Even if labourers wish to clear the loan, their employers won’t accept it
Even as the issue of bonded labour in Ragimaroor village in Arkalgud taluk is fresh in public memory, it has come to light that 27 people are allegedly being forced to work as bonded labourers at a quarry in Malladevarapura village in Hassan taluk.
The labourers chip away rocks from dawn to dusk for a paltry wage. Of them, 25 are Dalits of Shivayyana Koplu, a neighbouring village.
Many of them have been working for years to clear loans taken from people in the granite business. Once they take a loan, they are put to work in the rocky hills, where they break huge rocks into stones for construction. They are paid at the rate of Rs. 2 per building stone. The employers sell each stone at Rs. 12 to Rs. 15.
According to the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, a bonded labourer is one who incurs a bonded debt and is forced to repay it forfeiting his individual freedom to choose his job and the employer. Here, all the workers are paid much less than the minimum wage (Rs. 174.89 per day) fixed by the government.
Each worker earns around Rs. 600 a week after cutting around 300 building stones. However, a portion of that is retained by the employer as recovery towards loan. The workers allege that the employer is not ready to retain the entire amount to clear the loan as he is keen to continue to employ them.
Guruswamy (55), father of two children, suffered a fracture on his right leg after a piece of rock fell on him while working in the quarry a year ago. He underwent a major surgery in Hassan Institute of Medical Sciences. Because his family borrowed Rs. 40,000 from his employer, he has to continue to work. “As I can’t work in the quarry any more, my wife Lakshmi is working in the fields of the employer,” said Mr. Guruswamy.
At the time of the accident, the employer had promised him that he would bear the medical expenses, but did not keep his words. “He promised me money only to stop me from filing a police complaint,” he alleged. These workers are not allowed to work for any other quarry owner, even if the pay there is higher, alleged Kalaiah, another bonded labourer.
Chandrashekhar has a total outstanding loan of Rs. 70,000 borrowed from the employer. Recently his wife Manjula, a tailor, borrowed a loan of Rs. 40,000 from the Basaveshwara Mahila Sangha in Shivayyana Koplu, in which she is also a member, to clear her husband’s debt. “When we went to give the money, he refused to accept it. He told us he paid money only to make me work for him in the quarry,” he alleged. Many workers in the quarry expressed the same opinion.
Significantly, quarry work going on in the rocky hills of Malladevarapura is illegal as the Department of Mines and Geology has not issued licences to anyone in the area, but a few rich and politically influential people are in this business. C. Hanumantha Reddy, senior geologist of the Mines and Geology Department, told The Hindu that the department had not issued licences for quarrying in the village. “We will look into illegal quarrying going on in the hills,” he said.