The case Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India & Ors. is one of the important case laws in reference to bonded labor in India.
Brief facts of the Case and the Provisions involved –
Bandhua Mukti Morcha, is an organization dedicated to the cause of the release of bonded labors. The organization informed the Supreme Court through a letter that they conducted a survey of the stone quarries situated in Faridabad District of the State of Haryana and found that there were a large number of labors working in these stone-quarries under ‘inhuman and intolerable conditions’ and many of them were bonded labors.
After the survey was conducted and the situation of the labors was ascertained the petitioner, wrote a letter to Hon’ble Bhagwati, J. asserting:
- that there were a large number of workers from various parts of the nation who were working in some of the stone quarries arrange in area Faridabad, the State of Haryana under “brutal and insufferable conditions;
- that a large number of them were reinforced workers;
- that the arrangements of the Constitution and different social welfare laws went to help the said laborers were definitely not being actualized with respect to these laborers.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. The term life under Article 21 does not mean mere animal existence but includes all those which are essential for an individual to lead a dignified life. The life of human beings is important and no one deserves to be treated in an improper manner which harms the basic human dignity of a person. Hence article 21 is important to the case.
Article 23(1): Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labor are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
Article 32(1): The right to move to the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by Part III is guaranteed.
The Supreme Court shall have the power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution.
- Whether a letter addressed to a Judge be treated as a writ petition?
- Whether bonded labor system is violative of Articles 21, 23 of the Indian Constitution?
Petitioner’s argument –
- The entire environment in the supposed stone quarries was loaded with residue and it was difficult for anyone to inhale. A portion of the laborers was not permitted to leave the stone quarries and was giving constrained work.
- There was no facility of giving unadulterated water to drink and the workers were forced to drink contaminated water.
- The workers were not having a legitimate safe house in any case, they were living in jhuggis with stones heaped one upon the different as dividers and straw covering the top which was excessively low to stand and which didn’t manage the cost of any assurance against the adversities that the workers may face.
- A portion of the workers were suffering from constant illnesses.
- No pay was being paid to workers who were harmed because of mishaps emerging in the course of work.
Respondent’s argument –
- The respondent’s contended that the Public Interest Litigation cannot be filed under Article 32 of the Constitution as a writ petition because in the case no right of the petitioner was infringed. Hence, the letter tended to by a gathering to this Court can’t be treated as a writ appeal;
- In a procedure under Article 32, this Court is not enabled to designate any commission or an exploring body to enquire into the claims made in the writ appeal and that no reliance can be placed on the reports presented by them.
- The court held that the letter addressed to the court can be treated as writ petition if it is in the public interest at large. If the laborers are being forced to work and they are working in miserable conditions without any food, water and shelter facilities then it is a violation of the right to live with human dignity under Article 21. It also violated article 23 of the Indian Constitution which grants fundamental right against exploitation.
- The court ordered the government of Haryana that it will constitute a vigilance committee within 6 weeks in each division of district to ensure compliance of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme court. The Haryana government will appoint a district magistrate to identify the bonded labor practiced in the country.
- The Haryana government was directed to rehabilitate the bonded laborers within 3 months.
- Both central and state government will take necessary steps to ensure that minimum wages are paid to the laborers. In case of transportation, the central government will appoint inspecting offices to conduct surprise check once in a week to ensure that no truck is being overloaded. If any default is found then action will be taken against the main owners.
- The state and central government shall ensure that the stone crusher owners continuously spray the stone crushing machine or install a dust sucking machine and a report with regard to this shall be submitted to the court. Both central and state government has to ensure that at least 2 litres of drinking water for every person employed at any time per day, sanitation facilities, medical facilities and the unpolluted environment is provided to laborers. Proper training as per Mines Vocational Training Rules, 1966 is provided to the laborers. Various camps and awareness drives should be conducted to impart knowledge to the laborers about their rights and about the law prevailing in the society.
Analysis of the Case:
The judgement delivered by the Supreme Court was indeed remarkable and important because no one deserves to be treated with disrespect and live in an inhumane condition with no dignity. Hence the Supreme Court gave a fair reasoning to its decision. As the Supreme Court is the custodian of the rights of the people it becomes very important for the court to protect the citizens from any violation that is done to them. Due to large number of people being illiterate and unaware of their rights and laws that prevail in the society it gives a chance to the rich and powerful to exploit the poor and use unfair means that puts them in danger in various situations. Hence in this case if the bonded laborers were not heard and were not given the right that they deserved then it would have caused a wrong impact on the citizens and somewhere the trust in judiciary would have been hampered. Hence the fundamental rights were protected by the Supreme court and the rights of the bonded laborers was restored in the case.
To conclude with the above judgement gave courage to the bonded laborers to come forward and express their concerns and the working conditions of these laborers was improved because of this judgement. The rights were protected and it was ensured by the court that strict measures are taken in the direction of protection of these laborers and that no one deserves to be treated in an incorrect and inhumane manner.
Author: Gargi Mishra,
Amity Law School, Student of 3rd Year B.A.LLB(H)