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PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS AND OTHERS VS.UNION OF INDIA & OTHERS

Author: Sarika Mittal, IV year of B.A.,LL.B. from UPES, Dehradun

Co-author: Kanika Goswamy, IV year of B.A.,LL.B. from UPES, Dehradun


CASE ANALYSIS- People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Others vs.Union of India & Others, AIR 1982 SC 1473.

COURT – Supreme Court of India

BENCH- Bhagwati, P.N., Islam, Baharul (J).

PARTIES

Appellant: People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Others

Respondent: Union of India & Others.


INTRODUCTION

Labor Laws have constantly been evolving with time, not only through the evolution of laws, including the introduction of 4 uniform codes of law in the year 2020 but also through varying judicial interpretations. People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, 1982 is a landmark judgment in the same aspect; determining the workers' rights and settling specific laws on minimum wages, and conditions of workers, specifically in construction sites, to name a few.


The Apex Court of India, taking into consideration the loose protection of the law, the Right of a worker was enforced by upholding the then labour laws, including the Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, Employment of Children Act, 1970, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, and Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The Court also expanded upon the Right to Life with Dignity and broadened the application of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.


The four new codes, comprising the Code on Wages, Industrial Relations Code, Social Security Code, and the Code on Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions, were created with the advent of Labor Law.Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 has expressly laid down specific criteria involving the creation of a committee, has specifically designed a chapter pertaining to Inter-State Migrant Workers, and has also taken hazardous into consideration places of work, including factories.


PRINCIPLE UTILIZED

The primary principles applied in this case are the Rule of Law and Public Interest Litigation. The idea of the Rule of Law is an imperative concept developed by A.V. Dicey, who traditionally stated that three principles govern it; the supremacy of law, predominance of legal spirit, and equality before the law[i].


The modern notion of the concept states that by acknowledging the presence of law, a government moves towards protecting the fundamental rights of the people and does not merely acknowledge the existence of law but mandates a government to uphold it as supreme and provide protection of core human rights.


Rule of Law functions on two significant aspects, which are;firstly, the action of the Government should be authorized by law and,secondly, the laws so made guide the action of the citizen of that State. According to Joseph Raz, eight principles govern the rule of law, which promote transparency, stability, clarity, and prospectivity when considering the rule of a government.


The Indian Constitution is not specifically referred to the rule of law; however, the Supreme Court of India has, since the inception of the Constitution dealt with such cases with the landmark judgments involving Epuru Sudhakar v. Govt of A. P.[ii] and Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerela[iii].


After the Supreme Court decision in Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar[iv], the idea of public interest litigation was first established in India, wherein the prisoners' rights were put in perspective, and they were kept in horrifying conditions in the prisons. A third party has the locus standi to represent and file a suit on behalf of an affected section of people.


As Abram Chayes defines it as a practice to allow persons with a commitment to promoting social change through the orders of the Court, which reinforces the rights of an individual. Therefore, these act as the extension of the writ jurisdiction and can be filed under Article 32 before the Supreme Court or under Article 226 before the High Court.


The idea of Rule of Law has been used by the Court to reiterate that legal protection should not be confined to a select group of people or that strong interests shouldn't be permitted to exploit the law. It widened the ambit of this principle as the Court firmly stated that the underprivileged have civil and political rights. By applying this principle, the restructuring of society in terms of economic and social benefits for the oppressed is enabled.


Because the focus is on public interest and social benefit. A distinction between an ordinary course of litigation and this form of litigation is that. In contrast, a private lawsuit is retroactive, meaning the Court must address questions of fact and the law relating to previous events; a public interest case is prospective. The Petitioner wants to stop a situation or a government policy that is harmful to the public interest from continuing in the future[v].


This concept was applied in the present case due to the under-representation of the unprivileged class in the Court of law. Enforcement of the rights of underprivileged sections of society has been relatively rare. Therefore, the principle of Public Interest Litigation has allowed members of society(third parties) to go to the courts and represent the welfare of such segments.


FACTS OF THE CASE

In August of 1981, the People's Union for Democratic Rights visited several construction sites and, in lieu of their visit had filed a case for violation of Article 24 of the Indian Constitution, which states that children who are below the age of 14 years cannot be employed in places of work which are deemed to be hazardous. The labourers working on ASIAD-82, which refers to the Asian Games, 1982 being hosted in Delhi, India, were made to work beyond the working hours fixed by the law and were also not paid their minimum daily wages[vi].


This leads to the workers living in dreadful conditions with their children becoming prey to undernourishment and being exploited as child labourers, workers themselves becoming victims of several mishaps and many more tragedies. Despite the atrocious employment conditions, the labourers were forced to complete the project in a short period.


Another writ petition was filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution on November 16, 1981, by the People Union for Democratic Rights to highlight the growing concerns over workers' conditions involved in construction work. Therefore, the petition was filed as "Public Interest Litigation," which was then dealt instantly with by the Supreme Court of India.


ISSUES

1. Can the Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution be maintained against the private individual?

2. Is this petition upheld if there is only a violation of the workers' ordinary rights under labour law rather than their fundamental rights?

3. Does Article 21 of the Indian Constitution also include the rights to a livelihood and to a dignified life?


CONTENTIONS FROM BOTH SIDES

PETITIONER

1. According to the petitioner, there is a breach of fundamental rights, hence the petition is legitimate under Article 32. The violation of statutory laws may satisfy the necessary condition for maintaining the petition under Article 32 for violation of any basic right. For an instance, the breach of Article 14 by the respondent by not enforcing the Equal Remuneration Act amounts to a denial of equality.


2. The Union of India, the Delhi Administration, and the Delhi Development Authority, which have entrusted construction projects to these contractors, cannot dodge their duty to ensure that they comply with numerous labour rules, even when the petition involves public interest litigation.


3. It was argued that there was a breach of the Minimum Wages Act, of 1948. Different authorities were there for further process of the projects, and the various exact contractors were employed by the authorities to carry out the project smoothly. According to Section 7 of the Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970, they were listed as the primary employees. To find employees, these contractors hired "Jamadars." However, rather than the actual labourers, these jamadars received minimal wages.


4. According to the petitioners, the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976, was also broken by the compensation given to female employees. Men received Rs. 8.25 per day, while women received only Rs. 7, with the remaining funds being stolen by the Jamadars.


5. Due to the contractors' use of children under the age of 14 in the construction work of the various projects, there was a breach of article 24 of the Indian Constitution and section 3(3) of the Employment of Children Acts, 1938.


6. The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, which went into effect in the Union Territory of Delhi on October 2, 1980, was also broken by the Contractors. The Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition) Act of 1970 also prohibited employers from denying employees access to medical care and other services, in violation of the Act's provisions.


RESPONDENT

1. The respondent argued that the petition filed by the petitioners lacked locus standi and under Article 32 is not maintainable as there is no infringement of the Fundamental Rights of the workforce; instead, simplylabour laws are in concern; therefore, no cause of action has aroused. Hence it should be dismissed.


2. Additionally, it was contended that the employees of private contractors, not the respondents, were those whose rights were allegedly violated. Additionally, no writ petition could be brought against the respondents because the workers' cause of action, if any, was against the contractors rather than them.


3. Respondents denied the allegations regarding the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 and contended that every provision was taken into consideration of the regulations; reasonable and justifiable stops were taken against the contractors by way of prosecution.


4. The respondents maintained that because construction labour is not specified as a dangerous workplace, neither Article 24 of the Indian Constitution nor the Employment of Children Act, 1938, was violated.


5. Last but not least, it was argued that the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, could not be implemented because the rules that were to be made under the Act were not finalised until June 4, 1982, even though the Administrator of Delhi was given the authority to enforce the provisions on July 14, 1981.


JUDGEMENT WITH RATIO DECIDENDI

  • While addressing the first question, the Supreme Court upheld the Right of Poor Workers to Approach the Apex Court Directly under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to Enforce Rights Created by Different Labour Laws[vii]. It was determined that the petitioner organisation has locus standi to petition this court on behalf of poor, uneducated, and illiterate people because, first, they were acting in good faith, and second, this court has abolished the traditional rule of judicial standing[viii], which only permits those who have suffered a legal injury to petition the court, in the Case of Judges' Appointment and Transfer[ix], revolutionising the concept with a view to achieving justice.

  • Regarding the second point, it was held that, while the Contractors engaged the workers, it was the respondent authorities who committed the Asiad project to the Contractors. Therefore, they could not avoid their responsibility to follow numerous labour rules. Also, Respondent authorities, as Principal Employers, were obligated to provide amenities and allowances to workers under Section 20 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, and Sections 17 and 18 of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, and the failure of the contractors to do so is enforceable against the Government. In addition to that, the employment of children under the age of 14 is prohibited under Article 24 of the Constitution[x].

  • The Union of India, the Delhi Administration, or the Delhi Development Authority, as the case may be, are required to uphold the law and prevent such infractions as a result of the infringement of constitutional rights. One may bring a petition against them.


  • Regarding the third issue, the Court rejected the respondents' defence that there is no breach of the FR and that this writ petition is viable due to a violation of the FR. To authenticate that, below are four critical aspects of the Petitioner's claim that are in direct accordance with the execution of Fundamental Rights:

1. Equal Remuneration Act, 1946- Petitioners claim that not paying equivalent compensation to men and women for equal work violates Article 14's Right to equality and so can be included in Article 32 of the Constitution of India.


2. Employment of Children Acts, 1938 - The petitioner brings up the hiring of adolescents under the age of 14 to work on a construction site for the Asian Games, a blatant infringement of Article 24 of the Constitution.


3. Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 and Contract Labour Act, 1970- The right to live with fundamental human dignity has been added to Article 21 as a result of the rulings in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[xi] and Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator and Ors.[xii] The two helpful laws were created to protect the labourers' fundamental human dignity, which the respondents continue to deny them.


4. Minimum Wages Act, 1948- Non-payment of wages or providing remuneration below the minimum rate violates Article 23, which outlaws forced labour and human trafficking. Article 23 can be used against the Government and private persons, as the Constitution's creators intended to defend the rights of the vast majority of individuals who fall into the lower socio-economic strata.


  • Finally, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life)[xiii] and found that it now includes the "Right to live with fundamental human dignity" in the case at hand. It further stated that the right to live with fundamental human dignity encompasses both bonded labour and forced labour. As a part of fundamental Human Dignity, the rights and benefits provided to workers under various labour laws were elevated to the position of Fundamental Rights.


ANALYSIS

In my opinion, the Supreme Court has again evinced being the protector and guarantor of Fundamental Rights for every country's citizen. Firstly, it has dispelled the myth held by some lawyers, journalists, and men in public life that public interest litigation unnecessarily clogs the Court's files and adds to the already staggering backlog of cases that are pending and has for the first time held that the Court's doors are being opened to the poor. Through public interest litigation, the courts are being presented with issues involving the oppressed, uneducated, and illiterate people.


Secondly, private individuals can also be held liable if they violate the Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution, and it's not only the State against whom it can be enforceable. And lastly, it broadened the purview of Article 21 and provided a thorough understanding of the term "life" under this article. As a result, the Court has clarified the laws' meaning in order to serve the interests of the general public and uphold justice.


CASES REFERRED

1. Baily vs. Alabama, 219 US 219 55 L Ed 191.

2. Food Craft Instt. vs. Rameshwar Sharma and Anr. 134 (2006) DLT 49.

3. Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi 1981 SCR (2) 516.

4. Hindaloo Industries Ltd. vs. Suman Lata Tuteja and Ors. 129 (2006) DLT 649.

5. Janata Dal &Ors. vs. H.S. Chowdhary &Ors. (1991) INSC 215.

6. Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India 1978 AIR 597.

7. Pollock vs. Williams, 322 US 4.

8. S.P Gupta vs. Union of India (1981) Supp SCC 87.

9. Epuru Sudhakar vs. Govt of A.P. AIR 2006 SC 3385.

10. Keshavananda Bharti vs. State of Kerela AIR 1973 SC 1461.

11. Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar 1979 AIR 1819.

[i]Rabindra Kr. Pathak, The Virtue of Rule of Law, 7 RMLNLUJ (2015) 121. [ii](2006) 8 SCC 161. [iii](1973) 4 SCC 225. [iv]1980 SCC (1) 98. [v]N. Santosh Hegde, Public Interest Litigation and Control of Government, 4 Stud Adv (1992) 1. [vi]Shailendra Kishore Singh, Rhetoric and the “Rule of Law” vis-à-vis The Supreme Court of India, CNLU LJ (2) [2011-2012] 82. [vii] Aditya Tripathi,Case Summary- PUDR v. Union of India (UOI), LawLex.org (October 20, 2022, 2:30 pm). [viii] Kashish Gupta, Case Analysis on People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India, LawBhoomi (October 22, 2022, 12:35pm). [ix]S.P Gupta vs. Union of India (1981) Supp SCC 87. [x]Gautam Bhatia, “The Freedom to Work: PUDR v. Union of India and the meaning of Forced Labour under the Indian Constitution” SSRN (2017) 15. [xi]1978 AIR 597. [xii]1981 SCR (2) 516. [xiii]Supra Note viii, Gautam Bhatia.

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