During a disaster or emergency state the government can take additional aid from the civilian workforce but the service must not be free of cost. The government needs to pay the minimum wage set at that time to those workforces. In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan Famine Relief Work Employee Act, 1964 was challenged as the Act exempted the applicability of Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The State government undertook relief work in the drought area with the objective to facilitate some form of work to those people. But the payment made to them for the service they rendered was less than the minimum wage. The court invalidated the section of the Famine relief work employment Act which exempted the application of Minimum Wage Act, 1948.
The scope of this Article restrained the practice of bonded labour and declared it illicit by enacting the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, a PIL was filed by addressing a letter to Justice P.N.Bhagwati alleging the pathetic conditions of the labourers working in inhumane environment as bonded labour at stone quarries of Haryana. The petitioner also highlighted the gross violation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. The court ordered inquiries and investigations which displayed the pathetic conditions of the labourers at the Stone quarries. The Apex Court while passing the decree of this Public Interest litigation affirmed bonded labour as a crude form of forced labour and guided the state of Uttar Pradesh for implementation of the above Act.
The Supreme Court in case of Neerja Chaudhury v. State of Madhya Pradesh correlated the issue of bonded to an individual’s right to protection of life and personal liberty embodied under Article 21 and further affirmed that if the State fails to execute the provisions of the Act, it would be considered as the encroachment of Article 21 and 23 the Indian Constitution.
Even though Article 23 does not explicitly mention children yet this Article is more relevant and applicable for them as they are the most valuable asset of our country. In rural India, children were pledged by their parents to the landlords for full-time servant or part-time workers to look after domestic and agricultural works. The expression begar used in Article 23 can be given a wide implication with regards to children as begging does not only mean service rendered without payment but also includes insufficient payment made for the work rendered by children which even amounts to begar or forced labour. The innocent and delicate children are subjugated and maimed by the criminal gang to use them for begging business results in violation of Article 23.
The constitution further safeguards the labours by imposing a liability on the State under Part IV which deals with Directive Principles of State Policy. Although Part IV of the Indian Constitution is non justifiable but it is considered incontrovertible for the purpose of good administration. Article 39 guides the state to assure an individual an acceptable life (Right to adequate livelihood). It additionally encourages the State to plan its policies with an aim that no individual is constrained out of financial need to enter into serfdom which are not appropriate for them. As per Article 42 of the constitution the State should ensure a just and humane working environment to each individual. Additionally, the constitution under article 43 includes that the State should legislate schemes to endow the laborers a living wage for the enhancement of their living conditions. The State can put reasonable restrictions on the freedom to Contract as it is justified under the law of the land in order to safeguard the very essence of the fundamental right given to the workers.
However, the Constitution of India under Article 23(2) provides certain exceptional situations under which a State is entitled to compel a person to work. A convicted prisoner would not be entitled to enjoy this right as labour imposed on him is a punishment for the crime he committed. The court in State of Gujarat v. High Court of Gujarat has differentiated between under trial prisoners and convicted prisoners and said that only the prisoners who are sentenced with rigorous imprisonment can be compelled to work on an equitable wage fixed by the State as it is for public purpose mentioned under Article 23(2) whereas any individual under preventive detention, normal sentence or those under trial must be paid reasonable wages if they want to work. In the case of Per Das J in State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Singh, 1952 the Supreme Court extensively defined the term ‘public purpose’ and enunciated that it incorporates all works for public welfare as envisaged under Part IV of the Constitution. As per section 17 of Police Act 1861 the Magistrate can appoint local people as police officer on recommendation of the police officer who is not below the rank of inspector to tackle the crisis which occurs due to unlawful assembly or riot or may reasonably apprehend the peace. But while forcing such services or works the State cannot prejudice on the basis of religion, race, caste or class. In Achraj Singh v. State of Bihar the Court said that compelling a cultivator to bring food grains to the government ground without payment does not amount to ‘forced labour’ as this compulsory service is rendered for public purpose. The court in the case of Devendra Nath Gupta v. State of M.P upheld that the service provided by the teachers for educational survey, family planning, preparation of voter list, general elections etc. comes within the ambit of ‘public purpose’ and thenceforth if no payment is made for such service then it does not violate Article 23.
In order to abolish the system of forced labour the State should take the initiative to increase public spending in social policies and social protection. Most importantly, the government should organize awareness and rehabilitation programs for labours .
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.
We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge