The Consumer Education and Research Center, an NGO working in the areas of consumer rights, filed several writ petitions against the Government of India under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution regarding the protection of workers against the occupational health hazards and diseases associated with asbestos exposure.
The petitioner applied for remedial measures to fill in legislative gaps, to require mandatory compensation for occupational hazards and diseases or death to employees who did not qualify for such coverage under the existing labor legislations, to provide adequate mechanisms for diagnosing and controlling asbestosis (such as mandatory mechanisms to measure levels of asbestos in workplaces coupled with expert panels to established permissible levels of asbestos), to establish a committee to recommend whether the dry process can be completely replaced by the wet, to keep health records of each workman for requisite minimum periods, to provide compulsory health insurance for employees, and finally to award compensation to those suffering from asbestos.
The Court discussed the Convention 162 of the International Labour Conference that provide for provisions for the betterment of laborers. The Court ordered that the “All Safety in the Use of Asbestos” regulations and guidelines published by the International Labor Organization be binding on all industries, that industries be bound to compensate employees for health hazards they had suffered as a result of asbestos exposure, that there be a maintenance of health records by industries of every worker for a minimum period of time, the obligatory adoption by all industries of the “Membrane Filter test” to detect asbestos, that industries provide compulsory health insurance coverage to all workers regardless of whether or not they are covered by the existing schemes and legislations, and the inspection of workers who may be suffering with asbestos-related health hazards to determine if they should be compensated.
In its discussion of the worker’s right to health and a healthy and safe work environment, the Court cited Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (human sensitivity and moral responsibility of States), Article 7of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (right of everyone to enjoy just and favorable conditions of work), and several articles from the Indian Constitution including Articles 38 (promotion of welfare of the people), 39(e) (measures to ensure the health and strength of the workers), 42 (secure just and humane conditions of work), 43 (secure to all workers a decent standard of life), and 46 (protection of the poor from social injustice and all forms of exploitation).
Citing Supreme Court case precedents including that of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation [AIR 1986 SC 180] that lays out jurisprudence on the right to life and precedents where courts have issued directions for the welfare of workers, the Court considered the workers’ right to health and medical aid (while in service or post retirement) to be an integral part of the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.