On 11th May, 1982, the case of People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Others v. Union of India & Ors. Was decided by a bench comprising of Bhagwati, P.N. Islam, Baharul (J). The Petitioners have thrown light upon the awful and dreadful condition of labourers who were forced to work in hostile conditions through a letter written to Bhagwati J. who treated it as a PIL. Through this landmark judgement, Hon’ble Supreme Court has not only widened the scope and ambit of Article 32 but also assure that the Court belongs to everyone and if there is violation of beneficial legislations such as labour laws it will tantamount to breach of Fundamental Rights and along-with that has given liberal interpretation to “forced labour” and “beggar”.
Petitioner: People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Others
Respondent: 1. Union of India
2. Delhi Administration
3. Delhi Development Authority
Date of filing case
16th November, 1981
- It was a prestigious moment for India to host Asian Games 1982, and to complete its undertaking the Government of India has to accomplish various construction projects such hotels, stadiums, etc. as per international standards.
- Various authorities were entrusted with project, relevant here are Delhi Development authority, New Delhi Municipal Committee and Delhi Administration.
- These authorities engaged Contractors as Principal Employers U/S 7 of The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 for execution of their projects.
- These Contractors entered into contract with Jamadarsto heir workmen for construction purposes.
- Workmen from different parts of the country were hired especially from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.
- Men at Rs. 9.25/- per day, women at Rs. 7/- per day and children even below the age of 14 year were employed as workmen and above that Rs. 1/- was deducted from their wages by Jamadars as their commission.
- Workmen were not given equal wages and were not even entitled to their minimum wages and were forced to work at feverish place and often beyond the working hours.
- Children were dying of mal-nutrition and due to working in hazardous condition were frequently becoming victims of serious accidents and some were dying.
- The terrible working and living conditions of these workers 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.
- PUDR address a letter to Bhagwati J. about the same who later treated it as PIL and the case was filed on 16th Nov, 1981.
- Women are not been given equal wages which is contrary to the provisions of Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
- Workers are not even entitled to their minimum wages as Rs. 1 was one deducted by Jamadars causing violation of Minimum Wages Act, 1948, which was admitted by Union of India in its reply affidavit but was denied by other three respondents.
- It was argued that Article 24 of Constitution was violated and the provisions (Sec 3(3)) of Employment of Children Act, 1938 were breached as children below 14 were engaged in construction works.
- Alleged violation of various provisions of Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 by Contractors which resulted in deprivation and exploitation of workers such as they were deprived proper living conditions, medical and other facilities.
- Contractors were not implementing the provisions of Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 though the Act has already been brought in force on 2nd Oct, 1980.
- Contented that present petition under Art 32 of Indian Constitution is liable to be dismissed since; there is no violation of Fundamental Rights of workers but of merely various labour laws.
- It was argued that the respondents are miss-joined and are liable to be deleted from the array of parties because the violation (if any) is caused by private contractors and not the State since; workmen are the employees of Contractors and not of respondents.
- The respondents clearly denied the allegations of petitioner and on contrary stated that as far as Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 they were complying with the provisions with utmost care and when any matter brought to them, they take action against Contractors by way of prosecution.
- It was conceded that Jamadars might be deducting Rs. 1 from minimum wages payable to workers whereas UOI clearly admitted this fact.
- It was contended that provisions of Employment of Children Act, 1938 are not applicable in this case since; construction work is not specified as hazardous workplace in its Schedule so there is no breach of Sec 3(3) as well as of Art 24 of Indian Constitution.
- With regard to Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, it was argued that since, power to enforce the provisions is delegated to Administrator of Delhi on 14th July, 1981 but they could not be enforced as rules to be made under Act were not finalized until 4th June, 1982.
- Whether petitioner organisation is entitled to maintain the petition on behalf of labourers?
- Whether this petition is maintainable against Union of India, Delhi Administration and Delhi Development Authority when in actual the offending parties are private contractors?
- Whether this petition is maintainable as there is no breach of fundamental rights of labourers but of ordinary rights under labour laws?
- Whether the Court can pass directions under Article 32 against private contractors?
- While dealing with first issue, it was held that petitioner organisation has locus standi to approach to this Court on behalf of poor, ignorant, illiterate people because firstly, they were working in a bona-fide faith and secondly the traditional rule of standing of judicial process which only allows those people to approach to court to whom legal injury has been caused has now been jettisoned by this Court through the Case of Judges’ Appointment and Transfer case and revolutionised the concept considering the prevailing socio-economic conditions.
- With respect to second issue, it was held that although the workmen were employed under Contractors but it was the respondent authorities who entrusted the Asiad project to Contractors and therefore, they cannot escape from their obligation of the observance of various labour laws. Also, Respondent authorities being Principal Employers were bound by Sec 20 of Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 and by Sec 17 & 18 of Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 to provide amenities and allowances to workmen. And as far as, employment of children below 14 is concerned then it is clearly provided under Article 24 of Indian Constitution which bars the same and is enforceable against everybody.
- The court did not accept the plea of respondents that there is no violation of FR. Since, the petition includes the violation of Article 24 due to employment of children below 14 and also violation of provisions of following labour laws amounts to violation of following FR’s–
- Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 and Contract Labour Act, 1970 – Article 21 – after the judgement of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and Francis Coralie Mullin V. Administrator and ors. Art 21 has been given new dimensions which includes right to live with basic human dignity and here the two beneficial legislation were intended to ensure the labourers the basic human dignity of which they remain deprived by respondents.
- Minimum Wages Act, 1948 – Article – 23 – The nature and scope of Article 23 has been discussed, and held that labour which is not rendered willingly but as a result of force or compulsion is ‘forced labour’. Also, when a person provides services for remuneration which is less than the minimum wage, said service will fall under Forced Labour.
- Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 – Article 14 – Not giving equal wages to both men and women for their equal amounts to violation of right to equality.
Therefore, it was held that non-observance of labour laws by respondents have resulted into violation of FR’s of labourers.
- Lastly while dealing with the fourth issue, it was held that where there is violation of Article 17, 23 or 24, Court can pass directions against private individuals since they are enforceable against private individuals also.
In my opinion the judgement given by Hon’ble Supreme Court is credible and up to the point. Otherwise, the Court will only belong to rich people who can afford to contest their case but through this judgement the Court has made it clear that this Court belongs to every citizen of India and everyone has right to justice. Through this judgement the concept of forced labour has also widened which helped many people of unprivileged class to fight their case. It also shows that where there is a breach of beneficial legislation of labour laws that amounts to strict violation of Fundamental Rights of Labour then there is a right to move to Court under Article 32 to seek their grievances, and has made sure that Supreme Court is and will always remain the protector and guarantor of Fundamental Rights.
 S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 Supp SCC 87
 (1978) 1 SCC 248 : AIR 1978 SC 597
 (1981) 1 SCC 688
Author- Kashish Gupta (Invertis University, Bareilly)