Rs 450 per month to employee as wages is clearly a form of forced labour: Allahabad High Court

The Allahabad High Court recently said that a payment of Rs 450 per month to an employee as wages, which is less than the minimum wages as prescribed in the State, is clearly a form of forced labour and is violative of Article 23 of the Constitution.

A Single Bench of Justice Pankaj Bhatia passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Tufail Ahmad Ansari. The present petition has been filed alleging that the petitioner was employed with the respondents on June 15, 2001 on a Class IV post and was being paid wages at the rate of Rs 450 per month since his initial engagement.

It is stated that the petitioner was not considered for regularisation in terms of 2016 Rules, despite being entitled, he has also produced instructions dated October 1, 2021 stating that in terms of the Government Order dated January 9, 1986, minimum wages were fixed at Rs 350 per month. Subsequently, Government Order dated July 1, 1992, the wages of ‘Kahar’ were increased from Rs 400-500 per month, which is being paid to the petitioner.

The Counsel for the Petitioner argued that payment of Rs. 450/- per month as wages for a continuous period of about 20 years is nothing but other forms of forced labour and strictly prohibited under Article 23 of the Constitution of India.

The Court noted, “other forms of Forced Labour” as it finds place in Article 23 of the Constitution of India came up for consideration before the Supreme Court for the first time in the case of People’s Union For Democratic Rights and Others v. Union of India and Others; (1982) 3 SCC 235, wherein in the form of Public Interest Litigation, the plight of the workers engaged in the construction for the Asian Games, was highlighted before the Supreme Court. The contention before the Supreme Court was that the workers employed for constructions were being paid wages which were less than the minimum wages prescribed.

“whether a person is said to be providing Forced Labour if he is paid less than the minimum wages, in PUCL case (supra),” the Apex court had held thus:

“We are therefore of the view that where a person provides labour or service to another for remuneration which is less than the minimum wage, the labour or service provided by him clearly falls within the scope and ambit of the words “forced labour” under Article 23. Such a person would be entitled to come to the court for enforcement of his fundamental right under Article 23 by asking the court to direct payment of the minimum wage to him so that the labour or service provided by him ceases to be “forced labour” and the breach of Article 23 is remedied.”

“In the instructions, it is admitted that the wages of Rs 450 per month being paid to the petitioner are not the minimum wages prescribed in the State of Uttar Pradesh.

“The Court is unable to fathom as to how State can continue the exploitation of Class-IV post employees for about 20 years on the strength of Government Order, which has been relied upon by the Standing Counsel in support of his contention. If the stand of the Standing Counsel is accepted, the Court would also be guilty of ignoring the plight of ClassIV persons who are being exploited by the State for so long”, the bench noted.

The Court held that, in view of the law laid down by the Supreme Court as recorded above, the prescription of Rs. 450 per month as wages Government Order dated July 1, 1992 is clearly a “other form of forced labour” and is in violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India.

Thus, the petition is allowed and respondents are directed to pay the minimum wages as prescribed in the State of Uttar Pradesh from the date of initial appointment of the petitioner i.e. 15.6.2001 after deducting the amounts paid to him.

The court directed to pay the wages to the petitioner within a period of four months from the date of filing of copy of this order before the respondents.

The Court also noted that, “the Rules of regularisation known as “The Uttar Pradesh Regularisation of Persons Working on Daily Wages or on Work Charge or on Contract in Government Departments on Group ‘C’ and Group ‘D’ Posts (outside the Purview of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission Rules, 2016’ have been framed in pursuance of the directions of the Supreme Court in the case of State of Karnataka vs. Umadevi, (3) 2006 (4) SCC 1: 2006 SCC (L & S) 753 and are binding upon the State. In terms of the said Rules, all the persons employed prior to December 31, 2001 are entitled to be considered for regularisation and as the petitioner is working on ‘daily wages’ as defined under the Rules of 2016, the petitioner is clearly entitled to regularisation in terms of the said rules,”
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