Article 23 : Traffic in human beings and beggary and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. (Article 23(1)). Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service, the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, or class or any of them. (Article 23(2)) “This Article (i.e. 23) protects the individual not only against the State but also against other individuals. It regards ‘traffic in human beings and ‘begar’, i.e., forced labour as constituting exploitation. It may, however, be remembered that this right is available to both the citizens as well as aliens. “The Supreme Court has widened the meaning of ‘begar’/forced labour in its numerous decisions: ‘begar’ being a form of forced labour where a person is compelled to work without receiving any remuneration (see People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India ‘ 1982).
In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan ‘ 1983, the apex court held that the payment of wages lower than the minimum wages is violative of Article 23. Similarly, the labour taken from prisoners without paying proper remuneration is an example of ‘forced labour’ and thus is against Article 23 (see Deena v. Union of India, 1983). In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, 1983, the Supreme Court held that the public interest litigation cases (highlighting the bonded labour problems) be encouraged by the government. However, the compulsory military service or social service, imposed by the State, are neither beggar nor traffic in human being (see Dulal Samanta v. D.M. Howrah, 1958).
Article 24 prohibits the employment of children to work in any factory or mines or engaged in any other hazardous employment. In Labours Working on Salal Hydro Project v. State of Jammu and Kashmir ‘ 1984, the apex court has reiterated the principle that construction work is a hazardous employment and that children below 14 years cannot be employed in this work. In another case, M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu, 1997, the Supreme Court had held that the children below the age of 14 years cannot be employed in any hazardous industry, mines and other works and had laid down exhaustive guidelines as to how the State authorities should protect economic, social and humanitarian rights of millions of children. It may, however, be remembered that the number of working children ranged somewhere between 4.4 core to 10 crore in the country during the closing year of the 20th century.