“The members of Vigilance Committee play a vital role in eliminating bonded labour,” Shivaraj V. Patil, former Judge of the Supreme Court, said here on Monday.
Inaugurating a training programme, attended by around 20 committee members from 14 districts, on Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, he said, “Bonded labour is one of the grave problems in the country. Poverty and illiteracy are the major causes for bonded labour. The members of the Vigilance Committees are responsible for the rehabilitation of bonded labourers, which is more important than identifying and releasing them.”
Though there were laws to abolish the bonded labour system and to rehabilitate its victims, they had never been enforced in the country, he observed.
Mr.Justice Patil urged the committee members to focus on various aspects of the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act. “You should be well-informed about the laws to deliver quality work,” he told them.
Speaking on the occasion, Henry Tiphagne, Executive Director, People’s Watch, said the Act remained only in paper. Referring to the cases of bonded labour in Tamil Nadu, he said thousands of people coming from the north-east were forced to work under inhumane conditions without getting any benefits they were legally entitled to.
In his address, M. Karpaga Vinayagam, former Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court, said, “Laws that are passed in this country are not properly enforced. The very definition of democracy has changed now.”
S. Selva Gomathi, Deputy Director, SOCO Trust, said Sumangali, a unique scheme introduced by the textile units in Coimbatore, was a modern form of slavery. Under the scheme, thousands of young girls from southern Tamil Nadu were hired for jobs for a period of three years with a promise made to their families that they would be paid Rs.40,000, which could be used for the marriage of the girls.
“Despite several representations made to it, the State government has failed to identify them as bonded labourers and initiate action against such unit owners,” she added.