Activists call its advertisement a joke

Jeevika (Jeeta Vimukti Karnataka), an NGO, which has taken up the cause of bonded labourers in the State, has viewed as shocking, ridiculous and misleading the claims of Bharat Nirman on the exploitative bonded labour system through its advertisement in the print media under the title “Thanks to MGNREGA, no bonded labour anymore.”

It seems the authorities of Bharat Nirman, a programme for rural infrastructure development being implemented by the Union government, are not aware of the facts or of how farm labourers have been converted into bonded labourers in different States, said Kiran Kamal Prasad, State coordinator of Jeevika, and Shivaganga Chandrappa Gadadavar, Jeevika convener of Chikkodi Subdivision in Belgaum district.

Speaking for over 2,500 farmers labourers who have been allegedly serving as bonded labourers in north Karnataka, including around 250 identified bonded labourers in Athani taluk of Chikkodi subdivision, Ms. Gadadavar and Jeevika activist Basvaraj Hanchinmani said in a release here on Friday that at least 2,500 bonded labourers had been in the clutches of landlords for several years.

Around 80 per cent of these labourers belonged to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the rest were from the other backward classes.

No relief

Following awareness programmes launched by Jeevika, 97 labourers from P.K. Nagnur village in Athani taluk submitted written petitions for issue of “letter of freedom” to the local authorities and deputy commissioners in Belgaum and other districts in north Karnataka more than four months ago, but there was no relief so far.

On April 5, the NHRC issued notice to the Belgaum Deputy Commissioner to probe reports of bonded labour in the district and submit a report in three weeks. But, the district administration was yet to send its report to the NHRC.

They said the claims of Bharat Nirman that the job scheme had become an instrument of major social change made no meaning to these bonded labourers in the region.

No action taken

In Nayankur village of Navalgund taluk, Dharwad district, 16 Dalit families were serving as bonded labourers. They joined as domestic workers but had virtually become bonded labourers as their master allegedly neither released them nor allowed them to take up alternative jobs to clear debts. On August 14, 2011, these families had staged a dharna outside the police station in Navalgund when the police declined to register a case. The incident was widely reported in the media, but the State government took no action.

‘False’ reports

“Such being the case, Bharat Nirman’s claims on social change has come as a joke on the hapless bonded labourers of Karnataka,” Mr. Hanchinmani said.He said officials at the village and taluk level had no concern for these labourers and were preparing “false” reports to cover up their failures. Even the district-level vigilance committees, under the deputy commissioners, had failed to check the menace.