They were ‘sold' to a contractor for Rs. 4 lakh

Fifteen workers, including a woman, from West Bengal who were said to be kept here against their will were rescued from a labour colony in Bajpe on Monday.

Acting on a tip-off that bonded labourers were being made to work in the city, Mangalore tahsildar Ravi Chandra Naik and Assistant Labour Commissioner Venkatesh A. Shindihatti inspected a labour colony at Porkody within Bajpe police station limits at 7 a.m.

The workers were carrying out work that has been contracted to a company called GDCL, which had been awarded construction contracts by Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL). The 15 workers, who hail from Purulia and Bankura districts in West Bengal, told the government officials and media persons during the inspection that they had been duped by a contractor in their home State and sent to work here two months ago. Within 10 days, they said that they told the contractor that they wanted to return home but were not allowed to do so. Every Sunday they would be given Rs. 70 each, but their wages were not paid to them, they said. Muchiram, aged about 20, said: “We will die if we continue working here.”

Diplabh Gop, in his 20s, said they were told that they would be sent back after a month, but it had been two months and their contractor Sanjay Singh refused to let them go. Mr. Gop said they had been “sold” to Mr. Sanjay Singh for Rs. 4 lakh.

Sanjay Singh, who arrived at the colony, told Mr. Naik that he had paid Rs. 4 lakh for the workers.

The workers said they were made to work for more than eight hours a day, sometimes even the whole night, which is a violation of labour laws.

Sanjith Koivartha, 22, said that he had poor sight, particularly after 5 p.m. He was made to do work on elevated portions of the construction site. Bhim Goaswami, 40, said his wife Urmila had complained that she was unwell several days ago, but the contractor would not allow them to get medical treatment. Bisnu Das, 22, said he was made to work on days when he was sick.

Speaking to media persons after bringing the labourers to Bajpe police station, Mr. Naik said the rescued workers did not qualify as bonded labourers. “They have not been physically abused nor have they been restricted from moving about,” he said.

Mr. Shindihatti said the GDCL on Monday paid the workers Rs. 1.89 lakh in wages, including overtime, translating to slightly more than Rs. 12,000 each, and a travelling allowance of Rs. 1,000 each for the train journey home. He said they would leave Mangalore on Monday for West Bengal.