The case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs Union of India and Ors is one of the historical judgments in contention with the upliftment of Bonded labor in India. The petitioner is Bandhua Mukti Morcha which is a philanthropic non-governmental organization that works for the welfare of individuals and is dedicated to the cause of the release of bonded laborers in the country.
Facts of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Case
The petitioner Bandhua Mukti Morcha, in an attempt to voice their issues wrote a letter to Justice P N Bhagwati on 25th February 1982. They contended that according to the survey conducted by them in some of the stone quarries situated in the Faridabad district of Haryana, there were a large number of laborers who were constantly under extremely “inhumane and intolerable conditions”.
The letter described the despicable working conditions of the stone quarries. There were a large number of bonded laborers who were from different parts of the country. The letter listed the names of 11 employees working for Rajasthan, 30 from Madhya Pradesh, and 14 for Uttar Pradesh and their statements concerning their vulnerability. The letter shade light on the plight of workers in quarries and how they had impotable water to drink that came from nullahs and they did not even have proper shelter to live in. They lived in Jhuggies, which only had a straw covering the top. The dusty atmosphere of the quarries and fatal injuries to the workers were neglected and not even provided compensation.
The petitioners prayed for the issuance of a writ petition in order to implement labour welfare laws such as the 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, and others in a way that was appropriate.
The Apex court treated the letter as a writ petition and appointed a special commission to investigate the charges made by the petitioners. Hon’ble Supreme Court issued a notice regarding the appointment of two attorneys to investigate this matter, namely, Ashok Shrivastava and Ashok Panda as Commissioner. The Commission submitted its report on investigation of stone quarries on 2nd of March, 1982. Following were the findings of the report:
- The atmosphere in the stone quarries was dusty to an extent that it was very difficult to breathe;
- Workmen were not allowed to leave the stone quarries and were providing forced labour;
- Labours did not even have pure water for drinking, they were compelled to drink contaminated water from nullahs;
- Moreover, they did not even have a proper shelter to live in, they lived in Jhuggies which was only made of piled stones and straws;
- Workmen were inhumanely neglected upon casualties for medical assistance;
- They were not even paid compensation for the injuries they suffered during the course of their employment.
In order for the State Government and its employees to take the appropriate action to address the issue, the Court had also tasked Dr Patwardhan of the Indian Institute of Technology with conducting a socio-legal inquiry to ascertain the veracity of the state’s functions.
Provisions Involved In Bandhua Mukti Morcha Case
- Article 32 of the Indian Constitution
- Article 21 of the Indian Constitution
- Article 23(1) of the Indian Constitution
- Bonded Labour System Act, 1976
- Mines Rules, 1955
- Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
- Mines Vocational Training Rules, 1966
Issues Raised In Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs Union Of India And Ors Case
- Whether the letter addressed to Judge be treated as a Writ Petition?
- Whether there was any infringement of Fundamental Rights?
- Whether Supreme Court is empowered to appoint a Commission?
- Whether the provisions of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 can be attracted?
Firstly, the concerns raised by the petitioner organization stating their side of the case was conveyed through a letter. The Court in its capacity treated it as a writ petition. The petitioner organization was acting in the capacity of pro bono publico, addressing the vulnerability of the stone quarry employees. The petitioner, however, did not make a legal argument.
The concerns/contentions raised by the petitioners in the aforementioned letter were:
- The entire environment of the stone quarries was extremely harmful and fatal that they were not able to even breathe due to the dusty atmosphere;
- Some labourers were forcibly restricted from leaving the quarries;
- The workers were constrained to drink contaminated water from nullahs; they did not even have the facility of unadulterated water for drinking;
- The workers were not having a safe shelter to live in, they were living in Jhuggies;
- Some of the workers were suffering from chronic illnesses and there was no medical facility made available to them;
- Workers were being paid any kind of compensation on account of injuries occurring to them in due course of their employment.
The respondents contended on the following points:
1) That the writ petition in the instant case is not maintainable before this Hon’ble Court as a non-verified letter cannot be treated as a writ petition under the ambit of Article 32. Also, the petitioner reflects no locus standi in the instant case;
2) That Article 32 cannot be attracted in the instant case as there is no infringement of fundamental rights of petitioner and therefore the petition is not maintainable;
3) That Article 32 does not empower this Hon’ble Court to appoint any kind of commission or investigating body and the court has acted ultra vires the scope and extent of Order XLVI of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966;
4) The reports submitted by the commission cannot be relied upon as they lack evidentiary value; since they are merely based on ex-parte remarks that have not been put to the test via cross-examination;
5) That the provisions of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 cannot be invoked in the present case. There must be some sufficient proof provided on the part of workers that they were put into forced labour and were wrongfully confined in the quarries. In the instant case, there is no such conclusive proof that can be considered to prove the bondage of labour existed.
6) That the petitioners do not fall within the ambit of meaning provided in the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
Judgement Of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Case
The court in accordance with the maintainability of the Petition held that the letter addressed to the court can be treated as a writ petition if at all it is made in the interest of public. While giving the judgement, the court focussed on the importance of protecting children’s right to education, health, and development in ensuring India’s progress as a democracy. Since the court declared the petition maintainable, it directed the Government of Haryana, the Centre, and other body authorities as follows:
1) Within six weeks of the final judgment date, the Government of Haryana shall establish a Vigilance Committee in each area of the state in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Act of 1976 and the rules established in the said case.
2) The plan or program for the rehabilitation of liberated slaves was to be submitted to the Haryana government within three months of the date of the judgement.
3) The Haryana government would see to it that owners pay salaries directly to the workers, and regular inspections will be performed to prove this.
4) The District Magistrate would be given the responsibility of designating Bonded Laborers as one of the priority actions by the Government of Haryana. The DM will also be responsible for conducting labor camps, releasing bound employees, and mapping dangerous regions.
5) Political parties and nonprofit groups should help the State Government to enforce the 1976 Act’s implementation.
6) The federal government and the state of Haryana will take all necessary measures to guarantee that people employed in stone quarries and stone crushers get the legal minimum wage.
7) For the goal of teaching employees about the rights and advantages they enjoy under social and labor regulations, the Central Board of Workers Education will hold recurrent camps close to the stone quarries in the Faridabad area.
8) The women and children who maintain the machinery that stores drinking water must get at least the minimum salary, according to the governments.
9) According to Section 20 of the Mines Act of 1952 and Rules 33 to 36 of the Mines Act of 1955, the State Government shall ensure the provision of restrooms with latrines and urinals.
10) The owners must notify the Chief Inspector or officer in charge of inspection of the Central or State Government immediately if an employee suffers an injury or contracts a disease after being hired. The Chief Inspector or officer in charge of inspection will then give the employees legal assistance so they can bring a claim before the Court or appropriate authority.
11) In order to examine stone quarries and look into interstate migrant workers, the Supreme Court nominated Mr. Laxmi Dhar Misra, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Labor, and the Government of India, as a Commissioner. Additionally, the Commissioner was tasked with ensuring that all welfare laws were being followed in certain regions.
Rationale Of The Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs Union Of India And Ors Case Judgement
The Supreme Court in accordance with the issue of locus standi negated that argument taking the reference from S.P. Gupta v. Union of India. In the aforementioned case, the court had ruled that anybody acting bona fide may seek the court under the ambit of Article 32 and Article 226 of the Constitution on behalf of the people who are suffering from poverty, ignorance and lack of resources. Hence, the court reversed its prior view that only aggrieved persons can approach the court for remedy. The court, in response to respondent’s contention that there was no infringement of fundamental rights, commented that the government is not expected to submit such objections at the outset of the current PIL that argued that, certain workers were in slavery and under inhumane conditions. Instead, the Government must consent to the court’s investigation to determine if any slave labour or other forms of forced labour exist. The PIL is a challenge and opportunity for the government to protect Fundamental Rights for the weakest and most despicable segments of the society; it is not an adversarial litigation by nature. The respondent’s position on issue 3 regarding the nomination of Commissioners, according to the court, is based on an incorrect understanding of the procedures under Section 32 of the Constitution. In its matrix, Article 32 (2) includes the authority to make any orders, writs, or directions that may be relevant to the exercise of the relevant basic right; this is made clear in the concurrent form of the phrase.
Further, the claim made by the Respondent that the workers bear the burden of evidence under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, is incorrect. In response to this concern, the Apex Court stated that anytime the subject of forced labor is brought up in court, there is a strong likelihood that the workers are doing it in exchange for money or other benefits. Although the Supreme Court does not have the authority to appoint a commission to conduct investigations, the Supreme Court Rules of 1966 do state that a commission may be appointed by the Supreme Court only for the purpose of questioning witnesses, conducting judicial investigations, and checking accounts. However, it would be false to say that the Court’s authority was exceeded when the commission was issued. Since nothing in Order XLVII of the Supreme Court Rules shall be construed as restricting or affecting the Court’s local jurisdiction to issue orders as may be required for the sake of justice, Rule 6 of that Order states that nothing in those rules will be understood to do so.
Overview of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Case Judgement
In my opinion, the Supreme Court has rightly placed the directions before the appropriate authority with a view of curbing the social dilemma of bonded labour as well as creating awareness about the issue of child labour. It is crystal clear that the Apex Court’s judgement was successful in serving justice to the victims as well as it was able to give fair reasoning to its decision. According to me, the directions of the Apex court in present case restored the confidence of petitioners and other such people like them in the judiciary. The rationale of the Apex Court was quite contrary to that of the State Government but it did put out strong contentions and came out as the true protectors of the society. And so the judgement was indeed a remarkable and important one because no one deserves to be treated with disrespect and live in an inhumane condition with no dignity. Since the Supreme Court is responsible for protecting people’s rights, it is crucial for the court to safeguard citizens from any wrongdoing. The fact that so many people lack literacy and are ignorant of the rules and rights that govern society offers the wealthy and strong an opportunity to take advantage of the weak and employ unjust measures that put them at risk in a variety of circumstances. Therefore, in this instance, if the bonded workers had not been heard and denied the rights that they were due, it would have had a negative effect on the populace and jeopardized the judiciary’s credibility. As a result, the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental rights and reinstated the rights of the bonded laborers in the case.
- Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of India AIR 1984 SC 802
- P. Gupta v Union of India AIR 1982 SC 149
- Jain M.P., Indian Constitutional Law (7th edn, Lexis Nexis 2014)
- Shukla V.N. (ed), Constitution of India (12th edn, Eastern Book Company 2016)
- Mantri G., ‘It’s 2020 but bonded labour is still a reality in India: Here’s why’ (the news minute, 28 January 2020) <https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/it-s-2020-bonded-labour-still-reality-india-here-s-why-116977> accessed 22 June 2022
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