Citations: People’s Union for Democratic Rights Vs Union of India AIR 1982 SC 1473

Date of Judgement: 18/09/1982

Equivalent citations:  1982 AIR 1473, 1983 SCR (1) 456

Case No: Writ Petition No. 8143 of 1981

Case Type: Writ Petition

Petitioner/Appellant: People’s Union for Democratic Rights

Defendant/Respondent: Union of India

Bench: Hon’ble Justice P.N Bhagwati and Hon’ble Justice Baharul Islam

Court: Supreme Court of India

Statutes Referred:

  • The Constitution of India; Articles 14, 21, 23, 24, 32
  • Employment of Children Act, 1938 (26 of 1938); Section 3(3)
  • Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979; Section 3(3)
  • Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970; Section 13 to 19
  • Minimum Wages Act, 1948; Section 20 and 21
  • Equal Remuneration Act, 1976; Section 12, 4 and 5

Cases referred:

  • S.P Gupta Vs Union of India (1981) Supp SCC 87
  • Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India 1978 AIR 597
  • Food Craft Instt. Vs Rameshwar Sharma and Anr. 134 (2006) DLT 49
  • Janata Dal & Ors Vs H.S. Chowdhary & Ors [1991] INSC 215
  • Francis Coralie Mullin Vs Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi 1981 SCR (2) 516
  • Hindaloo Indutsties Ltd. Vs Suman Lata Tuteja and Ors. 129 (2006) DLT 649


  • People’s Union for Democratic Rights, an organisation working for the protection of democratic rights of its citizens employed three social scientists in order to bring out a report on the exploitation and living conditions of workmen working under the contractors being employed by the Union of India, Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi Municipal Committee and Delhi Administration for the construction of highways, stadiums, swimming pool, etc for the Asian Games to be held in India.
  • On the view of the report, a letter was directed to the Supreme Court judge and was treated as a Writ Petition alleging violation of Fundamental Rights and Rights endued under various Acts of the Labour employed.
  • The Petitioner included the organisation People’s Union for Democratic Rights and the Respondent included Union of India, Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi Municipal Committee and Delhi Administration.
  • The matter was dealt with urgency by the Supreme Court highlighting the importance of a Public Interest Litigation.
  • The Provisions in violation dealt with Minimum Wages (Fixed as Rs. 9.25/day but the jamadars deducted Rs. 1 and thus the workmen were paid only Rs 8.25/day below the minimum wage decided), Equal Remuneration (Women workers were only paid Rs 7/day for the same amount of labour provided by them), Violation of Article 24 (Children below the age of 14 years were employed at such a hazardous site i.e. construction site for Asian Games). The Labour was also deprived of basic and humane conditions under the Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition) Act, 1970.


  • Whether the Writ Petition can be maintainable against the private individual under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution?
  • Whether Article 21 of the Indian Constitution also include Right to Live with human dignity and Right to Livelihood?

Contention of the Petitioner:

The Petitioner contended that:

  • The Petitioner’s position was that separate authorities were tasked with the execution of the various projects, and they hired contractors to carry out the building work of the projects, in accordance with Section 7 of the Contract Labour Act 1970. These contractors hired labourers through “Jamadars,” who brought them from all across India. Furthermore, the minimum wage was paid to these jamadars rather than to the workers directly, in violation of the Minimum Wages Act.
  • There was also a breach of Article 24 of the Indian Constitution, as well as the Employment of Children Acts of 1938 and 1970, because the contractors’ used children under the age of 14 in the building work of the different projects.
  • The requirements of the Contract Labour (Regulations and Abolition) Act, 1970, were violated because employees were denied their access to medical and other services under the Act.

Contention of the Respondent:

The Respondent maintained the following objections that:

  • The Respondent argued that the Petitioners lacked locus standi to file the writ petition since there had been no infringement of the petitioners’ rights; the issue at hand is the rights of employees engaged in various construction projects. As a result, the petitioners’ cause of action was barred.
  • Furthermore, it was argued that the workers whose rights were allegedly infringed were employees of the contractors, not the respondents. Also, because the workmen’s cause of action, if any, was against the contractors rather than the Respondents, no Writ Petition could be filed against them.
  • The respondent also claimed, as part of this preliminary objection, that no writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution could be filed against the respondents for alleged violations of workers’ rights under various labour laws, and that any remedy, if any, could be sought only through the provisions of those laws.


The Petition was Allowed.

The Supreme Court upheld a Right of Poor workers to approach the Supreme Court directly under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for the enforcement of rights created under various labour laws, particularly the provisions of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1977, etc.

The Supreme Court expanded the interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution (Right to Life) to include the Right to a Livelihood as well as the “Right to Live with Fundamental Human Dignity.”

The Supreme Court passed an order that every State Government should add construction industry in Section 3(3) of the Employment of Children Act, 1938 by the powers conferred to it under Section 3-A so as to prevent children below the age of 14 years to be employed under such hazardous work like construction site.

Ratio Decidendi:

  • The initial contention about the locus standi of the PIL by the Petitioner on behalf of the labourers correctly stands by the traditional point of view since the rights of the labourers working under the realm of the contractors were violated so prima facie, they were themselves responsible to approach the court for redressal but this traditional outlook has now been jettisoned by the Court of Law and has also broken the narrow view of achieving justice.
  • The Court believes that people belonging to low socio-economic backgrounds facing poverty, illiteracy, lack of legal awareness cannot be kept away from availing their rights enshrined to everyone by the Constitution of India. Thus, the court rules that in case any person belonging or suffering from poverty, illiteracy or socially and economically disadvantaged position is unable to approach the court, any member of the public acting in a bona fide manner may move the court for the redressal of the rights of such person.
  • The Second Contention points to whether the Court can entertain this Petition under the realm of Article 32 as the Petitioner merely complains about the Violation of Labour Laws enacted for the betterment of the Labour and not of any violation of Fundamental Rights. This is true of the fact that a writ petition is maintainable in case of violation of any Fundamental Right. But four important facets of the Petitioner’s argument can be held in direct consonance of the implementation of Fundamental Rights:
    • Firstly, Petitioners allege the issue of equal remuneration under the Equal Remuneration Act 1946, the same is enshrined under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and thus can form a part of Article 32.
    • Secondly, the Petitioner talks about the children under the age of 14 years being employed to work at a construction activity site of Asian Games which again is a direct breach of Article 24.
    • Thirdly, the Complaint regarding the non-obedience of the directions under Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation and Employment and Condition of Service) Act also relates to the violation of Article 21 as laid down in Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India and Francis Coralie Mullin Vs Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi under which the scope of Right to Live was expanded.
    • Fourth, the Non-Payment of Wages can also be attributed to as a violation of Article 23 which entails Prohibition of Traffic in Human Beings and Forced Labour. Article 23 is not just limited to be implemented against the state but also against other private citizens, this is so because the framers of the Constitution did it to protect the rights of the enormous number of citizens belonging to a lower stratum of Socio- Economic Layer.
  • The third issue at hand which deals that whether the onus of this breach, the Court held that the government which is the employer of these contracts cannot surpass the obligation for the obedience of various Labour Laws entrusted for the Protection of Rights of Workmen. The Statues like the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation and Employment and Condition of Service) Act, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition Act) 1970, etc provide for the principal employer to provide the specific facilities in case the contractor fails to meet them.


Some basic rights can be enforced against Private People, contrary to the belief that Fundamental Rights can only be enforced against the State. Under the Indian Constitution, private people are held responsible if a basic right is violated. It was noticed that Courts in cases pertaining to the Rights of the Poor in society might suggest justice by moulding the chains of Rules and Regulations and using them for the advantage of the people and the Public Welfare at large.

The Case emphasises the relevance of how the notion of PIL (Public Interest Litigation) can be used for the Public Good at large and how law may be used to seek recompense and relief in exchange for the horrors that they had endured.

The Fundamental Aim and Function of Law is to maximise pleasure at the lowest possible cost, which means that there should be Justice in society via the proper application of Laws and Statutes. This case law provides vital information of numerous laws and their interpretation under the Indian Constitution.

It teaches a thorough understanding of the judicial meaning of the word “Life” under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. How the Courts, via their powers, may construct and interpret for the advantage of the Public at large terms that, if not interpreted, would remain ambiguous or restricted to a single meaning.

Drafted by: Sachika Vij, Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow

Edited by: Aashima Kakkar, Associate Editor, Law Insider

Published On: October 7, 2021 at 12:04 IST

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