Our country had a long-lasting history of slavery and exploitation. During the time of freedom struggle, our basic human rights were curtailed and we faced the ordeal of slavery, tyranny and widespread exploitation. The children were also grossly ill-treated and they had to undergo hard labour work. However, after getting independence, our constitution was drafted with the objective that the taboo of slavery and all the exploitation shall be removed from society and every individual should possess the right to live a dignified and meaningful life. Thus, with this mandate, the “Right Against Exploitation” was incorporated as a fundamental right under part III of the constitution. In this article, we will explore the meaning and various facets of “Right against exploitation” as provided under Article 23 and 24 of the constitution. Further, we will also look into various legislation and landmark cases pertaining to this fundamental right.
Meaning of “Right against Exploitation”
As per the Oxford dictionary, the literal meaning of the term “exploitation” is the forceful oppression of a person that delivers or renders some services. The oppression can be through non-payment of money, forcefully employing at a low wage rate, human trafficking, etc. This exploitation is against the Doctrine of Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution and it also violates our preamble of the Constitution and Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP). The protection against such exploitation is given under Article 23 and 24 of the constitution.
Article 23 of the Indian Constitution
This article is a part of the fundamental right that explicitly forbid or prohibit the practice of forced labour, human trafficking and similar other activities that exploit the basic rights of a person. The violation of this Article is an offense and it is punishable as per the provision of India Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). This Article puts up a positive responsibility on the state to protect the rights of citizens as well as of non-citizens. Furthermore, It provides protection against the act of the state or of a private individual.
Activities Prohibited by Article 23
This Article prohibits certain kind of activities which are as follows –
It is a type of forced labour wherein the person works without any remuneration or wages in return. This activity is generally involuntary and the person is forced to work without being paid by asserting some physical or mental pressure. As per Article 23, this activity is strictly prohibited and it is a criminal offense.
Bonded Labour/ Debt Bondage:
In the ancient past, it was evident that money lenders used to exploit a person who took a loan. Very hefty compound interest was charged on the advanced loan and it never got repaid. The amount of loan reached to that extent wherein the borrower not only needed to sell his personal belongings but also had to work for him to repay the loan. The money they got from the work proved to be very less and the loan remained the same which got further transferred to his future generation. Thus, It is a sort of beggar in which all the generations of a person are working under a person to pay off some past loan. This beggar is known as bondage beggar and article 23 equivocally forbids this practice
The literal meaning of this term is the buying and selling of human being as a commodity. It mainly involves the trafficking of women and children. The victims of trafficking are mostly subject to slavery and sexual harassment. This offense of trafficking is punishable under Section 370 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 with an imprisonment of a term which can be extended up to 7 years or fine or both
Further, if the offense of trafficking is committed against a minor child, then it is punishable under section 372 of the IPC. This section provides for a punishment of 10 years or fine or both.
Prohibition of other similar forced labour Practices
This interpretation of the phrase “other similar forced labour” was derived by the Hon’ble Calcutta High court in the case of Dulal Samanta vs. District Magistrate. The court held that this phrase shall be interpreted as per the doctrine of ejusdem generis (this doctrine states that the meaning of a particular term shall be interpreted as per the meaning of other words in the sentence). So other similar forced labour includes all those activities which are similar in nature to the beggar, trafficking and other forms of involuntary labour. This form of labour is punishable under Section 374 of the Indian Penal Code.
The exception to Article 23
Clause 2 of Article 23 provides for an exception of the aforesaid rule. As per this clause, the state can impose compulsory service on any person in time of adversity for serving public needs like national defense or other necessary public utilities. However, It is important that the state can’t discriminate against people on the ground of religion, sex, caste, etc while imposing these services.
In the light of various judgements of our hon’ble courts, the state may impose the following services –
- If a departmental enquiry is pending against a government servant, the state can compel that servant from retiring till the time of completion of proceedings even though he has reached the age of retirement.
- The state is empowered to impose a duty on a person to do social service for the upliftment and development of our society under the National Service Act, 1972.
- The state can also compel a prisoner to do hard labour even though he will earn the minimum wages in return if he is undergoing the punishment of rigorous imprisonment.
Landmark Cases of Article 23
People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India
In this particular case, the Hon’ble Justice P.N Bhagwati interpreted the true spirit of Article 23. It was held that the scope of this article is very wide and it prohibits every form of forced labour. The court clarified that the term forced not only involves the physical or mental force but also involves the economic circumstances that compel a person to do this sort of labour. The court directed the government to make penal provision against forced labour as it violates the fundamental right of life and human dignity.
Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan
In this case, it was held that if a person is paid below the minimum wage limit, then the provision of the Article is violated. Every person has the right to work at a fair remuneration and the state shall ensure that one shall not take undue advantage of the helplessness of others.
Deena v. Union of India
In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme held that the prisoner also had the right to receive a fair remuneration in lieu of the service rendered by them. Thus, if a prisoner is not paid for his work done, then it will be treated as forced labour and the provision of Article 23 will be violated.
Legislation Prohibiting Exploitation and Forced Labour
The government has enacted various legislation to give effect to the true spirit of Article 23. Some of these legislations are –
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956:
This statute governs those conditions wherein human trafficking are done with the objective of sexual exploitation. This is a special Act that makes this practice a cognisable criminal offence which is punishable with strict punishment.
The Trade Unions Act, 1926:
The major objective behind the enactment of this statute was to protect the rights of daily workers against exploitation from high-level managerial policy decisions. Thus, trade unions were established that support the rights of workers. The enactment of this statute aligns with the provision of Article 19(1)(c) which empowered a person to form a union or association.
The Payment of Wages Act 1936:
This Act ensures that the authorities pay the wages or salaries to the workers in a timely manner. Further, there shall be no undue deduction in the salary.
Minimum Wages Act, 1948:
This Act was enacted to eradicate the practice of beggar or bondage labour. Under this statute, every person is entitled to a minimum basic wage or salary as per the nature of the activity performed by it. This minimum wage is determined by the respective state government as per the geographical location.
Factories Act, 1948
This Act ensures that a business shall adopt adequate measures to ensure good health and a safe environment for the workers. Under this Act, the liability of employers is absolute in nature and it attracts strict punishment. Further Article 42 of the Constitution also put a responsibility on the state to ensure the just and humane condition of work.
Equal Remuneration Act, 1976:
The right to equality is provided under Article 14 of the constitution and It encompasses the right to receive equal pay for equal work. There shall be no discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, sex, etc. in the matter of receiving remuneration. The Act ensures that the women shall also receive the equal amount of money as provided to the men if the work is of the same nature. If the employer fails to do so, then he will be penalised for the same.
Article 24 of the Indian Constitution
In the present times, we still see some small children working in hotels or in construction places. This is called child labour and this article protects the right of children against this practice. This article strictly prohibits the working or employment of children below the age of 14 years from working in a factory, mine or in any other hazardous places. This article ensures a safe and healthy environment for the growing child so that he receives good food, health and education. Further, Article 39 of the constitution also imposes a duty on the state to ensure that the life of a child shall not be spoiled on grounds of economic necessity.
However, It is important to note that merely assisting one’s parents in a work or doing some part-time job in non-hazardous places like fields will not attract the provision of Articles 24.
Landmark Judgement of Article 24
People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India
In this case, some children below the age of 14 years were put into work in a construction place. The Hon’ble court held that the construction place falls under the ambit of hazardous place and this work is in violation of Article 24 of the constitution.
In this case, the Supreme court elaborated the scope of Article 24 and held that this Article put an implicit obligation on the state to abolish the practice of child labour from our society and ensure a healthy and better environment for their development. The government should take administrative, legislative or economic measures to eradicate this practice.
Legislations for Protection of Child Rights
In order to achieve the objective of Article 24, our legislature has enacted the following legislation –
The Child Labour Act, 1986:
This is the principal Act that governs almost all cases of child labour in India. This Act bars child labour in hazardous places and it also prescribes guidelines in those areas wherein the children are employed in non-hazardous sectors.
The Mines Act, 1952
This act clearly prohibited the working of children below the age of 18 years in a mine. The threshold of age is set high under this Act because working in a mine can pose a severe threat to a child.
The Factories Act, 1948:
This act prohibits the working of children below the age of 14 years in a factory. Furthermore, there are certain restrictions and special provisions for employing children who are just above the age of 14 years.
The Plantation Labour Act, 1951
As the activity of plantation doesn’t fall within the scope of hazardous places, thus the minimum age requirement under the Act is 12 years. However, there is a special provision under this Act which states that regular fitness check-up of all the children shall be undertaken.
The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961
As per the provision of this Act, a child below the age of 14 years is strictly prohibited to be employed in the motor transport sector.
The Apprentices Act, 1961
The main objective of this Act is to ensure that a child below the age of 14 years shall not undergo apprenticeship training.
The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Condition Act, 1966:
This Act strictly prohibited the working of children below the age of 14 years in a factory or industrial area which is engaged in manufacturing of Bidi, cigarette and tobacco.
Establishment of National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
It is an Indian government commission which was set up in 2007 under the provision of Child Right Protection Act, 2005. The commission was established with a mandate to ensure that all the laws, regulations and administrative measures shall be in consonance with the interest of the child. Further, It ensured that new initiatives shall be taken to fulfil the obligation of the state under Article 24 of the constitution. This commission is set up at both centre and state level and it is working relentlessly to protect the rights of children especially in the domain of sexual and physical harassment of the child.
The “right against exploitation” is one of the core objectives of our Constitution. Article 23 ensures that the people get fair remuneration for their work and they shall not be subject to forced labour. Further, Article 24 prohibits child labour and ensure that there shall be no impediment in their development.