M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others

In the Supreme Court of India 

Name of the caseM.C. Mehta v State of Tamil Nadu and others
CitationAIR 1997 SC 699
Year of the case1996
AppellantM.C. Mehta
RespondentState of Tamil Nadu and others
Bench/JudgesJustice Kuldip Singh, Justice B.L. Hansaria, and Justice S.B. Majmudar.
Acts InvolvedApprentices Act, Beedi and Cigar Workers Conditions of Employment Act, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act
Important SectionsArticles 24, 39(e) and 9(f), 41, and 47 of the Indian Constitution

Even after innumerable efforts, Child labour remains prevalent in the country. The case, M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu and others is a landmark case that gives directions on the ways to curb Child labour in the country. Through this study, an attempt has been made to analyse the guidelines and orders given by the court in this case. The paper analyses the history of child labour laws in India. The findings of the study reveal that this judgement acts as one of the most salient rulings concerning child labour but it still lacks effective implementation.


Child labour is a gruesome and highly prevalent reality in our country. Our constitution makers had deployed Article 24 (Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc[1]) as a means to curb this menace. However, child labour is still an existing reality.


On 10th December 1996, the Supreme Court acknowledged the problem of Child labour in the country and provided certain guidelines and procedures to ameliorate the situation. The bench was presided by Justice Kuldip Singh, Justice B.L. Hansaria, and Justice S.B. Majmudar.


Sivakasi, a town in the state of Tamil Nadu (hereinafter referred to as the State) was one of the worst-hit towns in terms of child labour in the country. A solicitous lawyer, M.C. Mehta concerned by the unbearable state of child labour in the town filed a petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. He contended that the employment of children in hazardous match stick factories was morally preposterous and constitutionally invalid. The respondent government did not oppose the claims and submitted ideas to deplete the problem. Therefore, the court issued certain directions suggesting means to improve the lives of the affected children. However, subsequent to this order an accident occurred in one of Sivakasi’s fireworks factories. The court took suo moto cognizance of this incident.

Issues before the court

The main issue before the court was to provide effective alternative means to curb the employment of children in hazardous labour. The court also dealt with issues related to the education, growth and development of children.

Related provisions

Indian Constitution

Article 24- Right against exploitation- No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment[2].

Article 39(f) – Growth and development of children- that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment[3].

Article 41- Right to work- Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases.- The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want[4].

Article 45- Free and compulsory education of children in India- The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years[5].

Article 47- Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.- The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health[6].

Factories Act, 1948

Section 67- Prohibition of employment of young children- No child who has not completed his fourteenth year shall be required or allowed to work in any factory[7].

Plantation Labour Act, 1951

Section 24- No child who has not completed his twelfth year shall be required or allowed to work in any plantation[8].

Mines Act, 1952

Section 45(1) – “No child shall be employed in any mine, nor shall any child be allowed to be present in any part of a mine which is below ground or in any (open cast working) in which any mining operation is being carried on[9].

Section 45(2) – After such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint in this behalf, no child shall be allowed to be present in any part of a mine above ground where any operation connected with or incidental to any mining operation is being carried on[10].

The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961

 Section 14- Hours of work for adolescents employed as motor transport workers.—No adolescent shall be employed or required to work as a motor transport worker in any motor transport undertaking—

(a) for more than six hours a day including rest interval of half-an-hour;

(b) between the hours of 10 P.M. and 6 A.M[11].

Related Cases

Unni Krishnan case- Article 45 (compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years) has a status of a fundamental right.

Analysis of the Judgement

The court held that Child labour was not an issue in Sivakasi alone. Therefore, it should be treated as a national issue. It observed that the rights of children were protected under Articles 24, 39(e) and 9(f), 41, and 47 of the Indian Constitution. These articles mainly provided for the growth and development of a child by banning child labour, providing free and compulsory education to children, providing a dignified standard of living to the children, etc. Domestic laws such as the Apprentices Act, Beedi and Cigar Workers Conditions of Employment Act, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act also protected such rights. It was also noted that India ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which not only protects the child’s civil and political right but also extends protection to child’s economic, social, cultural and humanitarian rights[12].

The court took into cognizance the various causes of the perpetual existence of Child labour in India and cited various articles such as Child Labour in India by Nazir Ahmad Shah, Causes of the exploitation of child labour in India by Dr. Amar Singh and Raghuvinder Singh. The findings of Indian Child Labour by Dr. J.C. Kulshreshtha were also pointed out, which revealed the main causes of failure as (1) poverty; (2) low wages of the adult; (3) unemployment; (4) absence of schemes for family allowance; (5) migration to urban areas; (6) large families; (7) children being cheaply available; (8) non-existence of provisions for compulsory education; (9) illiteracy and ignorance of parents; and (10) traditional attitudes[13].

The court, however, concluded that the main cause was the deteriorating financial conditions of the family which compelled the child to work and earn. It was held that the growth and development of the child were necessary to fulfil the intention of the legislation. Therefore, the formation of a Child Labour Rehabilitation cum Welfare Fund (hereinafter referred to as The Fund) was ordered. Any person contravening the provisions of the aforementioned legislation, in other words, any person employing a child into hazardous labour would have to pay a sum of Rs. 20,000, which shall be deposited in The Fund. The amount deposited shall be used for the growth and development of the child.

As an alternative to curb the menace, the court ordered the government to see that an adult member of the family in which a child is employed in hazardous jobs gets a job, in lieu of the child[14]. The employed shall have to in return ensure that the child receives full-time education and is spared from the exertions of working in a hazardous place. Per contra, the court noted that the attainment of employment of these adults might prove to be a burden on the state. Therefore, it held that if the government is not able to provide an adult with a job, it must contribute Rs. 5000 to The Fund for each child employed in a factory or mine or other hazardous employment.

To ensure the efficacious implementation of the aforementioned, the court ordered that-

  1. The government shall carry out a survey of child labour within 6 months.
  2. A criterion assessing and observing the areas of employment which shall be deemed to be hazardous for employment be formed.
  3. Employment should be given to the parents or any adult of the family at the same place where the child was employed.
  4. In cases where employment is not provided to the parents or any adult of the family, an amount of Rs. 85,000 be paid to the parents of the child for the welfare of the child. In case, the parents fail to send the child for education, the payment shall cease.
  5. The education of the child in an esteemed institution or facility should be ensured.
  6. The inspectors of the concerned shall ensure that education is provided free of cost, as mandated under Article 45 of the Indian Constitution.

Report of the Committee

Due to the gruesome accident in Sivakasi, which resulted in 39 deaths, the court ordered that a committee consisting of (1) Shri R.K. Jain, a senior advocate; (2) Ms. Indira Jaisingh, another senior advocate; and (3) Shri KC Dua, Advocate, be formed, which shall provide a comprehensive report on various aspects relating to child labour[15]. The committee submitted its report on 11th November 1991 containing many recommendations, the summary of which is as follows-

  1. The State should ensure that children are not employed in factories involving the production of fireworks.
  2. The children employed for packaging in the match stick factories should work in a separate premise.
  3. The children should only be made to work for six hours a day.
  4. The children should be provided with satisfactory transport facilities for travelling from their workplaces to their homes and vice-versa.
  5. Recreation, socialisation and education facilities should be provided in the factory or somewhere near the factory.
  6. Employers should ensure that children’s basic diet is fulfilled. In case the employers are not able to do the aforementioned, the government shall ensure the same.
  7. The children should be paid monthly and daily wage system should be abandoned.
  8. All the workers working in the industry should be brought under the Insurance Scheme.
  9. For the Sivakasi area, instead of the present committee, a committee should be headed by a retired High Court Judge or a person of equal status with two social workers, who should be answerable either to this Hon’ble Court or to the High Court as may be directed by this Hon’ble Court. Employers should be directed to deposit Rs.2/- per month per worker towards welfare fund and the State should be directed to give the matching contribution. The employers of all the industries, whether it is registered or unregistered, whether it is cottage industry or on a contract basis, to deposit Rs.2/- per month per worker[16].
  10. A National Commission answerable to the Supreme Court should be formed which shall ensure the abolition of child labour.

Concepts Highlighted

Supreme Court recognised that Sivakasi had ceased to be the only centre employing child labour; the malady was no longer confined to that place. The court also recognised that child labour was an all-pervasive national problem in India even after 50 years of independence – and despite the enactment of various legislations. Further, the Supreme Court recognised poverty as a basic cause for child labour[17]. The court observed that until an alternative income was assured to the family, child labour could never be effectively tackled[18].

[1] Article 24, Indian Constitution.

[2] Article 24, Constitution of India

[3] Article 39(f), Constitution of India

[4] Article 41, Constitution of India

[5] Article 45, Constitution of India

[6] Article 47, Constitution of India

[7] Section 67, Factories Act, 1948

[8] Section 24, Plantation Labour Act, 1951

[9] Section 45(1), Mines Act, 1952.

[10] Section 45(2), Mines Act, 1952.

[11] Section 14, Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1997 SC 699

[16] ibid

[17] Supra note 7

[18]Supra note 7

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