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Forced Labour or Unlawful compulsory labour (Section 374 of IPC)

Section 374 is intended to put a stop to the practice of forced labour. It requires:

(i) Unlawful compulsion of any person;

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(ii) The unlawful compulsion must be to labour against the will of that person.

The offence under Section 374 is cognizable, bailable, compoundable and is triable by any Magistrate.

In State of Gujarat v. Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat [AIR 1998 SC 3164], the court held that imposition of hard labour on persons undergoing imprisonment is legal. They can be compelled to do hard labour.

Article 23 of the constitution of India provides that: “Prohibition of traffic in human being and forced labour:

(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.

(2) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.”

‘Begat’ means labour of service without receiving any remuneration for it or which is less than the minimum prescribed.

In People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India [AIR 1982 SC 1473] it has been observed that begar may be loosely described as labour or service which a person is forced to give without receiving any remuneration for it. Begar is clearly a form of forced labour. Article 23 of the Constitution prohibited begar and all other similar forms of forced labour because it is violative of human dignity and is contrary to basic human values.

What Art 23 of Constitution of India prohibits is forced labour, that is labour or service which a person is forced to provide. Force, which would make such labour or service, forced labour, may arise in several ways:

(i) It may be physical force which may compel a person to provide labour or service to another;

(ii) It may be force exerted through a legal provision such as a provision for imprisonment or fine in case the employee fails to provide labour or service;

(iii) It may even be compulsion arising from hunger and poverty, want and destruction.

Any factor which deprives a person of a choice of alternatives and compels him to adopt one particular course of action may properly be regarded as force and if labour or service is compelled as a result of such force, it would be forced labour.

In this case the court held that the deduction of Re. 1 per worker per day with the result that the workers did not get the minimum wages of Rs. 9.25 per day violates Article 23 of the Constitution and amounts to forced labour.

In Bandhu Mukti Morcha v. Union of India [AIR 1984 SC 802], a large number of workers were working under inhuman and intolerable conditions in stone quarries. It was contended by the petitioner that in spite of the enactment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, which makes using bonded labour illegal and punishable with imprisonment. Bonded labour is a form of forced labour.

Bonded labour is a system of usury (lending of money at high rate) under which the debtor or his descendants or dependants have to work for the condition without reasonable wages or with no wages in order to extinguish the debt. At times, several generations work under bondage for the repayment of a paltry sum, which had been taken by some remote ancestor. The interest rates are exorbitant.

The court allowed the petition and issued a number of directions to the Central Government, State Governments and concerned authorities to take a strict view of labour laws and to impose adequate punishment on errant employers.

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