Not a single case of an offending employer being sent to jail

Taking note of the National Human Rights Commission report that 2,780 cases involving about one lakh bonded labourers have been registered, the Supreme Court has ordered a fresh survey by the States to find out the total number of such people still to be rescued from employers.

A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said on Monday that the petitioner had brought to the notice of this court telltale miseries of bonded labourers and their exploitation, and the necessity of checking the practice and rehabilitating the victims. “Not a single case has been reported so far that an offending employer had been convicted by way of imprisonment.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Radhakrishnan said the NHRC, while highlighting the plight of bonded labourers, had sought proper directions from this court so that the States concerned would take steps for reporting compliance to the Commission at the earliest.

The Bench said fresh surveys should be conducted once in three years in all States/Union Territories and the revised report — the findings of the survey — should be made part of a computerised database available on the websites of all concerned.

The responsibility of conducting the surveys is on District Level Vigilance Committees and Sub- Divisional Vigilance Committees and these panels should submit their reports to the NHRC.

The vigilance committees are directed to pay more attention to sectors where bonded labour is rampant: brick kilns; stone quarries; crushing mines, beedi, carpet weaving and construction industries; agriculture; in rural and urban unorganised and informal sector, powerlooms and cotton handlooms, fish processing, etc. The committees should take prompt action in case violation is noticed.

Large numbers of children are working as domestic help with no chance of going to school though education from Standard I to VIII is compulsory under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Local panchayats and local bodies should identify such children and ensure that they get proper education. “We are not unmindful of the fact that in some households they treat domestic help just like their children and give food, clothing and education but they are an exception,” the Bench said.

Faulty methodology

Many of the States/UTs were reporting nil existence of bonded labourers. This might be due to a faulty methodology adopted by them for surveys. Guidelines on the methodology of identification of bonded labourers formulated by S.R Sankaran, chairman of the Expert Group constituted by the NHRC, should be followed and implemented by all States/UTs with suitable modifications to suit local conditions.

The District Magistrate and the State Governments/UTs should see that the Minimum Wages Act, the Workmen Compensation Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act were properly and effectively implemented.

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