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Indian Case Summary

People’S Union For Democratic … vs Union Of India & Others on 18 September, 1982 – Case Summary

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In the case of People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Others vs. Union of India & Others on 18 September 1982, the Supreme Court of India was presented with a significant public interest litigation concerning the violation of various labour laws in relation to workmen employed in the construction work connected with the Asian Games. The case was presided over by Justice P.N. Bhagwati.

Facts of the Case

The petitioner, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, is an organization formed for the purpose of protecting democratic rights. The organization commissioned three social scientists to investigate the conditions under which the workmen engaged in the various Asiad Projects were working. Based on the report made by these three social scientists, the petitioner addressed a letter to Justice Bhagwati complaining of violation of various labour laws by the respondents and/or their agents and seeking interference by the Supreme Court to render social justice by means of 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.

The allegations in the petition were:

  1. Violation of the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, as the contractors paid the minimum wage of Rs. 9.25 per day per worker to the “Jamadars” who brought them from different parts of India, not to the workmen directly. The Jamadars deducted Rupee one per day per worker as their commission.
  2. Violation of the provisions of Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, as the women workers were being paid Rs. 7.1 per day, with the balance of the amount of the wage being misappropriated by the Jamadars.
  3. Violation of Article 24 of the Constitution and of the provisions of the Employment of Children Acts, 1938 and 1970, as children below the age of 14 years were employed by the contractors in the construction work of the various projects.
  4. Violation of the provisions of the Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition) Act, 1970, which resulted in deprivation and exploitation of the workers and denial of their right to proper living condition and medical and other facilities under the Act.
  5. Non-implementation of the provisions of the Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, by the Contractors.

Issues Raised

The case raised several important issues, including the scope and need for public interest litigation, the locus-standi and maintainability of the writ, and the remedial relief that could be granted. It also raised questions about the duties of the court regarding sentencing in cases of violation of Labour Laws, the scope of Article 23, and the meaning of “begar” (forced labour without remuneration). The case also examined the duty of the State when a violation of Articles 17, 23, and 24 is complained of.

Court’s Observations and Judgement

The court observed that public interest litigation is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement intended to bring justice within the reach of the poor masses. The court emphasized that the rule of law is meant for the poor too, and that the courts must become the courts for the poor and struggling masses of the country.

The court held that the construction industry is a hazardous employment and that no child below the age of 14 years can be allowed to be engaged in construction work. The court also held that violations of labour laws should be viewed with strictness and that errant employers should be punished with adequate punishment.

The court further held that the petitioners had locus standi to maintain the writ petition espousing the cause of the workmen. The court also held that

the Union of India, the Delhi Administration, and the Delhi Development Authority had an obligation to ensure that the contractors observe the provisions of various labour laws. The court stated that the non-payment of minimum wage to the workmen under the Minimum Wages Act 1948 is a breach of a Fundamental Right enshrined in Article 23.

The court also interpreted the term “begar” in Article 23 as a form of forced labour under which a person is compelled to work without receiving any remuneration. The court held that Article 23 is intended to abolish every form of forced labour and that the prohibition against “traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour” is enforceable not only against the State but also against any other person indulging in any such practice.

The court allowed the petition and held that the allegations of the petitioners were valid. The court directed the respondents to ensure that the constitutional and statutory provisions are complied with in letter and spirit.

Significance of the Judgement

This judgement is significant as it expanded the scope of public interest litigation and the concept of locus standi in India. It emphasized the importance of the rule of law for the poor and the duty of the courts to ensure justice for the poor and struggling masses of the country. The judgement also highlighted the importance of enforcing labour laws and the constitutional mandate against forced labour. It underscored the responsibility of the State and its agencies to ensure the observance of labour laws by contractors and the protection of the rights of workers.

The judgement also provided a broad interpretation of Article 23 of the Constitution and clarified the meaning of “begar”. It held that Article 23 is intended to abolish all forms of forced labour and is enforceable not only against the State but also against any other person indulging in such practices. This interpretation of Article 23 has had a significant impact on the enforcement of labour rights in India.