MATTER OF PRISON REFORMS ENHANCEMENT OF WAGES OF PRISONERS Vs. STATE
HIGH COURT OF KERALA
MATTER OF PRISON REFORMS ENHANCEMENT OF WAGES OF PRISONERS
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(1.)THIS Court has been receiving petitions from prisoners in the various jails of the State either directly or through the grievance deposit boxes maintained in the jails. Such of those matters as call for attention of the Government are brought to the notice of the Government by the high Court, expecting that action would be taken thereon and if no action is taken then the court is called upon to look into the matter on the judicial side and pass necessary order.
(2.)THE High Court forwarded a request, of 19 prisoners from the Central Prison at Cannanore to the Government for necessary action along with the letter of the Registrar dated 18-6-1982. One of the prayers made in the representation by the prisoners was that the wages of the prisoners may be enhanced. THE Government's attention was drawn to this prayer. In fact the question of enhancement of wages of prisoners was pending with the Government on a recommendation made by the High Court earlier. That has been so pending for a fairly long time, for more than three years now. In the meantime representations in that matter are being received from the prisoners. THErefore the High Court decided to take cognizance of the complaint of the 19 prisoners concerning the propriety of non-payment of adequate wages. By then the High court also received a similar petition from another prisoner, one P. V. Sandappan who also raised the question of inadequacy of wages. Thus the matter has been taken up in these two petitions so that we could consider the question of justification for direction as to wages to be paid to the prisoners in the jails in the State.
Though the prisoners were not as such represented in this court we had the assistance of eminent counsel who acted as amicus curiae in this case. We place on record our thanks to Sri. P. Balagangadhara Menon, advocate, who from the very commencement of this matter has been of great assistance to us. So is the case with Sri, S. Sivaraman, Advocate. We had also the benefit of hearing the arguments of Advocates Sri. K. A. Abdul Salam and sri. M. P. Krishnan Nair representing the Law Society of India. We also heard mr. Vincent Panikulangara, the Secretary of the Public Interest Law Service society (PILSS ). The learned Advocate General fairly placed before us the government's point of view and furnished us material that we wanted in the case. We are thankful to all of them.
The question for decision is by no means easy. It is complicated, more so because of attitudes. The approach to a criminal, the purpose of punishment, the object to be achieved by keeping the prisoner behind bars, the need for a harsh or soft treatment towards the criminal are all matters on which there has been and there continues to be keen controversy. Civilized opinion recognises the role played by society in the preparation of crimes. Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it, said Henry Thomas Buckle. The criminal is, according to one school of thought, to be dealt with as a victim, but equally powerful is the other school which considers him in a different light and which considers that unrelenting misery should be decreed for the criminal, deterrence being, according to that school, the very purpose and object to be achieved by the punishment. Though reference to the righteousness of these attitudes may perhaps be not irrelevant here the question that we are called upon to decide must necessarily be approached from an entirely different angle, the morality of inadequate wages paid to a prisoner is, a matter essentially for the legislature to consider and the executive to feel about. Whatever may be the sentiments of the court on mis question it is not for this court to lay down any policy. All the same the court will activise itself in the cause if by denying adequate wages for the labour extracted from a prisoner, extracted at an illusory cost, the constitutional right of a prisoner is being infringed and the prisoner is exploited. So the issue before us is whether in law the claim of the prisoners in the various jails of the State for proper remuneration for the work they are compelled to do, not on their own volition, but because of the compulsions of the prison rules is enforceable by this Court's mandate.
(3.)THE attention of the Government of Kerala has been drawn by the High Court by communication dated 15-2-1980 to the need for looking into the question of revision of wages paid to the prisoners in the jails of the State. This communication was based on the information furnished to the High Court by one of us, the Acting Chief Justice, who happened to receive complaints about the nominal wages being paid to the prisoners working in the Central Prison: In a subsequent communication sent to the Government by the High Court along with a report of 12-6-1980 of the committee appointed by the High Court the Government was told that no response had been received by the High Court from the Government on the recommendation to revise the wages of prisoners. THE Government brought to the High Court's notice a Government order dated 31-5-1980 by which the minimum rate of wages for a prisoner was fixed by revision as 50 paise and the maximum as Rs. 1. 60. No doubt, the Government had taken action on the communication from the High Court calling attention to the need for revision of the wages. This gesture by the Government in increasing such wages marginally was still considered by the High Court as inadequate. A committee of three judges of this Court was constituted to go into this question among other matters and report thereon. A copy of the report dated 16-3-1981 was thereafter sent to the Government. This report particularly drew the attention of the Government to the various provisions relating to payment of wages, the statutory and constitutional obligation of the Government to pay adequate wages and finally advised the Government to adopt the principle of paying reasonable wages, the reasonableness being determined on the basis of what is fixed as minimum wage in the industry or trade similar to that in which the prisoners are engaged. More than two years have passed since then and evidently no action has been taken as seen from the statement filed on behalf of the State in this case. This statement has been filed in the two Original petitions by the Joint Secretary to Government, Home Department. In the statement reference is seen made to the minimum and maximum rates of wages in the prisons at 50 paise and Rs. 1. 60 respectively. Reference is also seen made to the reports of the Committee of the judges and it is stated that the government is giving very anxious and urgent consideration to the recommendations made by the Committee. It is further stated that the Government proposes to enhance the wages of the prisoners in the jails in Kerala and a decision to that effect will be taken shortly. Mention is made of the fact that the Government had constituted a Prison Reforms Commission to go into various aspects relating to the prison reforms.
We are not persuaded to put off our decision in this case or to drop consideration of the issue raised herein as to the wages to be paid to the prisoners on the basis of the statement that the matter is engaging the attention of the Government or of the statement that this is one of the matters referred to the Prison Reforms Commission. Though the matter has been brought to the notice of the Government early in 1980 and three years have passed and the specific recommendation on the matter by the High Court has been sent two years ago apparently no decision seems to have been attempted, so much so there is no justification in declining to decide this question here. The prison Reforms Commission whose term of office was one year, has outlived that term and its second term is understood to expire by the end of September, 1983. Due to various reasons the functioning of the Prison, Reforms Commission does not appear to have commenced. In this background we think that we will be abdicating our functions if we decline to decide this question for reasons urged. In fact, though the statement refers to these reasons we do not understand the stand of the Government as reflected in the arguments of the learned Advocate General as one wanting us to put off decision on this issue.
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