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Case Reviews, The Law

PUDR v. Union of India

The instant case deals with the issue that Whether the writ petition can be maintainable against the private individual under Article-32 of the Indian Constitution?

By: Shefali Jha, Semester III, year II B.A.LL. B (Hons.) New Law College, Pune.

Case Note:

Petitioner No. 1, is an organisation formed for the People’s Union for Democratic … vs Union Of India & Others on 18 September 1982 purpose of protecting democratic rights. It commissioned three social scientists to investigate and inquire into the conditions under which the workmen engaged in the various Asiad Projects were working. Based on the report made by these three social scientists after personal investigation and study the 1st petitioner addressed a letter to Hon’ble Mr Justice Bhagwati complaining of the violation of various labour laws by the respondents’ and/or their agents and seeking interference by the Supreme Court to render social justice through appropriate directions to the affected workmen. The Supreme Court treated the letter as a writ petition on the judicial side and issued notice to the Union of India, Delhi Administration and the Delhi Development Authority.

Facts:

  1. In this case, there was a complaint of a violation of Article 24 of the constitution (which prohibits employing children below the age of 14 years in hazardous employment) on behalf of child labourers employed in construction work in Delhi. Also, the labourers who worked on the ASIAD-82 sites both on stadia and the infrastructure like flyovers and hotels were recruited by agents of construction contractors from backward villages of Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  2. Working at a feverish pace, often far beyond the working hours fixed by laws without the minimum daily wages due to them living in hovels, their children dying of malnutrition and they frequently becoming victims of accidents, these workers were forced to complete the ASIAD projects in time by November 19. 
  3. The terrible working and living conditions to which these workers were subjected to were first brought to public notice by a fact-finding team of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) which visited some of the major sites in July and August 1981 and interviewed the workers as well as their employers.
  4. The People’s Union of Democratic Republic followed this up by filing a writ petition before the Supreme Court on November 16, 1981, by way of PIL in order 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
  5. Admitting the writ petition on May 1982, Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice Baharul Islam directed the Union Government, the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi Administration – the three concerns which had appointed the contractors for the ASIAD construction work to ensure the payment of minimum wages and provision of other facilities to the workers under the various laws. 
  6. The judges also appointed three ombudsmen (experienced persons authorized to inquire into and pronounce upon grievances of citizens against public authorities) – the first time in the judicial history of India – for protecting the interests of the workers and ensuring the observance of the laws. They were requested to visit the major sites of the construction work and submit weekly reports to the Supreme Court relating to cases of violation of the laws.

Issues:

  1. Whether the writ petition can be maintainable against the private individual under Article-32 of the Indian Constitution?
    2) Whether Article-21 of the Indian Constitution also includes the right to live with human dignity and the right to livelihood?

Petitioner’s Argument


i) The argument from the side of the petitioner was that; different authorities entrusted with the execution of the various projects and they employed contractors to carry out the construction work of the projects and who were registered as to principal employers in compliance with section 7 of the Contract Labour Act 1970. These contractors recruited labourers through “Jamadars,” who brought them from various parts of India. Also, the minimum wages were paid to these jamadars and not to the workers directly which violated the Minimum Wages Act;


(ii) It was contended that the payment made to women workers was also contrary to the provisions of Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, as they were paid only Rs.71-per day and the balance was being misappropriated by the Jamadars.


(iii) There was also a violation of Article 24 of the Indian Constitution as well as a violation of Employment of Children Acts, 1938 and 1970 as the contractors were engaged in employing children below the age of 14 years in the construction work of the various projects,


(iv) There was a violation of the provisions of the Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition) Act, 1970 as the workers were denied their rights to medical and other facilities under the Act.


(v) 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, were also violated by the Contractors.

Respondent’s Argument

Objections rose on behalf of the respondents against the maintainability of the writ petition:

(i) The respondent claimed that the petitioners had no locus standi to maintain the writ petition because there was no violation of rights of the petitioners; the question involved is the rights of the workers employed in various construction projects. Thus petitioners, therefore, could not have any cause of action.


(ii) Also, it was claimed that the workmen whose rights were said to have been violated were employees of the contractors and not of the respondents. Also,

the cause of action of the workmen, if any, was therefore against the contractors and not against the respondents therefore no writ petition could lay against them.


(iii) The respondent also claimed that; as part of this preliminary objection that no writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution could lay against the respondents for the alleged violations of the rights of the workmen under the various labour laws, and the remedy, if any, was only under the provisions of those laws.

Decision:

The court by its decision upheld 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.

The Supreme Court extended 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’.

A wider meaning has also been given to the provisions of Article 21, 17, 23 of the Constitution to cover the cases of Non-payment or less payment of wages to the workers which they are entitled under the provisions of law. The Supreme Court considered the scope and ambit of Article 23 in detail. The Court 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 are found. It is not merely “beggar” which is prohibited by Article 23 but also all other forms of forced labour. This Article strikes at forced labour in whatever form it may manifest itself because it is violative of human dignity and contrary to basic human values. And therefore, strikes to violate Article 21 also. The court had declared solemn constitutional responsibility of the government and its agencies to see that the various laws are properly implemented, not only 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”. The rights and benefits guaranteed to the labourers under various labour laws were made parts of basic Human Dignity and raised to the status of Fundamental Rights.

Precedents: –

  1.  In reference to this judgement, this Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and it has received its most expansive interpretation in Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi & Ors, where it has been held by this Court that the right to life guaranteed under this Article is not confined merely to physical existence or to the use of any faculty or limb through which life is enjoyed or the soul communicates with the outside world but it also includes within its scope and ambit the right to live with basic human dignity and the State cannot deprive any one of this precious and invaluable right because no procedure by which such deprivation may be effected can ever be regarded as reasonable, fair and just.
  2. Referring to the judgement of this case, the meaning of the word ‘begar’ accepted by a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court in S. Vasudevan v. S.D. Mital. ‘Begar’ is thus clearly a film of forced labour. Now it is not merely ‘begar’ which is unconstitutionally prohibited by Article 23 but also all other similar forms of forced labour.

Bench(quorum): Bhagwati, P.N., Islam, Baharul (J)

Parties:

Appellant: People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Others

Respondent: Union of India & Others

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