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Right to form Associations or Unions: Different Perspectives


Association refers to a group of people or entities that come together to form a group to achieve a particular objective over a period of time. A person cannot evolve if he is isolated from the rest of his community. To survive in society, people are required to have the company of others with whom they can communicate. Hence, people are compelled by the need to co-exist and create connections with one another. Participation in various organizations and groups assists a person in staying in touch and being educated about the current happenings in society. In a constitutional democracy, the liberty to assemble and the freedom of association are central tenets of citizens’ lives. These liberties empower citizens to organize for the pursuit of communal goals and to connect with one another. It also gives them the right to protest, as a result, they are among the rights and liberties that are limited by any State.

Article 19(1)(c) of the Indian Constitution empowers all citizens to form organizations, unions, or cooperative societies. However, under Article 19, clause (4), the state can implement restrictions on this freedom in the interests of public order, morals, and the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Until recently, most Western nations not only prohibited union activity but it was also considered as being an anti-social and anti-state issue in many countries. After World War I, the State took cognizance of the matter and was compelled to take significant efforts to guarantee the working class’s fundamental rights through labour and industrial legislation. Asserting upon such rights as fundamental and upholding them within a Constitution was a much more daring step. Recognizing the contemporary trends, India’s Constitution has declared the right of workers to organize unions a fundamental right.


These organizations ensure that everyone has the right to organize and join unions, whether informally or formally. It is the enabling right, at the foundation of rule of law and democracy, to allow non-state entities to participate effectively in economic and social policy. It guarantees that both employees and employers are represented, which is vital for the smooth running of both labour markets and a country’s overall governance. These organizations encourage people to express their opinions and help them get to know others. They also aid their members in developing an identity and achieving a reputable standing by improving an individual’s understanding and instilling vital ideals in them.

In the case of State of Madras v. V.G. Rao, the Supreme Court held that the freedom to form groups or unions has a broad and diversified scope for its practice, and its restriction is loaded with varied consequences arising from religious, political, and economic sectors. The apex court also stated that the government has the authority to impose restrictions on such rights without allowing their factual and legal aspects to be duly tested during a judicial inquiry is a robust element that must be considered while assessing the legality of the constraints put on the exercise of the right under Article 19(1)(c).

The legitimacy of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan Act, 1962, was questioned in the case of Damayanti v. Union of India as a violation of Article 19(1)(c). The petitioner belonged to an organization whose composition was altered due to the Act by bringing in new members. The members who willingly founded the association now were obligated to operate in the association with several other members over whose admittance they had no influence. The Supreme Court ruled that the Act infringed the rights of the people to join an organization, as granted by Art 19(1)(c). The right to create an association, necessarily entails that the person founding the group likewise has the right to continue to be affiliated with only those who willingly admit themselves to the association, the court stated.

Any legislation that introduces members into a voluntary association without allowing the members to keep them out, or any law that strips away the affiliation of those who have willingly joined it, shall be a law that violates the freedom to create an association. The Hindi Sahitya Sammelan Act does more than only control the management of the original society’s business; it also changes the constitution of the association itself. As a result, the Act breaches the freedom of the society’s founding members to form an organization, as granted by Article 19(1)(c). As a result, the Act breaches the freedom of the society’s founding members to form an organization, as granted by Article 19(1)(c).

Right to form Associations for Defence Personnel:

In the case of Ous Kutilingal Achudan Nair v. Union of India, a crucial question emerged as to whether civilian personnel classified as non-combatants, such as chefs, barbers, mechanics, tailors, etc, attached to Defence Establishments had the right to form or join organizations or unions. The appellants were affiliates of city employee unions in several facilities of the Defence Establishment, and their unions were ruled illegal by the Commandment. They claimed that the action infringed their basic freedom to form or join associations or unions under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution. They maintained that, while members of the unions were attached to the Defence Establishments, their employment conditions were governed by the Civil Service Rules, and so they could not be referred to as “members of the Armed Forces” under Art 33 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court rejected the appellants’ arguments and held that civilian workers of Defence Establishments fit the character of members of the Armed Forces under Article 33 and, as such, were not allowed to organize trade unions. It is their responsibility to follow or accompany Armed Personnel on active duty, in camp, or on the march. Even though they are non-combatants and are subject to Civil Service Rules in some areas, they are essential to the Armed Forces. As a result, the Central Government has the authority under the Army Act to impose laws restricting or curbing their basic right under Article 19(1)(c).

Right to form Associations while in Government or Civil Services:

In the case of G.K. Ghosh v. E.X. Josef, Rule 4-B of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1955, states that a government servant must not join or continue to be a member of the Association of State Employees as soon as the recognition granted to such association is withdrawn, or if the association is formed, no recognition is granted within six months. The Supreme Court held that making the requirement of recognition of the association a right would be futile and illusory and that imposing such a requirement on the right of the association will have no bearing on the public order of the State.


As with any other fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 19, the right to associate is not absolute and may be limited to the public good. Article 19(4) specifically authorizes the State to adopt legislation that limits, abridges, or eliminates any or all the rights granted by Article 19(1)(c). Clause (4) allows the state to impose reasonable limits on the freedom to organize groups in the best interest of India’s sovereignty and integrity, civil security, and morality.

Grounds for the restrictions imposed-

  • Threat to Sovereignty and/or Integrity of India; To protect the country’s sovereignty, the right to form associations can be curtailed if it jeopardizes the country’s unity.
  • Threat to Public Order; To ensure the safety, public peace, order, and tranquillity of the country, the right to establish an association can be curtailed.
  • Threat to Morality; This freedom may be limited when an association’s or individual’s conduct includes indecency, obscenity, or immorality.

Following are the elements of the restrictions that can be imposed-

  • Only a legislative authority can impose such restrictions.
  • Reasonable restrictions are required to be included.
  • A judicial authority like a Judge has the authority to check for the legality of any or all the restrictions imposed upon by any such acts of the legislative authority on the following grounds; 1) Whether the restrictions are reasonably imposed or afforded by the people. 2) Whether the restrictions are being imposed for the purposes mentioned in the article.

In the case of P. Balakotaih v. Union of India, the appellant’s services were discontinued under Railway Service Rules because he was a communist party member and a trade unionist. The appellant asserted that his dismissal from service amounted to a deprivation of his freedom to organize an association. The appellant had a basic right to form or join an association or union, however, he had no fundamental right to continue working for the government. As a result, it was determined that the order discontinuing his employment did not violate Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution since it did not preclude him from being a member of the Communist Party as a trade unionist.

In the case of Hazi Mohammad Ibrahim v. District School Board Malda, it was seen that a limitation requiring a teacher to obtain prior authorization to engage in political activity is a reasonable restriction. It attempted to prohibit teachers from being active in political institutions since it may influence their opinions on specific themes which may impede pupils’ overall education.

In the case of S. Ramkrishnaiah v. President District Board, Nellore, a government order compelling municipal teachers not to join unions other than those officially sanctioned was held to be administrative censorship on the freedom to form or join association and union and was hence unlawful.


We can hence infer that such associations, clubs, groups, and other organizations do play an important part in an individual’s life. They also play a significant role in shaping his perception and convincing him to have a larger perspective on everything that happens in society. The Constitution ensures that no citizen dwelling within the nation’s territorial boundaries is denied the right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(c). At the same time, citizens must guarantee that peace, discipline, and order remain in society throughout the founding of an organization and during their membership term. It is also vital that the establishment, participation, and even survival of such organizations do not operate as a roadblock or an impediment to the country’s advancement and development. If people participating in them have a bad or comparable goal or purpose, the democratic system would become imbalanced. It is in such cases that the state will step in to protect the welfare and well-being of the country’s population. These groups should help everyone be united, and enjoy this constitutionally granted liberty to its advantage for achieving the greater good.


  1. State of Madras v. V.G. Rao, 1952 AIR 196
  2. Damayanti Naranga v. Union of India, 1971 AIR 966
  3. Ous Kutilingal Achudan Nair v. Union of India, 1976 AIR 1179
  4. G.K. Ghosh v. E.X. Josef, 1963 AIR 812
  5. P. Balakotaih v. Union of India, 1958 AIR 232
  6. Hazi Mohammad Ibrahim v. District School Board Malda, AIR 1958 Cal 401
  7. S. Ramkrishnaiah v. President District Board, Nellore, AIR 1952 Mad 253

This article is written by Namay Khanna, a 3rd year BBA LLB (Hons.) student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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