Suggest hike in rehabilitation package from Rs.20,000 to Rs.2 lakh

Conducting a fresh survey in Tamil Nadu to identify bonded labourers, increasing the relief package given to released bonded labourers to Rs.2 lakh, and implementation of a comprehensive relief package for released bonded labourers, especially from other States, were among the prominent recommendations made at the end of a public hearing on bonded labour in stone quarries organised by Unorganised Workers Federation here on Saturday.

A panel of judges comprising social activists and advocates, including Swami Agnivesh, P.V.Rajagopal of Ekta Parishad, N.Markandan, former vice chancellor, Gandhigram University, Kiran Kamal Prasad and S.S.Vasudevan, heard depositions from quarry workers, most of them released bonded labourers, from Tiruchi, Perambalur, Villupuram, Salem, Namakkal, Karur and Pudukottai districts. About 20 group petitions and 120 individual petitions were recorded during the hearing, the organisers said.

The panel came up with four main recommendations, apart from individual recommendations from the panellists to be compiled later. Firstly, they demanded that bonded labourers who had been released from stone quarries in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and other States be rehabilitated properly by providing them stone quarries on lease, housing and other basic amenities.

As per the recent Supreme Court order, a fresh survey should be conducted in Tamil Nadu to identify possible bonded labourers especially in stone quarries, brick kilns, rice mills, handloom weaving units and the agriculture sector.

The survey should be conducted with the involvement of organisations working with bonded labourers. Identified bonded labourers should be released immediately and issued certificates and extended proper rehabilitation. Stone quarries should be given only to groups of released bonded labourers and women self-help groups.

Vigilance committees should also be constituted in all districts. The State government should hike the rehabilitation package from Rs.20,000 to Rs.2 lakh for each bonded labourer, the panel suggested.

According to the organisers, the recommendations would be forwarded to the Central and the State government seeking follow-up action. If no action was forthcoming, a public interest litigation would be filed.

Earlier, speaking at the public hearing a cross-section of released bonded labourers observed that their living conditions have not improved much as the relief measures were not adequate. Many said the groups of released bonded labourers were not getting or facing problems in getting stone quarries on lease.

Geetha of Unorganised Workers Federation spoke.