BANDHUA MUKTI MORCHA VS UNION OF INDIA

BRIEF FACTS OF THE CASE

Bandhua Mukti Morcha,[1] the petitioner, is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to improving people’s lives. They uncovered certain stone mines near Faridabad while performing a survey, where the people were working in hazardous conditions. For these folks who had travelled from all over the country to work there, the working conditions were hazardous. The petitioner approached the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, demanding an investigation and action to eliminate the appalling conditions in which many people, including small children, were forced to work as forced labourers in several mines in UP.

ISSUES

  1. If the labourers, in this case, are authorized to remedy under social labour regulations.
  2. Are the workers mentioned in the lawsuit bonded labourers or not?
  3. Whether the Supreme Court can appoint any commission or investigating body under Article 32 of the constitution.

OVERVIEW OF JUDGEMENT

In this case, the Hon’ble Court correctly directed appropriate authorities to address the social problem of bonded labour. However, the Court fails to secure effective social and economic rehabilitation of interstate workers by these 21 directions. Although the court requested from the Haryana government a strategy for worker restoration, it was insufficient to adequately restore them. In response to the Apex Court order in the case, a total of 135 bonded labourers were released from the quarries. However, they were not reformed. Ms. Neerja Chowdhury brought the Supreme Court’s attention to their terrible indifference following their release from slavery. The court also said that merely identifying and releasing workers isn’t enough; rehabilitation is also required to ensure that workers’ fundamental rights under Articles 21 and 23 are protected. 

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was asked by the Court in 1997 to take over the supervision of the court’s bonded labour standards. In 2004, many orders on the subject of restoration were announced. The court also acknowledged the value of non-governmental organisations, proposing that their facilities helped bonded labourers to recover. Finally, while the Bandhua Mukti Morcha’s efforts were outstanding, the scarcity of knowledge about worker restoration was covered by Neerja Chowdhury and others’ efforts.

RULES

  • “Bonded Labour System Act, 1976 Whether bonded labour— The employer bears the burden of proof in proving that the employee is not a bonded labourer. Until the presumption is rebutted with substantial evidence, the court would be justified in assuming the worker is a bonded labourer. “[2] 
  • Mines Act of 1952, “provides provisions for health, safety, and welfare measures for workers in coal, metalliferous, and oil mines. The Act specifies the owner’s responsibility for mine and mining operations management as well as the miner’s health and safety.”[3] 
  • Article 32(1)- “Appropriate proceedings, meaning-Letter sent by a party on behalf of individuals from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, claiming violations of their rights under various social welfare legislations.” [4]
  • Article 32 (2)- “Appointment of commissions by the Supreme Court to investigate the complaint in the writ petition and depending on the commissioner’s Report-Property of-Adversarial Procedure.”[5]
  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, “the Right to Life and Personal Liberty is defined in Article 21 of this part, which states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except following the procedure prescribed by statute.”[6]
  • Article 23(1) of the Indian Constitution- “Human trafficking, beggaring, and other forms of forced labour are illegal, and anyone who breaks this rule may face legal consequences.”[7] 
  • “The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 ensure that the employee has access to basic physical needs, good health, and a comfortable working environment. In the public interest, to ensure that all workers receive a safe and fair living wage. To ensure that the employee has sufficient funds to support his family. “[8] 

ANALYSIS

In this case, the Supreme Court’s conclusion was quite remarkable. The ruling of the Supreme Court was based on logic. The state and federal governments must ensure that employees have a pleasant working environment by assuring a clean environment, liberty, integrity, and access to educational and medical services. The poor labourers, on the other hand, were denied even these necessities, which was a violation of their Article 21 rights. The supreme court can modify the constitution to enforce a constitutional right. This is significant because, in India, where poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance are rampant, any fixed formula would make enforcing a fundamental right difficult. This is also one of the causes of power imbalances between opposing parties in a given situation. As a result, in such circumstances, rigid adherence to the adversarial rule leads to prejudice towards the disadvantaged party who has been denied legal assistance. When human rights are violated, particularly when they are violated by deprived individuals, the court should show its authority; otherwise, the fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution would lose their meaning. It would have been impossible for them to prove that they were forced labourers due to their illiteracy and poverty. It would be unethical to put these poor workers through a lengthy trial to acquire evidence.

The supreme court’s rulings were crucial in preventing the country’s bonded worker regime from becoming established. The formation of the monitoring committee is just as important as its role in identifying bonded workers. It will also contain non-political social members of the group, which is important for locating bonded workers. Magistrates and judicial officers should adopt strict measures, such as imposing high fines and harsh sentences, to manage labourer breaches. Courts should not levy small fines on labourers who are barely making a decent living.

The constitutional rights guaranteed by our constitution are important, and they cannot be ignored based on a technicality or a procedural requirement. As a result, in the interests of justice, it should be left to the court to decide whether or not to treat a letter or any other form of communication as a writ petition. The government, on the other hand, contends that forced labour does not fall under the definition of bonded labour as specified by the Bonded Worker System (Abolition) Act, 1976 in some situations. While this is true in this case, we cannot ignore the fact that people were kept and stopped from quitting their worksites. For the sake of defence, this tremendous manipulation cannot be neglected. Forced and the bonded worker is an embarrassment to our civilization. The fact that bonded worker is no longer legal. However, we still have a long path to go.

CONCLUSION

The Supreme Court’s three-judge panel, which included Justice Bhagwati, Justice Sen, and Justice Pathak, delivered a decision that contradicted my views. Treating a letter as if it were a writ was accurate, as was acting on the problem right away. Furthermore, filing the lawsuit in the aggrieved party’s palace by the other party is right because the aggrieved party lacks the means to file and contest their case. They couldn’t afford the additional burden of paying legal fees because they were already sacrificing to survive in this country. Also, whether the instruction to the concerned central officers to check the situation of labour in the mines or stone quarries once a week and to the inspector to monitor the situation of labour in the mines every night was permissible. The establishment of a separate committee within the central labour ministry to monitor the execution of federal labour rules including the Mines Act and the Vocational Training Act, among others. Finally, the final decision can be said to be appropriate and reasonable for the case.

Author(s) Name: Anchal Meena (NMIMS, Navi Mumbai)

References:

[1] Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs Union of India AIR 1984 SCC 802, 1984 SCR (2) 67

[2] The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, No. 19, Acts of Parliament, 1976 (India)

[3] Mines Act 1952

[4]The Constitution of India 1950, Article 32(1)

[5]The Constitution of India 1950, Article 32(2)

[6]The Constitution of India 1950, Article 21

[7] The Constitution of India 1950, Article 23(1)

[8] The Minimum Wages Act 1948, No. 11, Acts of Parliament 1948 (India)