|COURT||Supreme Court of India|
|JUDGES/CORAM||Justice D.P. Wadhwa and Justice K.T. Thomas|
|DATE OF JUDGEMENT||24.09.1998|
“Convicts are not, by the mere reason of conviction, denuded of all the fundamental rights which they otherwise possess.1” Due to lack of appropriate legislation, the rights of prisoners in India have many-a-times become a casualty. It is a sigh of relief that the judiciary has not forgotten its task like the Legislature in this field. There are various examples of the much-needed judicial intervention, and the various cases are the testimonies of the same.
The pitiable condition of prisoners in India, even in the present day, is a testimony of failure to adapt to the Human Right sanctions agreed to internationally. Centred on the area of “forced labor”, this case is one of the many constructive efforts that take the welfare of the inmates ahead, one small step at a time.
The facts of the case are as follows: The positions of various High Courts in the present matter ought to be discussed in the present case. The first High Court is that of Kerala, and as the Court has said “Kerala High Court has taken a lead” in the matter. The High Court not only held that the prisoners are entitled to such minimum wage as prescribed in the Act, but also issued directions to the State government to introduce measures to implement the same.
Following this, the High Court of Gujarat has taken the same view. Other judgments of different High Courts have also been taken into consideration, including those of Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Except the A.P. High Court, all the others else almost took the almost the same view.
The State Governments of various States have appealed against the judgments of these High Courts in the present matter before the case. In addition to these appeals, there are two writ petitions filed by the prisoners on their behalf. The appeals and the writ petitions comprise the present matter.
Going through the entire judgment, one would find a reflecting single issue of payment of wages to prisoners in addition to the determination, if they shall be accorded minimum wages, as per the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
- Whether the prisoners (who are required to do labour as a part of their punishment, i.e., rigorous imprisonment) are entitled to wages as prescribed under Minimum Wages Act?
- Whether the non-payment of the aforesaid wages would amount to violation of Article 23, and amount to “forced labour” in the light of PUDR v. Union of India2?
Summary of court decision and judgment
The three judges concur in the issues of the case, except one point where the judgment reads “I find myself unable to subscribe to the view that putting the prisoner to hard labour and not paying minimum wages to him shall amount to forced labour, violating Article 23 of the Constitution.” Reading into the aspect of Article 23, the Debates offered a great insight which is parallel to the US Thirteenth Amendment-
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the partyshall have been duly convicted, shall exist nor any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Hence, conviction acts as an exception to the involuntary servitude prohibition. Draft of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights in India, clause 11, also indicates the same: the intent of the Constitution-makers was not to include work done by prisoners without pay in the ambit of “forced labour”. The Court considered upon the view that if the prisoners and their labour were to be considered under Article 23(1), no exception would be accorded by Article 23(2) as there is no rational public purpose involved. A prisoner undergoing hard labour cannot come under the category of a ‘begar’ or ‘other similar forms of forced labour’ owing to the fact that a Court of competent has awarded him the punishment. The Court does not bar the payment of wages of wages to them for beneficial purposes, or otherwise. The Court found that it is legal to employ in labuor, those who are convicted and punished with rigorous imprisonment—with or without consent.
Imperatives and directives were laid down by the Court to the State to pay equitable wages to the prisoners. For recommendation, a wage fixation body was directed to be constituted. The requirement of a law to ascertain the amount of wages as compensation, and the portion to go to the dependents was realized and hence, the Court issued directions to State to make a law. The law could constitute a Prison Fund and appropriation of the amounts to the payment of compensation to the victim.
This judgment, delivered by a three judge-bench, in which two judges deliver separate but judgments, along with the Chief Justice concurring with both of them, offers an insight to all the aspects of this debate going on (then) in every state of the country. The author is in complete harmony with the decision of the Court, and in fact considers it an example of accuracy of law and judgment.
In addition to various Human Right Conventions, the Court referred to Constitutional Assembly Debates, in order to maintain the balance of reason and the case. Unable to provide the status of Fundamental Right to the wages of the prisoners, the Court still goes on to make the picture clear, whereas the Human Rights are concerned.
Having dealt in details about the prison-population, in which the maximum portion is of under-trial prisoners, the Court has found that the prisoners who are of concern in the present case are very few (after having excluded the convicts undergoing simple imprisonment). However, this did not deter the Court from critically analyzing the issue. Neither did the fact that this payment of wages in prisons would attract the unemployed section of the country to commit crimes in hope of employment.
In the section of orders of the Court, a limited time-mandate accorded by the Courts seems to be feasible, as the major lacuna has occurred on the part of the Legislature.
Prisoner rights should not become a casualty in want of appropriate legislation. Imprisonment is in itself a punishment, and the myth that punishment is given after one goes to jail needs to be busted. As a penalty for the wrong actions, they have been deprived of their Fundamental Right to life and personal liberty. Other than this, Article 19(1)(g) of the prisoners remains intact. Since the taxes paid by the citizens of the country maintain the living conditions of the prisoners, the word “livelihood” is not applicable here. However, the right to earn wages and have a professional identity remains with them. Moreover, the dignity of the individual is the aspect that makes a human life complete. Notwithstanding the intent of the Constitutional Assembly, dignity cannot be compromised with. Depriving him of this would mean depriving the prisoner of the basic aspect of human life.