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Rights Of Indian Prisoners To Equitable Wages And Application Of Labor Laws In Prisons

26 May 2022 5:50 AM GMT
Rights Of Indian Prisoners To Equitable Wages And Application Of Labor Laws In Prisons

"Prisoner" as the term is specified under Section 1 of the Prison Security Act of 1992. As per the Section, "any person for the time being in a prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in a legal custody"[1] is called a prisoner.

Even if a prisoner is found guilty of a crime in a court of law, he or she does not cease to be a person. Thus, a prisoner, like any other non-prisoner, is entitled to certain fundamental rights that no authority has the jurisdiction to revoke. It's worth noting here that these rights are not entirely absolute. These rights are subject to various limits (as defined by current legislation).

India, one of the world's biggest civilized nations, continues to fall behind in codifying the rights of its inmates. India has over 1400 prisons but requires legislation to protect the rights of its prisoners.[3] As a result, such rules are often mentioned only on papers without being implemented in practice. The majority of these jails are maintained by the prisoners themselves.[4] This guarantees that external influence is kept to a minimum and that maintenance expenses are kept to a minimum. The prisoners at the reformatory institution conduct daily activities such as laundry, landscaping the jail yards, cooking, and working in the commissary.

1. Classification Of Wages:

According to the International Labor Organization, wages are defined as, Payment made to the laborers for the services rendered to their employers conditionally per hour, per day, per week or per fortnight (deferring from case to case basis).

As defined in Section 2 (h) of Minimum Wages Act, 1948, wages means remunerations that can be expressly mentioned in the terms of money and are capable of being paid to the employed person given, the terms of the employment contract either express or implied are fulfilled.

Wages fall into four major categories,[5] as shown below –

  • Subsistence Wage: Subsistence wages are such category of wages which when paid to employees, can provide just the absolute minimal physical necessities of those workers and their families.
  • Minimum Wage: Minimum wages are such category of wages which one that cannot be lowered by the employer and allows the employees who get it to afford food, clothing, and housing (all of which are essential requirements for any person's existence).
  • Fair Wage: Fair wages are such category of wages is one that is changeable and is changed/adjusted on a periodic basis in accordance with the prevailing wage rates in the specific industry of employment. Additionally, these wages are contingent upon the employer's industry's ability to pay its employees.
  • Living Wage: Living wages are such category provides workers with not just food, clothing, and housing (Minimum wages)[6], but also education for their children, recreational activities, and social security benefits such as retirement pensions and illness insurance. Such creature luxuries are included in the employees' living salary.

Model Prison Manual And Prisoners' Wages:

As mentioned in the provision under the Model prison manual (14.45), wages provided to the workers should not be nominal/ trivial rather, they should be fair and reasonable.[7] These rates, which are payable to employees, must be standardised and adjusted periodically in accordance with government notifications clarifying/changing the applicable minimum wages. If a worker is not paid (at all) for the work done by him/ her, such work is referred as 'Bonded labour' which is not only unlawful but also humiliating for such workers.[8] Wages payable in any state are determined/ regulated on a timely basis in accordance with the recommendations given by such state's wage fixation body.

If India's current state is considered, its prisoners are not even paid the minimum wage required by the 1948 Minimum Wages Act. To add insult to injury, there are further reductions in the wages eventually payable for the food and clothing supplied by the victim compensation fund established under Section 357 A of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, as well as numerous others.[9]

Issue: 1 Implication Of Minimum Wages Act

When we examine India's criminal justice system, we view it as reformatory. Prisoners in India are given the option of working (although it is necessary under rigorous imprisonment), and the jail authorities remunerate them based on the job they do. A common follow-up issue is concerning the amount of money provided to inmates for the labour they do and if there is a proper amount that should be paid.

Justin Higgin[10] propounded the concept of "minimum wage," which he defined as the wage level given to any unskilled worker. According to him, these wages should not be subject to change and should be determined with regard for employees as civilised society's human beings.

What justice Higgin meant was that

  1. These wages should not be curtailed below the decided rate,
  2. Such wages should be paid to unskilled workers who have not received any training to develop any
    expertise, and
  3. The worker should be treated humanely as a member of a civilised society entitled to basic human needs such as food to eat, clothing to wear, and a place to live. Thus, minimum wages paid to workers should guarantee that they can access basic essentials of existence.

To grasp the notion of wage distribution and the inconsistencies in its application, let us go to Bihar, where inmates are paid 87 Rupees for a day's labour doing semi-skilled job.[11] The most distressing aspect of the system is the minimal wages provided to such categories of workers in jail, as well as the disparity between what is paid and what is required. 188 Rupees is the estimated daily rate for a semi-skilled prisoner. The discrepancy of 101 Rupees deprives prisoners of their entitlement to minimum pay. There is no justification for such salary deductions.

1. Divergent Viewpoints On The Application Of The 1948 Minimum Wage Act:

Numerous Indian court judgements show opposing perspectives on minimum wages as ascertained by such courts.

In the case of Gurdev Singh and other v. State of Himachal Pradesh and others[12], it was held that Inmates working in the prison, like other employees, are protected by the 1948 Minimum Wage Act and so entitled to minimum pay. A similar ruling was rendered in the case of State of Gujarat and another v. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat[13] where the court reaffirmed the Minimum Wages Act's 1948 implementation to prisoners doing hard labour in jail. On the similar line, the Kerala government's Jail Reforms Committee issued a suggestion advocating for local minimum wages that must be given after deductions for inmate upkeep at the average per capita cost.

Now, we must comprehend the concept of 'service,' which is included within the ambit of scheduled employment. Scheduled employment is an idea that dates all the way back to the 1948 Minimum Wage Act. State and Prisoner Services make the state the employer and the inmates the employees of the state. However, contrary to the aforementioned definition of service, in Kartick Paul v. The State of West Bengal (2020) Calcutta high court ruled and explicitly stated that the minimum wage statute does not apply to inmates who work while serving their imprisonment. There were two primary reasons for this verdict: first, wages should be determined by the state correctional service act, which is the applicable law; and second, prisoners do not have a choice whether to work or not; prisoners undergoing rigorous and simple imprisonment are required to work, which exempts them from the ambit of Minimum Wage Act.

The Rajasthan High court position on minimum pay for inmates is clear from the decision it issued on rule 31 of the 1951 Rajasthan prisons regulation. The High Court directed the Government of Rajasthan to adjust prisoner salaries and to pay the revised wages to convicts who had worked for the last five years. Additionally, the High Court stressed the relevance of the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 while reviewing payments and payment of such wages in defiance of the aforementioned Calcutta High Court order.

Such anomalous verdicts fundamentally alter the nature of the employment provided to convicts. What should be noted here is that the 1948 Minimum Wage Act is a General Legislation controlling wages; thus, if a special law covers the same issue and concerns, it supersedes this general law. This may be shown in the case of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act of 1992, which was deemed to be a distinct statute regulating the pay and services of convicts and so precedes the 1948 Minimum Wage Act.

2. State Government's Response:

  • State governments' observation to the applicability of the 1948 Minimum Wage Act to prisoners have been mostly unfavorable. According to the states, jail and prisoner maintenance are included on their list. As a result, states should choose how prisons should be managed and what legislation should be enacted to regulate their operations. The majority of states have resisted the implementation of the minimum wage laws and the payment of minimum wages to prisoners. States argue that inmates should be managed by the 1894 Prisons Act and have no entitlement to wages other than those provided for under the act.
  • Justice A. N. Mulla, head of the All India committee on jail reforms, was adamantly opposed to the concept of paying convicts at commercial wage rates. He considered the comparison unreasonable and advocated for paying prisoners wages commensurate with their abilities. He did, however, advocate for just and equal compensation commensurate with the prisoners' abilities.
  • What cannot be refuted is that the states' financial situation is unsuitable for increasing the minimum wages due under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948, since the governments are already redirecting funds, to continue operating prisons.

2nd Issue: Basis For Deductions

In various situations, various High Courts and the Supreme Court have examined pay deductions from prisoners. The Supreme Court said in State of Gujarat and another v. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat that Article 330A of the Indian Constitution prohibits the withdrawal of money from a prisoner's wages as compensation to the victim/victim's family.[14]

The Court approved such deductions for the benefits of victims. To avoid the Article 330A concern, the Court proposed that such guidelines be framed within the Prisons Act. The Court proposed the establishment of a Prison Fund to redirect a part of prisoners' wages to the victim indirectly, via such funds, rather than withholding the same directly from their pay. When a body is established, it may establish such a fund to assess equitable wages. The enacted regulations may specify the purpose for which each particular sum from the fund must be utilised. To aid in the restoration and restitution of victims/victims' families, the Supreme Court established a maximum ceiling of 25% on such deductions, not to exceed that for the victim compensation fund.

Nitin Verma v. GNCTD (2020)[15] took a different approach to the issue of prisoner wages being deducted. The Delhi High Court has ruled against such deductions, even if they fall below the 25 percentage point limit.

The ruling concentrated on two points in order to refute the following deductions:

  • In Delhi, there is a 14-crore fund that is unutilized.
  • The state has previously established a fund to pay victims/victims' families under the Nirbhaya Scheme.
  • As a result, the Court determined that the 25% deduction is irrelevant in Delhi

Unlike Delhi, Rajasthan is unable to eliminate the 25% deduction due to a lack of funds. Rajasthan Government borrows money from the Central Government to pay compensation to victims since it is unable to do so with its own budget. Another factor for Rajasthan's incompetence is the value of the things produced by the prisoners. The value of such things is trivial in comparison to the money spent by the state on prisoner care. What cannot be refuted is that by deducting such wages, the state of Rajasthan is burdening the already burdened prisoners and abdicates its obligation to compensate victims/victims' families.

The manner in which prisoners' salaries are distributed and deducted requires urgent consideration, since the existing system has several loopholes that might be exploited. The Supreme Court's decision in State of Gujarat v. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat should be revisited since it creates a hole by failing to define "appropriate deduction." Such gaps may be closed if governments and prison authorities adhere to and enforce labour rules applicable to convicts.

The importance of labour laws in jail may also be shown in the previous example of Bihar, where almost 60% of convicts' salaries are deducted, leaving just a meagre sum. In the case of State of Gujarat v. Hon'ble Gujarat High Court, the Supreme Court expressly specifies that the state may withhold no more than 50% of wages. Bihar disobeys the regulation and withholds a large percentage of convicts' salaries. As a result, this demonstrates that the Supreme Court's standards are not being followed by the states.[16]

After examining the conditions of inmates in several states, it is evident that they are not being treated properly. Their workload and remuneration are very unequal. Prisoners are not treated fairly as a result of these wage deductions, which result in their oppression. Prisoners, like other Indian citizens, have fundamental rights that should not be infringed by governments due to a lack of finances.

In 1998, the Supreme Court of India urged governments to comply with the 1948 Minimum Wage Act and set prisoner pay correspondingly. Despite these decisions and recommendations, prisoners in numerous states continue to face the wrath of prison officials who violate their constitutional right to a fair and equitable compensation for their employment. Additionally, in several states, such as Bihar, inmates and their families are abused via ultimately unreasonable deductions, leaving them with a meagre amount of money to survive.

Although the criminal justice system promotes compensatory damages to victims and their families, this cannot be accomplished at the cost of prisoners and their families. By serving jail terms, inmates are already being punished for their wrongdoings; withholding arbitrary sums from their wages simply serves to diminish their chances of restoration, which is emphasized by the current criminal justice system.

There is a need to completely overhaul and establish prison worker pay countrywide in accordance with the 1948 Minimum Wage Act. Labor laws must be enforced in prisons to prevent prisoners' rights from being violated arbitrarily. Prisoners, as well as those on trial who are inclined to work, should be equipped with eight hours of employment. There seems to be no necessity to give prisoners a living wage; rather, prisoners should be paid minimum remuneration to which they are entitled after adjusting the average per capita cost of prison inmate upkeep.

Prisoners who are compelled to work without sufficient recompense are considered to be subjected to "forced labour," which violates Article 23 of the Indian Constitution.[17] Prisoners' rights to fair pay should be upheld by the court, since it is the court's responsibility to do so.[18] While it is apparent that placing prisoners on level with industrial sector workers would be impossible and absurd, prisoners should at the very least be given minimum wages in accordance with the 1948 Minimum Wage Act in order to provide for their families and themselves. Only then can meaningful reform of prisoners be accomplished through the promotion of the reformative concept of justice.

The author is a student at National Law University, Jodhpur. Views are personal.

[1] Section 1, Prison Security Act 1992.

[2] See, B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India's Constitution - A Study 252-57 (1968)

[3] Jaytialak Guha, Roy Prisons & Society-A study of the Indian Jail System,2,Gian Publishing House,1989.

[4] Bureau of Police Research and Development and Development, Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration, Part-III,1st December (2005). at 184

[5] ILO: Global Wage Report 2008–09: Minimum wages and collective bargaining: Towards policy coherence (Geneva, 2009)

[6] ILO: Minutes of the 168th Session of the Governing Body, Geneva, 27 Feb.–3 Mar. 1967, p. 58 and Appendix XV, paras 2–9

[7] Para 14.45, Model prison manual.

[8] People's Union for Democratic Rights & Ors v. Union of India, 1982 AIR 1473

[9] For the existing legal framework for compensating victims of crime in India, see K. I. Vibhute, "Compensating Victims of Crime in India : An Appraisal", 32 JILI 68-81 (1990). And for its comparative assessment, see K. I. Vibhute, "Victimology: An International Perspective", 14 CULR. 145-1

[10] Colin Gonsalves, Vijay Hiremath and Rebecca Gonsalvez et al., Prisoers Rights, Vol. II (Mumbai: (HRLN), 2008) at 575-76

[11] Prison Statistics India, 2015 (NCRB)

[12] Gurudev Singh v. State of Himachal Pradesh , AIR 1992 H.P. 76

[13] State of Gujarat v. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat AIR 1998 SC 3164

[14] Supra note 13

[15] Nitin Verma v. GNCTD, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 870

[16] Supra note 13.

[17] Poola Bhaskara Vijayakumar Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr., AIR 1988 AP 29

[18] Deena v. Union of India, AIR 1983 SC 1155

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