This article is written by Sambit Rath, a B.A LL.B student of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. This article aims to cover all the aspects of Article 42 of the Indian Constitution.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
“A good work culture and work environment are very crucial in helping your employees to put their best foot forward.”
– Pooja Agnihotri.
Having a wonderful, high-paying job would indeed make anyone happy. But what decides if one continues in that job for a long time, even if it is a low-paying job, is the work environment. Having a positive and humane work environment would ensure employee job satisfaction and would increase overall productivity. Add to this the basic requirement of female employees to get maternity leave. The Constitution makers had picturised a society where every citizen had all the basic requirements. This motivated them to make certain principles that direct the state in policy-making to establish ‘Ram Rajya.’ These principles came to be known as the Directive Principles of State Policy. One of these principles, Article 42 of the Indian Constitution, directs the state to make provisions for just and humane conditions for work including maternity relief.
Purpose of Article 42
The state employs people in its companies and other organisations to provide public services. Some of these services include construction, banking, sanitation, etc. Considering the fact that most of India’s population is poor, many such people find work in these low-paying sectors. With a low-paying job, comes a low-quality work environment. For example, construction workers had to work with no safety gear in the earlier days. Sanitation workers were not given the proper equipment to work with. These working conditions were not at all humane and led to many accidents. Earlier, female employees used to get fired from their jobs when they had to take maternity leave. Some even tried to work through those months to avoid losing their job.
To ensure that the state changes its casual attitude towards its employees, Article 42 was added to the draft constitution. Article 42 of the Constitution of India states that the state shall make provisions for ensuring just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. The nature of this Article was such that when it was put up for discussion, it was passed without any debate and was adopted on 23rd November 1948.
Directive Principles of State Policy
Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) are moral guidelines for the government to guide in policy making. Article 42 is a part of these principles. The objective of the DPSPs is to guide the state in making policies that better the social and economic conditions of the country. This concept was borrowed from the Irish Constitution. Articles 36-51 in Part IV of the Indian Constitution deal with DPSP. These are non-justiciable and non-enforceable in nature, which means the courts cannot hold the state liable for not implementing these principles. This is because India did not have the financial resources nor the means to implement these at the time the Constitution saw the light of the day. It became the duty of the state to implement these in the future as the country kept developing.
Even though these principles are non-justiciable, the state has taken inspiration from these and has implemented them in its policies. The courts too have taken these into consideration while pronouncing judgements. Some of the policies include:
- Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which is based on the principle given in Article 39(a), provides for adequate means of livelihood.
- Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 protects children from being forced into child labour. It is based on the principle given in Article39(f).
- Anti-cow slaughter laws of various states in India find their roots in Article 48.
- Workmen Compensation Act 1923, Minimum Wages Act 1948, Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946, The Factories Act 1948, and Maternity Benefit Act 1961 are based on the principles laid down by Article 41, Article 42, and Article 43A.
- Various programs that promote rural and urban development and various public health improvement policies are based on Article 47 which directs the state to improve the standard of living and public health.
Essential features of Article 42 of the Indian Constitution
We have seen till now what is the purpose of Article 42 and its role in Directive Principles of State Policy. Now let’s look at the essential features of Article 42:
- It directs the state to make laws that ensure just and humane conditions at work and provide for maternity benefits.
- This principle, like the others, is non-justiciable. It means this principle cannot be enforced in a court of law.
- It imposes a duty on the Central as well as the state governments to apply this principle in making laws relating to maternity benefits and working conditions in factories, etc.
- Its aim is to create such working conditions that each and every employee will be motivated to work efficiently. It also aims to ensure maternity benefits for female workers so that they can take a leave from work while in labour, without worrying about losing their job.
- Acts as a yardstick for the public to measure government actions related to working conditions and maternity relief.
- It can be used by the courts to help them in taking decisions when the executive or the administration has taken questionable actions against what is stated by this principle.
Landmark judgements regarding Article 42
Over the years, the courts have tried to emphasise the importance of DPSPs by applying them to their judgements.
In the case of Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers on 8 March 2000, female workers who were not regular workers but were temporary workers claimed that they were entitled to maternity benefits that are available to regular workers. The Court held that the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 are in line with Articles 39 and Article 42. It stated that a female employee cannot be compelled to work while she is in an advanced pregnancy as it would be harmful to her as well as her child. It is for this reason that the Act provides 6 weeks of maternity leave before and after delivery.
B. Shah v. Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Coimbatore, and Ors. on 12 October 1997 is another case. In this, the Supreme Court had to decide if Sundays were to be excluded in calculating maternity benefits for the period covered in Section 5. The Labour Court held that Sundays must be included. It applied the beneficial rule of construction in favour of the female workers and said that the benefit provided by the Act when read with Article 42 of the Constitution of India was intended to allow the woman worker to make up for her dissipated energy and maintain the level of her previous efficiency and output.
In the case of Anshu Rani v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors., on 19 April 2019, the petitioner had asked for maternity leave of 180 days as she was in labour. But the respondent provided leave for only a period of 90 days. Subsequently, the petitioner requested again and the respondent didn’t budge. Also, for both instances, no reasoning was provided by the respondent. The Allahabad High Court held that the request made for 180 days of maternity leave was valid and directed the state government to grant maternity leave of 180 days with full payment to all female employees irrespective of the nature of employment.
The Court also made some very important observations that are relevant to our topic. It stated that the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was made in consonance with the provisions of Article 42 which speaks about just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. The validity of government action in denying maternity benefits has to be examined on the anvil of Article 42 which even though not enforceable at law, is still available for determining the legal efficacy of the action. Here, the Court made it clear that any governmental action can be measured by the public by taking DPSPs as a yardstick and the courts can use DPSPs to add weight to their decisions.
Laws embodying the principles of Article 42 of the Indian Constitution
Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
The Maternity Benefit Act is aimed to protect female employees during their maternity period from losing their jobs. It allows women to take paid leave when they are in labour. According to Section 2 read with Section 3(e), it applies to establishments owned by the government, factories, mines, and plantations. It also applies to establishments defined under law, as having 10 or more employees during the preceding 12 months.
A woman to be eligible for the benefits under this Act should be an employee in an establishment for a period of at least 80 days in the past year. After the Amendment to the Act in 2017, the period of maternity leave has been extended from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Other such extensions have also been made.
The Act was the state’s way of applying the principle given in Article 42 of the Indian Constitution. Now, any eligible female worker can approach the courts if she is denied maternity benefits by her employer.
The Factories Act, 1948
This Act is aimed to regulate labour in factories in India. It contains provisions on health, safety, leave, welfare, and working hours of workers. It also provides for inspecting staff for factories, penalties for violations of provisions, etc.
Section 7A of the Act directs the occupier to ensure the safety, welfare, and health of all workers while at work. It is the duty of the occupier to see that there are no risks with the handling of machinery and tools in the factory. The Act also provides that the factory must be kept clean by ensuring that accumulated dirt is cleaned daily and floors of the workroom are cleaned every week. There should also be a proper drainage system, a sufficient supply of drinking water, and conveniently suited urinals. It also states that no worker shall be made to work more than 48 hours in a week and 9 hours a day. All these steps would ensure that the workers work in just and humane conditions, which is provided in Article 42 of the Constitution as a directive to the state.
Often people who work in certain public sectors where the job involves a high amount of risk to their safety, are exploited because they lack basic awareness of their rights. Also, employees are made to work overtime without any remuneration. Such exploitation only harms the employees. It is the duty of the State to create just and safe working conditions for its workers and employees. It is also important that female workers who are in labour get maternity relief. The purpose of Article 42 was to deal with these issues. As time has passed, the State has shown responsibility by giving teeth to this principle by enacting legislation based on it. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, and the various acts dealing with working conditions like the Factories Act, 1948 are proof that the state has acted on the directions given by Article 42 of the Indian Constitution. The courts, using this Article and the provisions laid down by the Acts discussed above in delivering justice, have kept the spirit of this principle alive.
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