The Supreme Court on Thursday passed an interim order that no coercive action should be taken against companies and employers who fail to comply with the Centre’s March 29 order requiring payment of full wages to their workers during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, PTI reported.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah reserved the verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the Ministry of Home Affairs order till June 12 and restrained coercive action. “The question is do you have power to get them to pay 100% and on their failure to do so, prosecute them...There is a concern that workmen should not be left without pay, but industry may not have the money to pay,” Justice Kaul said, according to LiveLaw.

The petitioners, mostly small businesses, said they were themselves in a precarious position financially due to the lockdown. Payment of full wages to workers during such times was pushing them over the brink into insolvency.

Attorney General KK Venugopal said the order was issued to prevent human suffering. “People were migrating in crores, they wanted the industries to continue,” he told the court. “The notification was to keep the workers put, they would only stay put if they are paid.”

He also informed the court that the directive was a temporary measure and has been revoked by the authority with effect from May 18.

The Centre said that the employers who are incapable of paying salaries must be directed to furnish their audited balance sheets and accounts in the court. Venugopal asked the judges to consider the humanitarian situation because of which the order obligated all employers to pay their workers full wages.

The court said there should be a balance and asked the parties in the case to file their written submissions in support of their claims within three days. It said the government should play the role of a facilitator. “We can find out via media,” it added. “Give us a practical solution.”