Bonded labour still rampant in certain industries, says SC

New Delhi, Oct 15: The Supreme Court Monday said the practice of bonded labour was rampant in certain industries and asked the vigilance committees to give more attention to these areas and take prompt action in the case of violations.

“Bonded labour, it may be noticed, is rampant in brick kilns, stone quarries, crushing mines, beedi manufacturing, carpet weaving, construction industries, agriculture, in rural and urban unorganized and informal sector, power looms and cotton handlooms, fish processing etc”, said a bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrisdhnan and Justice Dipak Misra in their judgment.

Section 13 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, provides for setting up of vigilance mechanism at the district and sub-divisional level for the rescue and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers.

Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Radhakrishnan said the PIL petition has brought to the notice of this court “tell-tale miseries of bonded labourers in our country and their exploitation and the necessity of identifying and checking the practice of bonded labour in this country and to rehabilitate those who are victims of this practice”.

The petition was moved by the NGO Public Union for Civil Liberties.

The court directed the vigilance committees to give more attention to these industries and take prompt action in case violation is noticed.

The court found that the present allocation of Rs. 20,000 for the rehabilitation of the freed bonded labours was not adequate and directed that “all the States/UTs should calculate firm requirements of fund for rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers and steps be taken to enhance the rehabilitation package from the present limit of Rs.20,000″.

Disinclined to accept the claims by some state governments and Union territories that there were no bonded labourers under their jurisdiction, the court in its recommendation said: “This might be due to the faulty methodology adopted by them for conducting such surveys.”

The court asked them to follow the guidelines on the methodology of identification of bonded labourers formulated the by chairman of the Expert Group constituted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) with suitable modifications to suit local conditions. S.R. Shankaran is the chairman of the Expert Group.

Issuing 12 directions, besides those issued earlier by the apex court at different point of time since 1994, the court noted that even though there was a Right to Education Act that mandates free and compulsory education to every child from class 1 to 8, but there were a large number of children working as domestic help in the urban, towns and rural areas with no chance of ever going to school.

The court asked that local Panchayats and local bodies to identify such children and ensure that they get proper education.

However, the court said that there were families who were taking good care of the children working in their homes as domestic help but they were far and few.

“We are not unmindful of the fact that in some households they treat the domestic help just like their children and give food, clothing and education but they are exception,” the court said.

The court directed that fresh surveys for the identification of bonded labours should be conducted one in three years by the District Level Vigilance Committees and Sub-Divisional Level Vigilance committees and submit their reports be submitted to NHRC.

The computerised data base of such surveys should be available on the website of the concerned bodies, the court directed.

The court directed Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Delhi to ensure compliance with orders passed by the NHRC as highlighted in its revised report.

IANS