Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Others

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Others

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 16/12/1983

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: Justice P.N.Bhagwati



Petitioner: Bandhua Mukti Morcha

Respondent: Union of India & Others

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the bonded labour system which finds its roots from inhuman terms of employment and how such conditional agreements made the poor labourers waive their inherent natural right to a dignified life.

FACTS: A letter was addressed to Justice P.N. Baghawati by the petitioners stating the inhumane working conditions of the bonded labourers who belonged to various States of this country in the stone quarries in Faridabad, Haryana.


The Indian Constitution

  • Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
  • Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
  • Article 23(1): Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law
  • Article 32(1): The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by Part III is guaranteed
  • The Supreme Court shall have 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.
  1. Whether a letter addressed to a Judge be treated as a writ petition?
  2. Whether bonded labour system is violative of Articles 14, 21, 23 of the Indian Constitution?

The petitioners addressing a letter to Justice P.N. Bhagwati stated that,

  • There were a large number of bonded labourers from different parts of the country who were working in some of the stone quarries situated in the district of Faridabad in Haryana under inhuman and intolerable conditions.
  • Various labour welfare legislation’s were never implemented with regard to these labourers working in the mines of the State.
  • The pitiable condition of the mines in which these labourers were forced to work with non-availability of clean drinking water, food, shelter and all other basic amenities denied their access to a dignified life.
  • No compensation was awarded to the labourers who were injured due to the accidents that happened in the course of employment.

In their prayer, the petitioners requested the court to treat the letter as a writ petition and direct the respondents to implement all labour welfare legislations effectively without any prejudices. Also, to constitute a commission to enquire about the above-stated difficulties faced by the bonded labourers.

Rebutting these contentions, the respondents submitted that,

  • A mere letter addressed to a judge cannot be treated as a writ petition and therefore it is liable to be dismissed at the first instance.
  • Even if the letter is treated as a writ petition, it fails on merits as no fundamental rights of the petitioners is infringed in the present case.
  • The Court is not empowered to constitute a commission.
  • Even if such a commission is constituted the findings and conclusions arrived at by them will not be admissible as it would be a mere ex-parte statement and lack cross- examination.
  • There might be bonded labourers in the State of Haryana but, they are not covered by the definition under the Bonded labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

The Court allowing the letter to be treated as a writ petition held that access to justice is a basic right which should never be denied to any citizen of this Country. Therefore, filing Public Interest Litigations or addressing a letter to a judge of a Court due to financial hindrances must be entertained to widen the scope of access to justice. Widening the scope of such applications the Court also asked High Courts in the country to adopt such measures.

Moving on to the merits of the case the Court held that since the writ petition is filled to address the concerns of the larger public the usual practice of admitting petitions only from aggrieved parties was relaxed. Hence the contention of respondents that the rights of the petitioners were not violated was outrightly rejected.

The Court further clarified that, it has all authority to do complete justice in any matter pending before it and therefore reserved all authority to appoint a commission to enquire upon the matter. Also, the findings and conclusions arrived at by the Commission was admissible as cross-examination was not required for a writ petition filed under article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

The Court while addressing the inefficiency of the State in implementing the welfare legislations held that, owing to the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Articles 39, 41 and 42 the State has a never-ending obligation to safeguard the rights and provide the labourers with all basic necessities. The fulfilment of such obligations may not be pleaded before a Court of law however, the State has to fulfil it by virtue of enacting legislation’s and implementing them without any biases.

CONCLUSION: 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. A legislation will remain a dead letter if the State fails to implement it effectively. It is to be remembered that, unfair practices like bonded labour system not just affects a labour working in such hazardous circumstances but also the pride the countrymen hold as a nation.

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