The Bombay High Court has rejected a petition by Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Undertaking (BEST) workers union seeking quashing of certain provisions related to working hours in Motor Transport Workers Act on the ground that they violated the right to life. Dismissing the petition, a bench of Chief Justice Dr Manjula Chellur and Justice M S Sonak observed, “The dynamic interpretation of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is no doubt, here to stay.
However, we are not convinced that the impugned provisions, in any manner, denude the motor transport workers of such right to life, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the decisions cited.” Refusing to quash the provisions related to working hours, the court held that these are matters of legislative policy and unless, manifest unreasonableness or arbitrariness is made out, it is not for the courts to strike down the law or to declare that such a law will not apply to metropolitan areas.
“The provisions of Chapter V of the Act which comprises section 13 to 20 have to be construed in their entirety. Thus construed, no case of arbitrariness or unreasonableness is made out. So also, it cannot be said that impugned provisions denude motor transport workers of rights as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution,” the bench ruled recently.
The petition sought declaration of section 16(1) of the Motor Transport Workers Act and the second proviso to section 13 of the same Act as ultra vires, contending thatthey violated Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The counsel for petitioner, Neeta Karnik, submitted that Section 13 of the said Act mandates that no adult motor transport workers shall be required or allowed to work for more than eight hours in any day or 48 hours in any week.
However, she submitted that the second proviso to section 13 completely negates this mandate by permitting the employer to require motor transport workers to work for more than 8 hours in any day or more than 48 hours in any week.
Karnik argued that the dilution which the second proviso to section 13 brings about to the mandate of section 13(1) is arbitrary and violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
The BEST Union lawyer further submitted that requiring any motor transport workers to work beyond 8 hours on any day or more than 48 hours in any week, adversely affects the right to life of such workers, constitutes bonded labour and is consequently violative of Article 21 of the Constitution. Karnik argued that section 16(1) of the Act which permits spread over of more than 12 hours in any day takes no cognisance whatsoever of the conditions of service in metropolitan areas where, it is practically impossible for the workers to afford any housing or place, where to take rest.
She submitted that provisions contained in the second proviso to section 13 and section 16 of the Act, are virtually being observed on regular basis in metropolitan places.
Such breach or abuse of the statutory provisions affects the life and health of the transport workers and this constitutes sufficient reason to declare the provisions as violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, Karnik told the court.
However, the high court was of the view that the purpose for spread over of not more than 12 hours in any day is in fact, intended to benefit the motor transport workers.
“The provision is also in public interest, since, the motor transport workers transport, on most occasions, members of the public and if the motor transport workers are over-strained, there is possibility of accidents. Situations like breakdown, dislocation of motor transport service, interruption of traffic or act of God are generally, not matters of routine.”
“In such a situation, if the rigours otherwise imposed by the legislation are marginally relaxed, it cannot be said that such statutory relaxation is unreasonable or arbitrary or that it results in denial of right to life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution,” said the bench.
These are matters of legislative policy and unless, manifest unreasonableness or arbitrariness is made out, it is not for the courts to strike down the law or to declare that such a law will not apply to metropolitan areas or may continue to apply in other areas only, the judges observed.
“The classification which is not in tune with the Constitution is per se unreasonable and cannot be permitted.
In this case, as we have found the impugned provisions are neither unreasonable nor out of tune with the constitutional provisions, the decision cited therefore, does not assist the petitioners,” the Judges remarked.