The Bombay High Court has refused to strike down provisions of the Motor Transport Workers’ Act, 1961, as unconstitutional.
A division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice MS Sonak pronounced its judgement in a matter where the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Undertaking (BEST) Workers’ Union had challenged the second proviso of S.13 and S.16(1) of the said Act as being ultra vires to Articles 14 (equality before the law) and 21 (Right to life) of the Constitution.
Petitioner’s lawyer Neeta Karnik contended that since Section 13 of the Act states that “no adult motor transport workers shall be required or allowed to work for more than 8 hours in any day and 48 hours in any week”, the second proviso 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. This, she argued, adversely affects the right to life of the workers.
However, the bench held that the purpose of the second proviso of S.13 is to make an exception or to exclude the situation, which would otherwise be covered in the main enactment, as this proviso only applies “in case of a breakdown or dislocation of a motor transport service or interruption of traffic or act of God”.
Section 16(1) provides that “the hours of a work of an adult motor transport worker shall be so arranged that inclusive of interval for rest under section 15, they shall not spread over more than 12 hours in any day.” The court said this situation will not apply to a case where the second proviso to section 13 of the said Act applies.
The court also said that “in the matter of determining hours and limitation of employment, some latitude has to be conceded to the legislature and the courts cannot insist on mathematical or accurate classification covering diverse situation and all possible contingencies in view of the inherent complexities involved in society.”
The bench also referred to the apex court’s decision in Transport and Dock Workers Union & Ors. vs. Mumbai Port Trust & Anr where it held that “Article 14 of the Constitution does not take away from the State or from its instrumentality the power of classification, which to some degree is bound to produce some inequality. However, mere inequality is not enough to violate Article 14. Differential treatment, per se, does not constitute violation of Article 14.”
To summarise the judgment, one may refer to the following observation: “The law cannot be declared ultra vires on grounds of hardship, but can be done so on grounds of total unreasonableness.” The petition was dismissed.
Read the order here.