similar fake contract across India and the order categorically says that even stringers are also eligible for PF.