The Madras High Court held that Section 6 of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 is not violative of Articles Articles 14 (State shall not deny any person equal protection of laws), 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) and 23 (prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labor) of the Constitution.
The writ petition was filed before the division bench comprising Chief Justice A P Sahi and Justice Subramonium Prasad under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for declaring Section 6 of the MGNREG Act, 2005 as ultra vires Article 23, 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India and therefore void ab initio.
Section 6 of the MGNREGA 2005 empowers the Centre to fix wages for the employees without being bound by any provision of the Minimum Wages Act 1948.
The petitioners, in this case, raised the issue that the non-payment of minimum wages as per the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 who are engaged in the MGNREGA Scheme is violative of Article 14.
It was contended that the persons engaged in similar nature of work are getting the minimum wages in other Government Departments and therefore fixing minimum wages under the MGNREG Act 2005 is ultra vires the Constitution of India.
The petitioners also contended that the paying wages less than minimum wages to be treated as forced and bonded labor, which is violative of Article 23 of the Constitution of India.
The court observed that the purpose of the MGNREG Act, 2005 is to extend a helping hand to the unemployed youth and not to force unwilling labor on any person.
"The 2005 Act is clearly intended to augment and supplement the penury conditions of poverty and provide financial benefits in the shape of wages while executing schemes of nature as described under the Act", said the court.
The court also opined that the MGNREG Act does not bring about any exploitation or compelling forced bonded labor so as to violate Article 23 of the Constitution of India.
"The argument on the strength of Article 14 of the Constitution of India is also not well-founded, as the nature of the claim, the work and the projects that are to be executed have been clearly explained by the respondents to be of a different nature and not a regular workforce engaged for performing any regular work. The two classes, therefore, being different, we do not find this to be a case attracting Article 14 of the Constitution of India."
The court while issuing the order relied on the notification issued by the Central Government on 26.3.2019 in the exercise of the powers conferred under Section 6(1) of the MNREG Act 2005.
The said notification prescribes a State-wise wage rate for unskilled manual workers. While examining the said notification, the court opined that the new wage revision is not ultra vires Article 14 and Article 23 of the Constitution of India.
"By prescription of a new wage revision, as observed above...we are not persuaded to extend any such relief for the reasons given hereinabove, as we do not find the provisions under challenge to be ultra vires Article 14 and Article 23 of the Constitution of India."
Accordingly, the court closed the petitions.
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