Rights of Indian Prisoners to Equitable Wages and Application Of Labour Laws In Prisons : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; Pressure Groups and Formal/Informal Associations and their Role in the Polity

Key Phrases: Reformatory Institution, 1948 Minimum Wages Act, Model Prison Manual, Bonded labour, Prison Security Act of 1992

Why in News?

  • India is one of the world's biggest civilized nations and it continues to fall behind in codifying the rights of its prisoners.
  • India has over 1400 prisons but requires legislation to protect the rights of its prisoners. As a result, such rules are often mentioned only on paper without being implemented in practice.
  • The prisoners at the reformatory institution conduct daily activities such as laundry, landscaping the jail yards, cooking, and working in the commissary.
  • There is a need to completely overhaul and establish prison worker pay countrywide in accordance with the 1948 Minimum Wage Act.
  • Labour laws must be enforced in prisons to prevent prisoners' rights from being violated arbitrarily. Prisoners, as well as those on trial who are inclined to work, should be equipped with eight hours of employment.
  • Prisoners who are compelled to work without sufficient recompense are considered to be subjected to "forced labour" which violates Article 23 of the Constitution.


  • Definitions:
    • International Labor Organization: wages are defined as, payment made to the labourers for the services rendered to their employers conditionally per hour, per day, per week or per fortnight (diferring from case to case basis).
    • Section 2 (h) of Minimum Wages Act, 1948: wages mean remunerations that can be expressly mentioned in the terms of money and are capable of being paid to the employed person given, the terms of the employment contract either express or implied are fulfilled.
  • Wages fall into four major categories:
    • Subsistence Wage: Subsistence wages are such category of wages which when paid to employee can provide just the absolute minimal physical necessities of those workers and their families.
    • Minimum Wage: Minimum wages are such category of wages that cannot be lowered by the employer and allows the employees who get it to afford food, clothing, and housing (all of which are essential requirements for any person's existence).
    • Fair Wage: Fair wages are such category of wages that are changeable and are changed/adjusted on a periodic basis in accordance with the prevailing wage rates in the specific industry of employment. Additionally, these wages are contingent upon the employer's industry's ability to pay its employees.
    • Living Wage: Living wages provide workers with not just food, clothing, and housing (Minimum wages), but also education for their children, recreational activities, and social security benefits such as retirement pensions and illness insurance. Such luxuries are included in the employees' living salary.

Model Prison Manual and Prisoners' Wages:

  • Model prison manual has provision that wages provided to the workers should not be nominal/trivial rather, they should be fair and reasonable.
  • These rates, which are payable to prisoners, must be standardized and adjusted periodically in accordance with government notifications clarifying/changing the applicable minimum wages.
  • If a worker is not paid (at all) for the work done by him/ her, such work is referred as 'Bonded labour' which is not only unlawful but also humiliating for such workers.
  • Wages payable in any state are determined/regulated on a timely basis in accordance with the recommendations given by such state's wage fixation body.

Important Case Laws on Prisoners’ Rights:

  1. State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy: The court held that a prisoner is entitled to all the fundamental rights unless curtailed by the constitution.
  2. State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir: The Supreme Court stated that the mere fact that someone is detained cannot deprive one of his fundamental rights and that such conditions are not to be extended to the extent of the deprivation of fundamental rights of the detained individual. The Court further ruled that every prisoner retains all such rights that are enjoyed by free citizens except the one that is lost necessarily as an incident of confinement.
  3. Charles Sobaraj v. Supdt Central Jail Tihar: It was ruled that all the rights available to prisoners under Articles such as 14, 19 and 21 are though limited but cannot be said to be static. They are bound to or rather will rise to new human heights when challenging circumstances arise.


  • Prisoners do not cease to be human beings when put behind bars. The Supreme Court and many other courts of India have reiterated this position in several cases so that prisoners do not become a victim themselves. They are provided with a proper rehabilitative environment to help them improve and become better beings.
  • It is incumbent upon the Central and State governments to not only provide the prisoners with humane conditions for a living but also educate them about their rights so that such rights are not abused by the powerful inside the prison.
  • It could be said that the judiciary of the country has played a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of prisoners whenever the legislative and executive have erred.
  • It has acted as the saviour of the convicts and upheld their fundamental rights time and time again. It has thoroughly exercised its powers through judicial activism and has repeatedly devised new remedies and tools to protect the human’s right to life and personal liberty.
  • However, much still needs to be done. In this regard, the wide circulation of human rights’ available to prisoners, vast publicity of prisoners right in media and corner to corner surveillance in prisons could be some of the keys for upholding the rights of prisoners and ensuring their safe space in the prison.

Sources: Live-Law

Mains Question:

Q. The Prison reforms in general and prisoner wages in particular need immediate address. Examine.