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The case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of India & Ors., is a historic judgement in the field of bonded labour in India. In 1976, Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act was passed. The unembellished requirement of Article 21 is that the bonded labourers must be identified and released and suitably rehabilitated. The Act has been enacted pursuant to Directive Principles of State Policy with the view to ensure human dignity to the bonded labour and any failure of action on the part of State would be a violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- Certain principles of policy to be followed by the State: The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing
(e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength;
(f) that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment
- Provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief
The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a petition that can be filed by any member of the public for any matter of public interest, for redress of public wrong or injury to any person or group of persons, who because of their poverty or socially or economically disadvantaged positions are unable to approach for relief.
Citation: AIR 1984 SC 803
Judges: Chief Justice Bhagwati, P.N. Pathak, Amrendra Nath Sen.
Bandhua Mukti Morcha is an organisation dedicated to the cause of the release of bonded labours. The organisation informed the Supreme Court through a letter that they conducted a survey of the stone quarries situated in Faridabad District of the State of Haryana and found that there were a large number of labours working in these stone-quarries under ‘inhuman and intolerable conditions’ and many of them were bonded labours.
They requested Supreme Court to issue a writ for proper implementation of the various provisions of the Constitution and statutes with a view to ending the misery, suffering and helplessness of these labours, and release them from bonded labour.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court treated the said letter as a writ petition and on 26th February 1982 appointed a Commission consisting of Mr Ashok Shrivastava and Mr Askok Panda to enquire into the allegations made by the Petitioner.
- Whether Public Interest litigation under Article 32 of the Constitution is maintainable or not?
- Whether fundamental rights of labourers are infringed in the current case?
- Petitioners contended court to issue a writ for proper implementation of the various provisions of the social welfare legislation, such as Mines Act 1952, Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1979, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, Minimum Wages Act 1948 etc. applicable to these labourers working in the said stone quarries with a view to ending their misery and helplessness.
- Respondent contended that the Public Interest Litigation cannot be filed under Article 32 as writ petition and petitioners have no locus standi to file the present petition.
- Respondent contended that the Commissioner appointed in the present matter are beyond the scope of Order XLVI of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966 and therefore no reliance can be placed on the said reports.
- That even if the workmen filed affidavits to the effect that they had taken advances from the thekedar or mine lessees or the stone crusher owners and they were not being allowed to leave the premises of the establishment until the advances were paid off, that would not be enough evidence for them to be declared bonded labourers, because the mine lessees and stone crusher owners had no opportunity to cross-examine the workmen making such affidavits.
- Chief Justice Bhagawati speaking for the Bench held that PIL is not in the nature of adversary litigation but it is a challenge and an opportunity for the Government and its officers to take basic human rights meaningful to the deprived sections of the society.
It went to state that when the court entertains PIL, it does not do so in a cavilling spirit or in a controversial mood or with a view to tilting executive authority, but its attempt is only to endure observance of social and economic programmes framed for the benefit of deprived sections and to protect basic human rights.
Justice Pathak and Justice Sen although agreed with Justice Bhagawati that PIL through letter should be permitted, but expressed the view that in entertaining such petitions the court must be cautious so that might not be abused.
- Supreme Court said that when public interest litigation is initiated alleging that certain workmen are living in bondage and under inhuman conditions, it is not expected of the government to raise such preliminary objections.
Instead, the Government should welcome an inquiry by the Court, so that it can be found if there are workers living in bondage or otherwise providing forced labour, and the Government can set right such a situation.
- Article 32 (2) includes within its matrix, power to issue any direction, order or writs which may be appropriate for the enforcement of the fundamental right in question and this is made amply clear by the inclusive nature of the clause which refers to writ in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari. Therefore SC has the power to appoint Commission for enquiry.
- It is a fundamental right of everyone in this country, assured under the interpretation given to Art. 21 by this Court in Francis Mullin’s case to live with human dignity, free from exploitation.
This right to live with human dignity enshrined in Art. 21 derives its life breath from the Directive Principle of State Policy and particularly clause (e) and (f) of Art. 39 and Art. 41 and 42 and at the least, therefore, it must include protection of the health and strength of the workers, men and women, and of the tender age of children against abuse, opportunities and facilities for children to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, educational facilities, just as humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
These are the minimum requirements that must exist in order to enable a person to live with human dignity, and no State- neither the Central Government- has the right to take any action which will deprive a person of the enjoyment of these basic essentials.
We may conclude it by stating the court permitting the Public Interest Litigation gave instance to public-spirited citizens for the enforcement of Constitutional and legal rights. The Court in Neerja Chaudhari v. State of M.P enumerated the importance of the abolition of bonded labour by stating that, it is not enough merely to identify and release bonded labour it is important that they must be rehabilitated because without rehabilitation they would be driven to poverty, helplessness, and despair thus into serfdom once again.
 (1981) 1 SCC 608.
 AIR 1984 SC 1099.
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