Citation : AIR 1982 SC 1473
Court : Supreme Court of India
Bench : J. P.N. Bhagwati and J. Baharul Islam
Facts of the case
For the organization of 1982 ASIAD games the Indian government had to build infrastructure such as flyovers, stadiums, hotels, swimming pools etc. as per international standards.
The Indian government had given the responsibility for the development to the Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi Administration and New Delhi Corporation Committee. The authorities had hired private contractors via zamadars and recruited laborers from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
The zamadars received 11.25 rupees as a minimum wage from the authorities but the laborers were paid 8.25 rupees per day while the women workers were paid 7 rupees per day.
A writ was filed by the People’s union of Democratic rights (PUDR) by way of public interest litigation where they claimed the violation of fundamental right against violation against certain other rights.
Issues raised by the court
Whether the writ petition can be maintainable against the private individual under Article 32 of the Indian constitution?
Whether Article-21 of the Indian Constitution also includes the right to live with human dignity and right to livelihood?
1. The petitioners claimed that Minimum wages Act, 1978, Equal labor Act, 1976, Article 23 and 24 of the Indian Constitution and Child Employment Act, 1979 were violated.
2. The laborers were not paid minimum wages violating the provisions of Minimum wages Act and rights against exploitation as prescribed under the constitution of India.
3. They also contended that children below 14 years of age were employed for the project and were forced to work under hazardous circumstances.
4. The workers were also denied basic medical necessities as a right to their health violating the provisions of provisions of the Contract Labor (Regulations and Abolition) Act, 1970.
5. The women and men laborers were paid differently by the contractors, and it was less than the minimum wages.
The respondents argued that it was the responsibility of the contractors to look into whether the laborers were receiving the necessary services and minimum wages. It was contended that the contract had the provision of instituting a case against contractors if there was a violation of labor laws by them.
On behalf of the government, it was contented that they had not received any complaint regarding the employment of children also the provision of section 3(3) of Child Employment Act 1938 would not apply in the case because the development of such projects was not enlisted in the statute.
Judgment of the Court
The court extended the scope of Article 21 of right to life with right to live with basic human dignity. The benefits and rights that were given under various labor laws were made a part of human dignity and were given the status of Fundamental rights under Article 21.
The court upheld the right of a worker to directly approach the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the constitution in case of violation of labor laws given under various statutes such as equal remuneration act, Contract labor (Regulation and abolition) Act.
The court explained Article 23, the forms of bonded labor and held that if the worker was paid below the minimum wage there was a position that the person being exploited was forced to work to live or earn for the family. In a country like India there is a huge mass of people who are ignorant of their rights and it gives employers a big advantage to exploit them, by using their vulnerability and position of power, employers making benefit of the helpless condition of the labor’s choice make them enter into a contract and agree to work for them under their exploiting conditions against their will. It was pointed out in the judgment and explained that it would violate article 23 of the constitution, as the scope of bonded labor includes all forms of bonded labor, and it is the fundamental right of an individual to work under the conditions as he chooses to be.
The court viewed that Article 24 of the constitution stated that a child under 14 years of age cannot be employed, and in the given case children under 14 years were employed violating the fundamental right enshrined under article 24. It has been stated in the case that the violation of any labor law has to be looked upon strictly, and even if the statute was silent about employing children in the industry, it is the very fundamental right given under the Article 24 of the constitution that the children below 14 years of age cannot be employed to work as labor.
If the labor laws are dealt with meager fines people would pay and would continue to violate labor rights and the exploitation of labor would not end.
5. The government cannot make an escape from its responsibility mere claiming that those workmen were not employed directly by them so it was the responsibility of the contractors to ensure that the workmen were provided with the basic needed facilities and equal pay, but also as the principal agent it is their responsibility to ensure that it had been taken place.
6. The court emphasized that the large population of India constitutes the poor mass and the need to bring social justice is the need of the hour. The fact that the courts are being overburdened with many pending cases and files cannot be a reason to not give people a fair chance to fight for justice.
This article is written by Kritika Bansal of UPES, Dehradun, Uttrakhand.