Case Name : PUDR v. Union of India
Author : Srishti
In this landmark judgement, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, considered the scope and ambit of Article 23 in detail. The Hon’ble Court stated that the scope of Article 23 is wide and unlimited and strikes at “traffic in human beings” and “beggar” and other forms of forced labour” wherever they are found. A form of forced labour where a person is forced to work without any remuneration is called “Beggar”. In other words, the present article strikes at forced labour in whatever form it may manifest itself as it is violative of human dignity and is contrary to basic human values. Beggar or any other form of forced labour irrespective of the remuneration paid or not, is prohibitive under this article.
If it is forced labour, say, labour supplied not willingly but as a result of force or compulsion, this article strikes at every form of forced labour even if it has its origin in a contract voluntarily entered unto by the person obligated to provide labour or service. Therefore, no one shall be forced to provide labour or service against his will, even though it be under a contract of service. The word force was very widely interpreted by the court. in the words of Bhagwati, J., the word force must be construed to include not only physical or legal force but also force arising out of compulsion of economic circumstances. In such circumstances, it leaves no choice of alternatives to a person in want and compels him to provide labour or services, even though the remuneration received for such work is less than the minimum wages.
Facts of the case
There was a complaint of the violation of Article 24 of the Constitution of India on behalf of child labourers employed in construction work in Delhi. Also, there were labourers who worked on the ASIAD-82 sites both on stadia and the infrastructure like flyovers and hotels. They were recruited by agents of construction contractors from backward village of Orissa, Bihar, W.B., Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
These workers were forced to complete the ASIAD projects in time by November 19 and they were working at a feverish place which were often far beyond. The working hours fixed by laws without the minimum daily wages due to the living in hovels and their children were dying of malnutrition and they themselves frequently became victims of accidents.
Such dreadful working and living conditions to which these workers were subjected to, was brought to public notice by a fact-finding team of the PUDR i.e. the People’s Union for Democratic Rights. The PUDR visited some of the major sites in July and August 1981 and interviewed the workers as well as their employers, following this up, the PUDR filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court on November 16,1981.
By way of the PIL, it requested to issue observance of the provisions of various labour laws in relation to the workers employed in the construction work of the ASIAD-82 projects. Admitting the writ petition on May, 1982, it was directed by P.N. Bhagwati, J and Baharul Islam, J, that the Union Government, the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi Administration that the three concerns which had appointed the contractors for the ASIAD construction work should ensure the payment of minimum wages and provision of other facilities to the workers under the various laws.
Further, three ombudsmen were also appointed by the judges, which happened for the first time in the history of judicial history of India. It was ordered for protecting the interest of the workers and to ensure the observance of the laws. They were also requested to visit the major sites of the construction work and submit weekly reports to the Hon’ble Supreme Court relating to cases of violation of the laws.
Firstly, whether the writ petition can be maintainable against the private individual under Article-32 of the Constitution of India?
Secondly, whether Article-21 of the Constitution of India also include right to live with human dignity and right to livelihood?
Arguments presented by the petitioner
Firstly, it was argued by the petitioner that different authorities entrusted with the execution of the various projects and various contractors were employed by them to carry out the construction work of the projects and who were registered as principal employees in compliance with the section 7 of the Contract Labour Act,1970. Labourers were recruited by these contractors through “Jamadars”. They brought them from various parts of India. Along with this, the minimum wages were paid to these jamadars and not to the workers directly. This was in violation of Minimum Wages Act.
Secondly, it was contended by the petitioners that the payment made to women workers was also contrary to the provisions of Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. These women were paid only Rs.71-per day and the balance were being misappropriated by the Jamadars.
Thirdly, Article 24 of the Indian Constitution was also violated as well as the provisions of the Employment of Children Acts,1938 and 1970 were also violated as the contractors were engaged in employing children below the age of 14 years in the construction work of the various projects.
Fourthly, the provisions of the Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition) Act,1970 were also violated as the workers were denied their rights to medical and other facilities under the Act.
Lastly, there was a violation of the provisions of the Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, which came into force on 2nd October 1980 in the Union Territory of Delhi, by the Contractors.
Arguments presented by the respondent
Objections were raised on behalf of the respondents against the maintainability of the writ petition:
Firstly, the respondent claimed that the petitioners had no locus standi in order to maintain the writ petition because there was no such violation of the rights of the petitioners. Thence, no cause of action has aroused.
Secondly, it was also claimed by the respondent such workers whose rights were said to have been violated, were employees of the contractors and not of the respondents. Also, even if there was a cause of action of the workmen, it was against the contractors and not against the respondents. Therefore, no writ petition could lay against them.
Lastly, the respondents, as part of this preliminary objection claimed that, no writ petition under Article 32 could lay against them for the alleged violations of the rights of the workmen under various labour laws. Therefore, the remedy, if any, was under the provisions of those laws only.
Judgement of the Hon’ble Court
It was held by the Hon’ble Court that the right of a poor worker to directly approach the Supreme Court under Article 32of the Constitution of India for the enforcement of rights created under various labour laws and particularly under the provisions of Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1977, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, Employment of Children Act, 1970 and Minimum Wages Act, 1948 is correct.
Thence, the scope of the meaning of article 21 of the Constitution (right to life) to include the right to livelihood along with the ‘right to live with basic human dignity’ was extended by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Also, a wider meaning has been given to the provisions of Article 21, 17, 23 of the Constitution of India, so as to cover the cases of Non-payment or less payment of wages to the workers which they are entitled under the relevant provisions of law. The Court further held that the scope of Article 23 is wide and unlimited and strikes at “traffic in human beings” and “beggar and other forms of forced labour” wherever they institute.
It is not merely “beggar” which is prohibited by Article 23 but also all other forms of forced labour as it is violative of human dignity and contrary to basic human values, therefore, violates Article 21 also. It was declared by the court that it is the solemn constitutional responsibility of the government and its agencies to validate that various laws are appropriately executed. It must be made sure that such laws are not only implemented by it but also by private persons or non-governmental establishments. The Supreme Court used expressions “bonded labour” and “forced labour” in Article 21 to “right to live with human dignity” and such rights and benefits guaranteed to the labourers under various labour laws. These were made parts of basic Human Dignity and raised to the status of Fundamental Rights.