1. Nellai Mavatta Cooli Thozhilalar Sangam, Tirunelveli, is the petitioner and it seeks the issue of a writ of mandamus to direct respondents 1 and 2 to register respondents 3 and 4 as principal employers of the Ware house at Tirunelveli and to provide for all amenities as prescribed under the Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act, 1970. Third respondent is a statutory corporation in which 50 percent of the shares are held by the Central Warehousing Corporation and the other 50 percent by the State of Tamil Nadu Contractors entered into agreements for providing labour force for loading and unloading operations and even though contractors have changed from time to time, the same workers continue to carry out work and, to the full knowledge of respondents 1 and 2, no beneficial provisions of any labour legislation were implemented during the past twelve years. No proper registers relating to them are being maintained either by the Contractor of the principal employer-fourth respondent. Even their wages were not promptly paid and no facilities like rest-room, canteen, drinking water, latrine, urinals, washing and first-aid are provided. Hence, as early as on 31st December, 1980, petitioner submitted a petition to second respondent, pointing out these factors but there was no response and hence first respondent was addressed on 7th August, 1981, 2nd March, 1982 and 5th April, 1982 and till date they have not been acknowledged. No action had been taken on their reports. It was the Commissioner of Labour, Madras by letter dated 24th November 1981, who informed the petitioner that the question of registering third respondent under the Act is under the consideration of the Government and action will be taken after the receipt of orders of Government. Having waited for two years, and when the workers are living in miserable conditions, they had no other alternative than to move to this Court for the reliefs prayed for herein.
2. On behalf of third respondent it is stated that it is the Contractor who engages the required number of labourers and maintains accounts, and that the third respondent-Corporation is not engaging any labour force, and it gives nine reasons as to why the Corporation does not come within the purview of the Act. Hence, there is no need for the Corporation to register itself under Act 37 of 1970.
3. During the pendency of the writ petition, counsel for petitioner persisted in directing immediate prosecution of the respondents 3 and 4 for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act, but not ordered, and the petition was being adjourned from time to time. It is only now, third respondent reports it would apply the provisions of the Act 37 of 1970 and in the third week of March, 1984, it had secured the requisite registration for their warehouses. It is also reported that it was only on 7th January, 1984, Government took the decision in the matter in this direction.
4. Mr. K. Chandru, learned counsel for petitioner submits that the writ petition had to be filed as a public interest litigation, mainly because for fourteen years the State Government had not enforced the provisions of Act 37/70 against the third respondent. This attitude on its part and third respondent had deprived sections of workmen of their legitimate rights and benefits for years and which would never be made good. Whatever had been lost were lost forever. He touches upon Labourers Working on SH Project v. State of Jammu and Kashmir : (1983)ILLJ494SC to show that, whenever any labour or service is taken by the State from any person, it has to abide by the labour laws in force. It was a case wherein the Rajasthan Government passed the Rajasthan Famine Relief Works Employees (Exemption from Labour Laws) Act, which provided inter alia that Minimum Wages Act, 1948, will not apply to famine relief works or the employees therein. Holding that such an exemption is invalid and offends Art. 23 of the Constitution, the workers were directed to be paid minimum wages.
5. People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union Of Indian : (1982)IILLJ454SC is referred to show the approach labour laws are brought to the notice of Courts. Touching upon the manner in which, violations of labour laws, nominal punishments were being imposed by Magistrates treating them as trivial offences undeserving of judicial scrutiny it was directed that Courts in this country must view with strictness whenever any violations of labour laws are established before them, and they should punish the errant employers by imposing adequate punishments. Touching upon Act 37 of 1970, it was held that the benefits to accrue to workmen if not provided by the contractor, the obligation to provide such amenities rests on the principal employer. A direction was issued therein that whenever contracts are given by Governments or any other governmental authority, including the public sector Corporation, it should ensure by introducing suitable clauses in the contract that wages shall be paid by contractors to workmen directly without intervention of intermediaries. In essence, it means that the liability to comply with the provisions of labour laws must form an essential part of the contract awarded by Government or public sector corporations. Lastly Rohit Vasavada v. Iffco 1983 II G.L.R. 1529 is also relied upon to point out that courts in this country are to be the sentinels of human freedom and this duty enjoins them to be ever vigilant to extend protection to the exploited classes and courts have a larger role to play in securing Constitutional rights to parties who might not have themselves made an approach to the Court despite violent inroads into their rights on account of poverty, ignorance or any other equally relevant social disability. Hence, he pleads that in respect of each and every establishment under the control of State of Tamil Nadu workmen would not be able to move Court to secure the rights which are available to them under labour laws and which are denied by the State Government as has happened in this case. He points out that but for this Court indicating during the pendency of the miscellaneous petition, that this is a matter wherein prosecution will have to be launched, the first respondent would not have taken a decision on 7th January, 1984, not to exempt the third respondent from the provisions of the Act.
6. The indisputable facts are :
(i) It has taken 14 long years for third respondent, in which 50 per cent of the shares are held by beneficial legislation and in spite of its validity having been upheld by the Supreme Court ten years back.
(ii) Even after institution of writ petition, State Government was only thinking of exempting the establishment.
(iii) In spite of workers addressing Respondents 1 and 2 as early as in 1981, they were not even replied.
(iv) Though Commissioner of Labour had replied on 7th August, 1981, that the matter is under consideration, for two years no decision had been taken being full aware that considerable number of workmen are affected by non-implementation of the provisions of the Act.
(v) Apart from this Act, even when the E.S.I. Act was sought to be enforced, third respondent had refused to receive the notice. As for P.F. Act, it has secured exemption.
7. Hence, when first respondent, being obliged to enforce the provisions of socio-beneficial enactments relating to labour, had taken 14 years to enforce the provisions of the Act against third respondent, and would choose to pass orders only on filing the writ petition, the learned counsel for the writ petitioner is justified in seeking for a direction to issue to first respondent, particularly when the writ petition has been filed as a public interest litigation, to disclose as to in how many of the public sector undertakings belonging to State of Tamil Nadu, beneficial legislations relating to labour, have not so far been implemented; and wherever exemptions had been granted, so that the unwary labour force may seek for suitable remedies. He submits that even in respect of this particular establishment in spite of affected workers addressing first and second respondents, they chosen not even to reply. The learned counsel for petitioner submits that the role of the court in securing constitutional rights for deprived sections of the public, having been clearly spelt out by the Supreme Court in People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (supra) and other decisions, this is a matter wherein the State Government should not hesitate to disclose as to what are obtaining in public sector undertaking belonging to it, and whether socio-economic legislations enacted for the welfare of labour force are being denied or not. There is considerable force in this contention when it has been disclosed that, in respect of the respondent - Corporation, in which State Government is having 50 percent shares, it had never initiated action under the Act for implementation of Act 37 of 1970. In spite of the authorities under E.S.I. Act addressing third respondent it is on record that it had refused to receive notice, which attitude is adopted only by scheming motivated private enterprises and only when this Court indicated that this is a matter where prosecution has to be launched, third respondent had now reported to Court that it would implement the provisions of the Acts. Hence, it would be in the interests of the labour force in this State, to direct the first respondent to furnish a statement of the public sector undertakings under its control and as to which are the beneficial labour legislations which are not yet made applicable and to what exemptions have been granted. it is granted four months time from this date to furnish the particulars to the learned counsel for the writ petitioner, so that, dependent on the materials disclosed, he may move the court by appropriate proceedings for securing relief for the affected labour force.
8. In every future contract entered into by third respondent, a clause must be introduced to the effect that the contractor is bound by the provisions of Act 37 of 1970 and such other enactments, which he is bound to implement.
9. It is mainly because of the inordinate delay in implementing the provisions of the Act, petitioner had to spend for filing this writ petition. By the long delay sizeable sections of the labour force have been deprived of ever so many benefits, which neither first respondent nor third respondent would compensate them. They have lost them once and forever.
10. When private enterprises fail to remit Provident Fund, 100% penalty is imposed irrespective of whether it was due to illegal strikes, 100% power cut, slump in, international trade; financial crisis for no fault of theirs, etc. Whenever socio-beneficial legislations are not implemented, apart from prosecutions, coercive recovery proceedings are taken. But, when a State owned establishment avoids implementing a labour enactment, how can it expect a differential treatment
11. In W.P. 213 of 1982, while disposing of a petition filed as a public interest litigation, wherein also Act 37 of 1970 was dealt with, the Supreme court had directed a sum of Rs. 5,000 to be paid to the petitioner's advocate by way of costs. As earlier stated, when labour force had already lost considerable benefits, which they could have derived all these years, this is a case wherein they should at least be reimbursed the actual cost which they have incurred in the institution of this writ petition. Hence, apart from the usual costs which they are entitled to a sum of Rs. 1,000 is directed to be paid by third respondent to the learned counsel for the petitioner-Union, by way of costs. Hence, the writ petition is ordered, accordingly, with the two directions in paras 7 and 8 with costs. Counsel's fee at Rs. 250.