M.P. Thakkar, C.J.
1. Slavery has been outlawed in all civilized countries and the Constitution of India does not countenance it. And yet it appears that the plight of unemployed workers seeking an honourable means of livelihood is made miserable by unscrupulous contractors who exploit the helpless workers. It virtually amounts to compelling them to work as slaves. This fact was brought to light by a vigilant Union, namely. Hind Mazdoor Sabha acting through its alert General Secretary Shri P. Chidambaram by instituting the present petition. Having regard to the averments regarding serious exploitation of the workers at the hands of the unscrupulous contractors and having regard to the allegations made in the petition that officers of the Labour Department were not taking necessary steps to prevent the exploitation of the workers, we issued an interim order on 7th April 1982 in the following terms:
By way of interim relief we direct as under:Mr. A.C. Israni is appointed as Commissioner and is authorized and directed to execute the commission in the manner indicated hereinafter. Respondents are directed to permit the aforesaid Commissioner to do everything and take all necessary steps to carry out the commission without let or hindrance and are directed not to create any obstacle in his way (doing so will amount to contempt of Court). The Commissioner shall visit the factory of respondent No. 3 (Sher Vallabh Khandsari Udyog, Upleta) in order to investigate the truth or otherwise of the allegations made in the petition and to interrogate the workers concerned and to make a report to the Court regarding the true state of affairs at the earliest. The Commissioner is hereby authorised to enter the premises of the factory and to interrogate the workers and the officers, Respondent No. 3 Mandli and its partners, proprietors or officers or whosoever is in charge of the factory is directed to permit the Commissioner appointed by the Court, who will bring a copy of this order, the seal of the Court, to enter the premises along with the members of his party and to make an investigation and interrogation. A copy of the petition will be made available to the Commissioner. The learned Counsel for respondent No. 4 Labour Commissioner states that he will depute a Labour Officer and an Inspector of Factories to accompany the Commissioner appointed by the Court and they would also co-operate with the Commission in making the investigation. Respondent No. 1-the Collector of Rajkot is directed to depute an officer from his office and also directed to make arrangement for police protection so that the Commissioner and the officers accompanying him may be able to execute the commission as directed by the Court. Mr. Misra, the Secretary of the petitioner-Union, is also authorized to accompany the Commissioner and the party. With regard to the expenses of the Commissioner we will pass an appropriate order hereafter. Respondent No. 2-State of Gujarat will make available a State vehicle at its cost to enable the Commissioner and the party to visit the site.
2. Pursuant to the directions issued by us, the Commissioner appointed by us proceeded to Upleta and made appropriate investigation and inquiry. The exhaustive report dated April 13, 1982 submitted by him shall be made a part of the record. The following passages from the report require to be quoted inasmuch as we propose to issue certain directions on the basis of the said report:
After a thoughtful consideration, it was decided to request any partner of the second factory, if he was available in the town, to come and see me in this connection. On inquiries, it was learnt that one of the partners of that factory, one Shri Shantilal Vasrambhai Patel was available in the town. A message was sent to him containing that request that he may kindly come and see me at the rest house. It appears that before he got the said message, he had already received the information about our party having visited the premises of Hari Vallabh Khandsari Udyog factory. On receiving the message, he came to the rest house and I got the opportunity of informing him about the facts of this petition, he was also told that about 22 persons mentioned in that list and worked in his factoiy during that season and that there were serious allegations regarding the treatment which had been meted out to them. Shri Shantilal who appeared to be an intelligent person threw the entire burden upon the contractors, but could not deny that perhaps all the-48 workers mentioned in the list Annexure 'A', may have worked in his factory during that season. However, he could not give any affirmative reply without verifying the same from the books. It was difficult for me to press upon him, in absence of any authority, to give that information after examining the necessary books. He was, however, explained his responsibility towards his workers as an employer and it appeared that he immediately realised the seriousness of the situation. When still a number of workmen employed in his factory, were yet to be paid their wages before they left that place, a suggestion was made to him that the wages of those workmen may be paid by him or by his clerks directly to them without the intervention of the contractors and their receipts be also obtained directly. It was learnt during those discussions, that when labourers are brought from other States to work in such factories, they are also paid the railway fare for coming and for also going back to their respective villages. As such Shri Shantilal expressed that not only the balance of wages will be paid to the remaining workers but also the railway fare will be paid to them. It was given out that Saturday, the 10th April, 1982 had been fixed as the day on which they would be paid the balance of their wages as well as the railway fare. A suggestion was given to Shri Shantilal whether he would have any objection to make payments of those labourers in presence of Govt. Labour Officers Shri N.H. Dave and Shri S.G. Hathi and also to give them the railway tickets instead of paying them fare in cash. This last suggestion was made because, a passing reference was also made during discussion that even from the amount of railway fare of the labourers, the contractors were misappropriating certain portions. Shri Shantilal readily agreed to this suggestion. Instructions were given to the abovenamed-2-Labour Officers .to remain present in the Krishna Khandsari Works on Saturday, the 10th April, 1982 and to see that the balance of wages is paid to each workmen in their presence and their receipts are obtained accordingly. They were asked to prepare a record of the persons with their names and to submit the same to the undersigned. They were also asked to go to the railway station with those workers and to assure that the owner purchases the railway tickets for their respective designations and hands over the same to the workmen in order to enable them to reach their respective native places.
Shri Shantilal also disclosed that he happened to be the Central Secretary of Khandsari Factory Owner's Association. He also expressed not only his surprise but also grief that the contractors, through whom they have been employing labourers, have actually been exploiting the labourers. He, therefore, assured us that from the next season, as far as possible, no labourers would be employed through contractors but all attempts would be made to engage them directly and all efforts will (be) made to see that there is no intermediary who may oppress or victimise them. The two partners of the factory which is Respondent No. 3 in this petition, also gave their assurance, that even though they had not been found to be involved in any manner in this incident covered by this petition, yet, in the general interests and advancement to industrial peace, even they would be very careful in future and would see that in case the labourers are employed through contractors, they are paid their proper wages and that their other conditions of service are also properly maintained. They gave a very clear undertaking that they would be directly dealing with such labourers and even regarding the delivery of their post, they would take care to see that the letters addressed to them would actually be delivered to them and the letters which they wish to post to their friends and relatives are also duly posted through the office of the factory. All these talks and discussions had taken place in presence of Shri Misra, the representative of the petitioner Union. The situation was a peculiar one which had to be faced in a manner which could be legal and suitable under the circumstances. It as felt that though no definite evidence could be gathered, perhaps some unscrupulous contractors possibly Shri Siyaram Singh or their henchmen may have terrorised or harassed those workers who were interrogated by us or their friends or associates at certain times. The local Mamlatdar of Upleta and the local Police Officers were given instructions that till those workers actually leave Upleta for their respective destinations, their protection and security should be their responsibility. On receiving the necessary assurance in that connection from those local officers as well as the owners of the two factories, we returned to Rajkot in the night.
It appears that though a letter was addressed to the District Collector, Rajkot as early as March 12, 1982 in which serious complaints regarding exploitation of migrant workers brought from Bihar were made to the District Collector, the District Collector failed to take any action. We would have expected him to take appropriate steps in order to ensure that the workers were not exploited in the State of Gujarat. That the workers were being exploited by the contractor concerned is evident from the aforesaid passages extracted from the report. It is also evident from the before mentioned passages extracted from the report that Shri N.H. Dave, Government Labour Officer at Rajkot has failed and neglected to discharge his function. We do not propose to issue any directions to the Labour Commissioner in the context of the observations made by the Commissioner in his report, for Mr. Hava for the Labour Commissioner has made a statement to the effect that appropriate directions will be issued to all Government Labour Officers and steps will be taken to ensure that what has happened in regard to the complaint made to the District Collector at Rajkot, who is also ex-officio Inspector of Factories under the Factories Act, will not be repeated anywhere else in future by any other District Collector or any other Labour Officer. In view of the assurance given to us we do not propose to issue any further directions.
3. We must place on record our appreciation for the initiative taken by the petitioner in order to bring to our notice the flagrant exploitation which was taking place openly in disregard of the relevant provisions of law. We also must place on record our high appreciation for the investigation made by the Commissioner who appear to have taken immense pains and appears to have handled the situation with great ability and tact. But for him, possibly, the true situation could not have been discovered.
We hope that the authorities concerned will show greater awareness of responsibility resting on their shoulders and will ensure that what has happened in the present instance does not happen in Gujarat hereafter.
The Commissioner has taken great pains and he has proceeded to the site, made inquiries and made an exhaustive report. Having regard to the nature and extent of the work done by him and the responsibility shouldered by him at considerable inconvenience to himself with a sense of urgency in view of the directions of the Court, we are of the opinion that fairness demands that at least a sum of Rs. 5,000/- is paid to him by way of honorarium for the work done by him. This amount will of course have to be paid by the State Government having regard to the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case narrated hereinbefore. The State Government is, therefore, directed to deposit a sum of Rs. 5,000/- on or before July 12, 1982. Upon the amount being deposited learned Registrar will inform the Commissioner and make over the amount to him on obtaining proper discharge.
4. Our attention is called to the circumstance that the Central Government has enacted an Act known as The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1979 in order to protect migrant workers. The Act has been made applicable to Gujarat and rules have been framed under the authority conferred by the relevant provision of the Act. It, however, appears that no machinery has still been set up under the Act in order to carry out the mandate of the Act read with the Rules. We direct the State Government to set up the appropriate machinery latest by June 30 1983. The machinery so set up should be required to submit a six-monthly report to the Labour Minister as also the Labour Commissioner (I) regarding steps taken by them to (a) detect cases of such exploitation.
(b) initiate appropriate legal proceedings against those who are guilty and (2) as regards results achieved by them. We further direct the Labour Commissioner:
(1) to ensure that migrant labourers employed directly or indirectly by any employer are:
(a) not subjected to restrictions in their freedom of movement and are not kept in captivity;
(b) paid atleast minimum wages;
(c) given facilities to communicate with their family members at the home-town;
(d) not exploited by taking back wages by adopting the device of providing housing, meals, etc. and collecting exhorbitant or out of proportion charges for such facilities. It must further be ensured that -
(2) housing accommodation (if it is provided) is reasonably good;
(3) If meals are provided, food is wholesome and hygienic;
(4) charges collected for housing and meals etc. are reasonable. He is further directed:
(5) to make a survey of migrant workers by surprise raids in all districts every month and submit a report to the Labour Minister;
(6) to interrogate the workers in the course of surprise raids in absence of employer's representative, recording their statements after giving them assurance regarding their safety etc. and, if possible, with the aid of tape-recorder;
(7) to give publicity in newspapers giving names of employers and details of exploitation so as to deter others; and
(8) to take legal steps against employers committing breach. The vigil should be continuous so that the purpose is served.
Subject to these directions, the petition will stand disposed of as not pressed in view of the request of the petitioner Union in this behalf.