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Right Against Exploitation | Overview
- Prohibition on Trafficking in Human Beings and Forced Labour
- Compulsory Service For Public Purposes
- Prohibition of Employment of Children in Factories, Etc.
The Right Against Exploitation includes within its ambit, various forms of enslavements and oppression. It covers aspects of exploitations such as bonded labour, forced labour, prison labour, begar and the most disputed, human trafficking. This also goes on to include the Right Against Exploitation of children below the age of 14 years and the judiciary’s approach to the eradication of such practices.
The Indian Constitution prohibits slavery and any act which harms the dignity and freedom of any person. Many employees are still forced to do work against their will at cheap rates and millions of women and children become victims of human trafficking. Article 23 and Article 24 of the Constitution of India are enshrined with the right against exploitation and this indeed guarantees human dignity and protects people from any such exploitations.
I. Prohibition on Trafficking in Human Beings and Forced Labour
Article 23(1) lays down a prohibition on the trafficking of human beings, beggars, and any other similar form of forced labour. Any contravention of this provision is also made punishable by virtue of Article 23. It explicitly prohibits:
- Human Trafficking: This refers to the sale and purchase of human beings mostly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced prostitution, or forced labour.
- Begar: This is a form of forced labour which refers to forcing a person to work for no remuneration.
- Other forms of forced labour: This includes other forms of forced labour in which the person works for a wage less than the minimum wage. This includes bonded labour wherein a person is forced to work to pay off his debt for inadequate remuneration, prison labour wherein prisoners sent in for rigorous imprisonment are forced to work without even minimum remuneration etc.
(i) Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India
In the instant case, the petition was filed by an organisation that was formed primarily for the protection of the democratic rights of the people. The organization undertook various measures to scrutinize and investigate the working conditions of the various people employed in the Asiad projects.
The investigation threw light on the fact that various labour laws were being violated and hence the instant public interest petition was filed. In this, the case issues like labourers not given the minimum remuneration as mentioned in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and unequal income distribution among men and women were highlighted.
This case is considered to be one of the landmark cases for the Supreme Court had given an interpretation of the scope of Article 23 in this case. The Court observed that the term “force” referred to in this article has a very wide meaning. It includes physical force, legal force, and other economic factors that force a person to provide labour at a wage less than the minimum wage. Hence, if a person is forced to provide labour for less than the minimum wage, just because of poverty, want, destitution, or hunger, it would be accounted for as forced labour.
The Court also went a step further and clarified the meaning of the phrase “all similar forms of forced labour” as enshrined in Article 23 of the Constitution of India. It said that forced labour is not only restricted to begging, but all forms of forced labour are prohibited. The Apex Court observed that irrespective of giving remuneration a person cannot be forced to supply labour against his will.
(ii) Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan
The Court held that the Rajasthan Famine Relief Works Employees (Exemption from Labour Laws) Act, 1964 is constitutionally invalid as to the exclusion of the minimum wage act. This means that minimum wage must be paid to all the people employed by the state for any famine relief work, regardless of whether the person is affected by drought or scarcity or not.
This is important with regard to the aspect that the state does not take advantage of the helpless condition of the people affected by famine, drought, etc. and it also upheld that a fair payment must be given to them by the State since it is only the State which benefits from their hard labour.
(iii) Deena v. Union of India
In this case, it was held that forcing a prisoner to supply labour without paying him any remuneration is deemed to be forced labour and is violative of Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. The court observed that the prisoners are also entitled to receive reasonable wages for the work done by them.
(iv) Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India
The petitioner, Bandhua Mukti Morcha was an organisation that was actively involved in a fight against the system of bonded labour and for the abolition of the same. In the instant case, a Public Interest Litigation was taken up based on the letter written by the organisation to Justice Bhagwati.
In its letter, the organisation had mentioned the various observation that arose out of a survey undertaken by it in various stone quarries in the Faridabad District. One of the crucial observations of the survey was that a huge number of workers were employed in “inhuman and intolerable conditions” and most of them were also ‘forced labourers.’
The Court observed that it is the duty of the state government to identify, release, and rehabilitate the bonded labourers and in addition to this, it also laid down guidelines for the determination of bonded labourers. It was held that any person who is employed as a bonded labour is deprived of his liberty.
It observed that a person forced into labour is deemed to be a slave which in turn curbs his freedom with regard to his employment. It was also held that whenever it is shown that a worker is engaged in forced labour, the Court would presume he is doing so in consideration of some economic consideration and is, therefore, a bonded labour. This presumption can only be rebutted by the employer and the state government if satisfactory evidence is provided for the same.
(v) Kahason Tangkhul v. Simtri Shaili
Certain traditions were followed in Manipur during the pre-independence era whereby each of the house-holders had to offer one day’s free labour to the headman or ‘khullakpa’ of the village. In the present case, this practise that was followed in Manipur was upheld as a custom and the same cannot be deemed to amount to forced labour. However, the appellant disagreed to give one day’s free labour.
Consequently, the respondent came forward and filed a suit against the appellant stating that the appellant continued to ignore the custom even after the court had given directions for it to be followed. The Court, in this case, allowed the appeal and held that the above said the customary practice is violative of Article 23 of the Constitution. It held that the insistence on the part of the Khullakpa to carry on the custom is indeed in a way leading to forced labour since the villagers had to do the same without receiving any remuneration.
(vi) State v. Banwari
In the present case, the appellants were 5 barbers and 2 dhobis who vehemently contested against certain provisions of the U. P. Removal of Social Disabilities Act, 1947 namely Section 3 and Section 6, under which they were convicted.
Section 3 of the act laid down that no person can refuse to render any service to another person on the ground that he belongs to a scheduled caste, provided that such service lies in the ordinary course of business. The appellants contended that this provision was violative of Article 23 of the Constitution. But the Court disagreed and held that making it illegal for a person to refuse service to some person just because that person belongs to scheduled caste does not equate to begar.
II. Compulsory Service For Public Purposes
Article 23(2) of the Constitution in no way prevents the state from imposing compulsory services for public purposes. It also states that while doing this, the state must not discriminate on grounds of religion, race, caste, class, or any of them.
Therefore, even though Article 23 disallows any kind of forced labour, it permits the state to impose compulsory services upon its people for public purposes. The precondition for the same is that while imposing services upon people for state services, the state must take care to not discriminate on grounds of religion, race, caste or class.
Dulal Samanta v. D.M., Howrah
In the instant case, the petitioner was served with a notice appointing him as a special police officer for a period of three months. He complained that this violated his fundamental right as it results in “forced labour”.
The Court disregarded his appeal and held that compulsory enlistment for services of police cannot be considered as either:
- Begar; or
- Trafficking in human beings; or
- Any other similar form of forced labour.
Hence, it held that the notice given for the appointment of a person as a special police officer does not come under the scope of the prohibition under Article 23.
III. Prohibition of Employment of Children in Factories, Etc.
Child labour is considered to be an inhumane and cruel practise, which in a way takes away the chances of such children having a normal childhood. It hinders their growth and also has an effect on the mental well-being of children. It completely disables them from having normal and fun-filled childhood.
It is the duty of the state under Article 39 of the Constitution to ensure that the tender age of children is not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter into fields of work whereby they are forced to provide labour that is unsuitable to their age and physical strength.
Any child under the age of fourteen years cannot be employed as a worker in any factory or be engaged in any other hazardous employment as enshrined under Article 24 of the Constitution. It prohibits the employment of young children in any kind of dangerous or unhealthy conditions which harm their mental and physical strength.
(i) People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India
In the present case, an observation was made by the petitioner as to the working conditions of various workers involved in the Asiad Projects. One such observation was that children under the age of fourteen had been employed in the project. Furthermore, it was contended that such employment was not against any of the provisions of the Employment of Children Act, 1938 since the act did not include the construction industry under the list of hazardous industries.
The Court observed that the construction work and construction industry falls very well within the field of hazardous employment. Thus, the employment of children in construction work was not permitted though the same was not expressly mentioned under the Employment of Children Act, 1938. The Court also directed the state government to amend the schedule and include the construction industry into the list of hazardous industries.
(ii) M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu
In this case, Shri MC Mehta invoked Article 32 of the Constitution, for the Court to look into the violation of fundamental rights of children guaranteed under Article 24. Sivakasi was considered as a big offender who was employing many child labourers.
The main work in Sivakasi was the manufacturing of matches and fireworks. The Court observed this industry is qualified to be brought under the list of hazardous industries thereby prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 14 years in this industry.
The Court reaffirmed that children below the age of fourteen must not be employed in any hazardous industry and it must be seen that all children are given education till the age of 14 years.
The Court also took into consideration Article 39(e) of the Constitution which says that the tender age of children must not be abused and opportunities must be given to them to develop in a healthy manner. In light of this, the Court held that the employer Sivakasi must pay a compensation of Rs. 20000 for employing children in contravention to Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
Since ancient times, the weak have been continuously exploited by the strong. In India also there is a widespread presence of this practice of exploitation. There are many areas in the country where “untouchables” were being exploited in several ways by the higher castes and richer classes.
For instance, in many industries in India like brick kilns, carpet weaving, embroidery, etc., many Bangladeshi and Nepali migrants are being subjected to forced labour. This is indeed considered as recruitment by following means of fraud and debt bondage. Such recruitment and exploitation must be completely done away with.
Child labour is a curse for the nation and it is one of the most shameful and cruel practices which harms the welfare and development of the children and also that of the entire nation. Surveys say that India still has nearly 30 million active child labourers. These figures are indeed terrifying. It is high time the three organs of the Government step up and actively do their part in the eradication of child labour and also punish the offenders.
 The ambit and the scope of Article 23 have been widened to such an extent to ensure that no person is forced into involuntary labour. For instance, it forbids a land-owner to force a landless, poor labourer to render free services. It also imposes a ban on forcing a woman or child into prostitution.
 Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (AIR 1982 SC 1943)
 Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan (AIR 1983 SC 328)
 In this case the state employed a large number of workers for the construction of a road to provide them relief from drought and scarcity conditions prevailing in their area. Their employment came under the scope of the Rajasthan Famine Relief Works Employees (Exemption from Labour Laws) Act, 1964. The people employed for the work were paid less than the minimum wage, which was allowed in the Exemption Act
 Deena v. Union of India (AIR 1983 SC 1155)
 Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (AIR 1984 SC 802)
 Kahason Tangkhul v. Simtri Shaili (AIR 1961 Manipur 1)
 State v. Banwari (AIR 1951 All 615)
 Dulal Samanta v. D.M., Howrah (AIR 1958 Cal. 365)
 People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (AIR 1983 SC 1473)
 M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 1997 SC 699)