People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.
Keywords- Civil Society Organisation, Labour Laws, Equal Remuneration Act, Contractual Labour, Migrant Labourers, Child Labour, Fundamental Rights, Law of Writs, Hobson’s Choice.
OVERVIEW OF THE CASE
|Case Name||People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.|
|Equivalent Citation||AIR 1982 SC 1473|
|Date of Judgement||18 September 1982|
|Court||In the Supreme Court of India|
|Case Number||Writ Petition No. 8143 of 1981|
|Case Type||Writ Petition|
|Petitioner(s)||People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Ors.|
|Respondent(s)||Union of India and Ors.|
|Bench||(Division) P.N. Bhagwati and Baharul Islam, JJ.|
|Referred||Articles 14,17, 21, 23, 24 and 32 of Constitution of India, 1950, Employment of Children Act,1938, Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, Equal Remuneration (Amendment) Act, 1976.|
During the ASIAD’83 games the workers who were employed in various construction projects which included building of fly-overs, stadia, swimming pool, hotels and Asian Games Village Complex etc were treated malevolently as the wages weren’t meeting the minimum wage criteria, the working conditions were hazardous, children below the age of fourteen years were employed and women weren’t being paid at par with their male counterparts. These issues were brought in limelight by a civil society organisation called ‘Peoples Union for Democratic Rights’ and more specifically by their three social scientists who did an empirical study by visiting the site and asking them questions on wages, timings, child labour, working conditions and equivalency of wages from female workers vis a vis their male counterparts.
The ambit of the case was not to find fault and lapse in various authorities who employed the miscreants viz. the Delhi Administration, the Delhi Development Authority and the New Delhi Municipal Committee but to ensure the enforceability of labour laws in future and tapering its lapse.
The issues to decide upon was
- Whether there any violation of the rights of the workers by the contractors?
- Whether there was violation of the acts viz. Minimum Wages Act,1948; Equal Remuneration Act,1976; Article 24 of the Constitution; The Employment of Children Act, 1970 and the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of employment and condition of service) Act,1979 as alleged?
- Whether the work done by the labourers for which the minimum wage as prescribed wasn’t given comes under the purview of bonded labour or begar and constitutes exploitation?
- Can a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) be brought for the enforcement of the rights of one individual under the lieu of promoting larger interest?
- What’s the scope of Right to life under Article 21 of the constitution? Does basic human dignity is inherent in it or not?
- What’s the scope and meaning of “traffic in human beings and similar forms of forced labour” under article 23? and What kind of forced labour are prohibited under the same?
CONTENTIONS OF THE PETITIONERS
The petitioners upon filing the case on behalf of the workmen by moving a writ in the form of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) asked for compensation of the minimum wages which were misappropriated by the zamadars (the person who came to respective villages to induct the labourers) and wanted the injustice being corrected for all the maltreatment bestowed upon the workmen.
The cause of the petitioners was that the jamadars upon being engaged by the contractors went to states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa and got the workers employed and they were entitled a minimum daily wage of Rs. 9.25 per day but the promised amount wasn’t meted thus leading to exploitation by contractors and the jamadars.
The petitioners contended that the provisions of the Equal Remuneration act were also violated as women workers were getting only Rs. 7 paid for the same work as men.
The petitioners also argued that as there were children below the age of fourteen years working that led to violation of article 24 of the constitution and of the provisions in the Employment of Children Act, 1938.
The petitioner also alleged that the provision of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 were violated due to the lack of proper living conditions, medical and other facilities.
The petitioners also complained that the contractors weren’t implementing the provisions of the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment of Service) Act 1979 even though the Act was enacted in the Union Territory of Delhi on 2nd October 1980.
CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS
The respondent (Union Government) represented by Madan Mohan, Under Secretary, Ministry of Labour rebutted to the contention of the minimum wage not being paid by asserting that the contractors did pay the minimum wage of Rs. 9.25 but candidly admitted that the amount of one rupee being deducted by jamadars as their commission as they saw that as their entitlement because they were the means who recruited the labourers thus paid only Rs 8.25.
In the affidavits filed by the petitioners it was asserted vis a vis the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and the Contract Labour (Regulation and abolition) Act, 1970 that the concerned labour laws were complied and in any event of violations seen through periodical investigations action by way of prosecution were taken against the contractors.
The Delhi Development authority in their affidavit in reply contended that there was a written contract existing between the contractors and the workers wherein Minimum Wages Act, 1948 were duly followed but the Delhi administration didn’t categorically reaffirm that it was so done and took in account the lapse of minimum wages as jamadars deducted them as a sum for recruiting them but the union government admitted the contention quite candidly and admitted that there was violation of Minimum Wages Act,1948.
In response to the violation of Employment of Children Act, 1938 the respondents unanimously contended that they never received any complaint of any violation and also that the concerned section didn’t apply to employment in case of construction work projects as it wasn’t specified in the Schedule thus, ultra vires of Sub- section 3 of Section 3.
There were two main contentions and one meta contention resulting from the second were raised by the respondents, the first being of no locus standi of the petitioners to file the case on behalf of the workmen and the second was of the misplaced cause of action against the Union of India, the Delhi Administration and the Delhi Development authority than the contractors who inducted the workmen in the first place. The meta question that arose was of whether a writ petition can be filed in a case in the form of Public Interest Litigation dealing with the violations of the rights of the workmen under the labour law. The writ petition in the case was challenged.
The locus of the petitioners was established and so was the fact of due violation of article 24 which comes under Part-III of the constitution was held. And as being the principal owners of the project the Union of India, DDA and Delhi administration were held liable.
The submissions of respondents under Employment of Children Act, 1938 was well founded and did not apply to employment in construction industry but it was made the imperative duty of the state government that they should correct it forthwith with an amendment but it was established that there was no violation of the provision of the said act. But it was categorically laid that the compulsive mandate of prohibition on child labour due to the virtue of article 24 should be followed strictly and clearly enforceable against the respondents.
The court were also unhappy with the findings that a beneficent legislation like Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of employment and condition of Service) Act, 1979 were withhold for 18 months before delegating it to the Administrator of the Union Territory of Delhi and an additional 12 months for furtherance and making rule for the implementation of the same was unduly taken.
The court took cognizance of Annexure I attached to the affidavit by the government which enlisted defaulting contractors upon whom prosecution cases were issued for violation of labour laws, but the court was shocked to find the lowly fines by Magistrates for those lapses echoing the temper of great indifference and unconcern towards these laws by the officers and grimly expressed the saddening state in the judgement.
The judgement answered about the maintainability of the suit by establishing the locus standi in a case of public importance and asserted that the petitioners did so out of goodwill for correcting the injustice being meted to the workers and thus said the locus standi shouldn’t be seen from the narrow definition of Anglo- Saxon Jurisprudence but from modern standpoint.
While explaining the ratio of the equal wages to both men and female workers article 14 of the constitution was harked upon as the backing behind the provisions of the Equal Remuneration Act, 1946 and violation of it clearly established a cause of action against the respondents.
To answer the averment whether a writ petition was valid on part of the petitioner or not, it was opined that for the maintainability of the suit under article 32 some fundamental right should be violated in the first place and thus through citations it was said that not giving equal remuneration violates article 14 and as was averred children below the age of 14 years were working violates article 24 and non-observance of contract labour(Regulation & Abolition) Act and Inter State Migrant Workmen(Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act 1979 violates article 21 thus the writ petition was justified and reason backing it well founded.
There was also the violation of article 23 arising from the virtue of non-payment of minimum wages to the workmen violating the Minimum wages Act 1948 and opening the vistas of begar or forced labour. In this context, the judges opined that all form of begar or forced labour should be done away with as mentioned in article 23. The judges made reference to Hobson’s Choice while explaining at length the condition of workers while accepting job of binary choices being offered of either to die or to submit to the exploitative terms. The physical, legal and economic forces which renders the person with choice of alternatives is constituent as forced labour.
To further elucidate the domain of begar and whether it can be performed in contractual agreement, the court said that nobody does labour without being paid the minimum wage out of their own volition and it’s only in circumstances compelled that a person chooses to do that and if not paid the minimum prescribed wage, then every unpaid labour is begar or forced labour even if contractual.
To answer the contention that the case should be filed against the contractors as they were the ones who employed the labourers in the first place the court referred to Section 7 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act,1970 which made the respondent parties as principal employer who in execution delegated that to the contractors thus making them liable.
In the starting few paragraphs of the judgment the justices opined and underscored the need and importance of Public Interest Litigation as they detailed at length that the courts are not only for those who are rich and for whose vindication the courts are there; they said it also is for the poor, the illiterate, the uneducated and quite rightly so thus emphasising the role of civil societies and NGOs and posing a grim picture of the inaccessibility of the poor to judiciary of the country which needs to change. Labour laws are a grey area where only crony capitalists move to court for any lapse and workers employed in construction or other manufacturing units in secondary sector aren’t aware of their rights or the relevant act concerning their rights at workplace and beyond leading to exploitation by people in authority which needs to be curbed and expeditious ways to promote awareness and redressal recourses must be made which speedily addresses their concern. The onus is also on the agencies and the governmental and private bodies to see that the rights of their employees are not curtailed and the jobs are enabler for the person concerned helping in the empowerment of the person and development of society as a whole.
- http://www.unipune.ac.in/snc/cssh/humanrights/06%20STATE%20INDUSTRY%20AND%20WORKERS/03.pdf <accessed on 3rd June 2023>
- (1982) 3 SCC 235
This article is written by Sumit Kumar Singh of Institute of Law, Nirma University, an intern under Legal Vidhiya.