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PUDR v/s Union Of India

This case comment talks about how an organization named PUDR, which works for protection and welfare of the democratic rights of the people filed a PIL against the State because they were negligent in providing the daily minimum wages to the labourers and failed to provide a healthy working environment for the poor, they were suffering but was not in any position to approach the court, so this organization after analyzing and interviewing various workers filed the petition in bona fide intention. Here there is the violation of Article 21, 23, 24 of the Indian constitution, The minimum wages act, Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition Act), 1970, The Equal Remuneration Act,1976.

Case Analysis
  1. Facts of the case
    PUDR is an organization which is working for the protection of citizen's democratic rights. It is observed that the workers who were working on the ASIAD-82 project were not given healthy environment and were not provided with daily minimum wages. They have to work at the sites both on stadia and the infrastructure like hotels, flyovers etc.

    The workers were forced to complete the project as early as possible and was known as "Begar" as they were recruited by the construction contractors without having fixed working hours and they were not paid.

    Because of this their children were lacking the basic necessities and were forced to be malnourished and became the victims to the accidents.

    PUDR, an organization which works for improving the working conditions of the citizens and to provide their rights, employed three ombudsmen (social scientists), who after analyzing could bring out the report on the exploitation and living conditions of workmen working under the contractors employed by Union of India.

    PUDR, also visited major sites and after interviewing various employees filed a Writ petition before the Supreme Court on November 16, 1981. By the way of PIL, it requested 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. The scientists were to submit weekly reports to the Hon'ble Supreme Court relating to the cases of violation of the laws.
     
  2. Issue:
    • Whether the Writ petition can be maintainable against the private individual under Article 32 of the Constitution of India?
    • Whether Article 21 of the Constitution of India also include right to live with human dignity and right to livelihood?
       
  3. Arguments from the Petitioner's side:
    • The petitioner argued that the contractors engaged the workers through Jamadars who brought them from different parts of India and were not paid the daily minimum wages. They were to be paid Rs 9.25 per day, but were only given Rs 8.25 per day as Rupee one per day was deducted by the jamadars as their commission. Hence, they violated the provisions of Minimum Wages Act.
       
    • There was violation of The Equal Remuneration Act,1976 as women workers were paid less and their wage was misappropriated by the contractors as they get only Rs 7 per day for their hard work.
       
    • Article 24 was violated as the sites engaged children below 14 years of age to work in factories and mines which are hazardous for them.
       
    • The provisions of Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition Act), 1970 was violated which resulted in the exploitation of the workers as they were not provided with the facilities and they were deprived of their right to proper living conditions and medical related facilities.
       
    • Article 23 was also violated as the labourers were not given the daily wages which they were entitled to, so it is the form of forced labour. If they are getting less wages then the minimum wages, their work will be considered as a forced labour or termed as Beggar.

       
  4. Arguments from the Respondent's side:
    • The Respondent claimed that the Petitioner was in no position for locus standi in which they filed the writ petition as there was no violation of their rights. It was the labourers whose rights were infringed and they should have filed the petition because there is no cause of action aroused for the petitioner i.e. PUDR.
       
    • The Respondent argued that the workers were actually directly employed by the contractors and not the respondents, hence they are not liable for the violation of their rights. The cause of action was against the contractors and not the respondents, so the petition could not lay against them. The writ petition under section 32 cannot lie against the respondents for the alleged violations.
       
    • The Employment of Children Act 1938 is concerned the case of the Union of India, the Delhi Administration and the Delhi Development Authority was that no complaint in regard to the violation of the provisions of that Act was at any time received by them and they disputed that there was any violation of these provisions by the contractors. It was also contended on behalf of these Authorities that the Employment of Children Act 1938 was not applicable in case of employment in the construction work of these projects, since construction industry is not a process specified in the Schedule and is therefore not within the provisions of sub 474 section (3) of section 3 of that Act.[1]

     
  5. Judgment
    It was held by the Hon'ble Court that 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 is correct.[2] The court said that if the violations of labour laws are to be punished only be meagre fines then it is not possible to maintain the strictness and ensure observance of the laws as the people will become reluctant because they have to pay very less in terms of crimes they have committed. The laws would be mere tigers without any teeth or claws.

    The Petitioner presents that the it is true that they were not in the position to file the writ petition as they were designed for the welfare of the workers, so it would only be the labourers who should file the petition because they are whom the legal injury has been occurred and they should approach the court for the redressal. But the traditional rule of standing was a result of inheritance of the Anglo-Saxon system of Jurisprudence which is now broken and the doctrine of locus standi is its new dimension.

    As there are many socioeconomic conditions prevailing in the country which is faced with poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, disability, it deprives the poor to approach the court and fight for their rights in order to get justice. Thus any member acting in a bona fide and out of any extraneous motivation may move to the court for the redress of the legal injury suffered by the persons who cannot fight for themselves because of their conditions. The petitioner is an organization who works for the protection of the rights of the workers. Thus it is clearly maintainable.

    The petitioner says that although it is true that the workers were the employees of the contractors, this cannot escape the obligation of the respondents to keep a check on various labour laws and their enforcement. So far as the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 is concerned, it is clear that under section 20, if any amenity required to be provided under sections 16, 17, 18 or 19 for the benefit of the workmen employed in an establishment is not provided by the contractor, the obligation to provide such amenity rests on the principal employer and therefore if in the construction work of the Asiad projects, the contractors do not carry out the obligations imposed upon them by any of these sections, the Union of India, the Delhi Administration and the Delhi Development Authority as principal employers would be liable and these obligations would be enforceable against them.[3] In section 17 & 18 of the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of service) the principal employer is liable to pay the migrant workers their daily wages and if they fail to do so it will be enforceable against them.

    The mines employed children below the age of 14 years in a hazardous work which is harmful for the children and it is also the duty of the respondents (The Union of India, Delhi Developmental Authority and Delhi Administration) to make sure that this obligation is being followed by the contractors.

    The respondents presented that the petition was not maintainable under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, unless some breach of fundamental right is being present. The court held that the petition is valid in the court.

    The petitioner presented that Article 23 which is clearly designed to protect the individual and it prohibits traffic in human beings and other forms of forced labour and Begar. It is not merely "beggar" which is prohibited by Article 23 but also all other forms of forced labour as it is violative of human dignity and contrary to basic human values, therefore, violates Article 21 also.

    Political freedom had no meaning unless it was accompanied by social and economic freedom and it was therefore necessary to carry forward the social and economic revolution with a view to creating social economic conditions in which everyone would be able to enjoy basic human rights and participate in the fruits of freedom and liberty in an egalitarian social and economic framework.

    The court held that Article 21 means right to life which also includes right to live with basic human dignity. We may add that whenever any construction work is being carried out either departmentally or through contractors, the government or any other governmental authority including a public sector corporation which is carrying out such work must take great care to see that the provisions of the labour laws are being strictly observed.

    The legal aid movement and public interest litigation seek to bring justice to these forgotten specimens of humanity who constitute the bulk of the citizens of India and who are really and truly the "People of India" who gave to themselves this magnificent Constitution. It is true that there are large arrears pending in the courts but, that cannot be any reason for denying access to justice to the poor and weaker sections of the community.

    No State has a right to tell its citizens that because a large number of cases of the rich and the well-to-do are pending in our courts, we will not help the poor to come to the courts for seeking justice until the staggering load of cases of people who can afford, is disposed of.

    The Petition was allowed.
     
  6. Personal opinion:
    "Since human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible, the full realization of civil and political rights without the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights is impossible."[4]

    This case depicts that the rule of law does not mean that its protection will be given to only the fortunate people who are few in number or only the interests of such people will be protected who can approach the court, rather the poor too have civil and political rights and the Rule of Law is applicable for them also. The lowest strata also have the right that needs to be protected because they are the people who constitute large amount of population which are still living in poor conditions, poverty has sapped their moral fibre. These people do not have adequate resources or knowledge which can tell them when to approach the court or not.

    We have to restructure the social and economic order so that they will be able to realize their social, economic and cultural rights, they will be responsible.

    The Court did the right thing in favoring the petitioners because they were fighting for the rights of those workers which were denied access to basic necessities and daily minimum wages. Public interest litigation is essentially a collaborative effort who will ensure the observance of these constitutional rights of the workers which have been infringed. The State in fact should welcome these kind of petitions as it is giving an opportunity to right a wrong and will provide equity and justice for all.

    Now this is the right time when the courts must become the courts for equity and justice to provide every citizen their rights.

    Judges should make sure that very strict penalties are being given to those who are violating the labour laws in order to improve the conditions of workers and employees.

    Hence it is correctly held by the court that The Union Of India, Delhi Development Authority must not escape from their obligation to ensure the observance of labour laws and whether they are being violated or not, if so, they should take actions against the same.

Conclusion

Some of the fundamental rights can be enforced even against private individuals and it is not that fundamental rights can only be enforced against the state. Private individuals are held responsible if fundamental rights are violated under the Constitution of India. It has been observed that how the courts in the matters of the rights of the poor in the society can do complete justice, break the chains of rules and regulations and by bending and molding them, it is used for the benefit of the people and for public welfare i.e. free.

Here in this case the rights of the workers were at issue and it was a great demand from the side of justice to respond at some point in the workers' affairs. It was seen and observed that even after 30 years of independence till these case workers were being exploited and their rights were violated at times by their employers.

The case lays great emphasis on how the concept of PIL (Public Interest Litigation, then newly introduced) can be used for the public good at large and how compensation and relief can be obtained through law in exchange for the atrocities they have suffered.

The main purpose and function of law is to create greater happiness at the lowest possible cost, which means that justice should prevail in society through the proper application of laws and statutes.

This case law provides important knowledge about various laws and their interpretation under the Constitution of India. It provides an in-depth knowledge of the judicial interpretation of the word 'life' under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

How the Courts by their powers can create and interpret for the benefit of the general public to do full justice, words which, if not interpreted, would remain ambiguous or be limited to a mere definite meaning.

End-Notes:
  1. PUDR VS.UOI (LABOUR LAW).pdf
  2. www.ejusticeindia.com
  3. www.lawinsider.in
  4. PUDR VS.UOI (LABOUR LAW).pdf

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