They had come in search of greener pastures as jobs were hard to find in their States

More than 30 workers from Chhattisgarh and Assam, purportedly rescued from bondage in a private spinning mill at Vinnapalli village near Sathyamangalam late on Monday, were sent home States by train from the Erode Railway Junction in the early hours of Wednesday.

Twenty-four labourers of Narayanpur district in Chhattisgarh were accompanied by an official team of the State. In the absence of any official team from their State, 11 Assamese labourers and two children were escorted by an Erode Village Administrative Officer and a Sub-Inspector of Police till Chennai, where they were handed over to the Railway Protection Force.

In Chennai, they were put on a train to Guwahati, according to official sources.

Revenue department officials said they expedited the inquiry proceedings overcoming language barrier. They had to be sent at the earliest as the governments of Chhattisgarh and Assam were reportedly in constant touch with the district administration to expedite the process of release.

Each of the 45 labourers was given Rs.1,000 along with the release certificate that would entitle every individual to Rs.19,000 more from their respective home States for rehabilitation. Under the modified Centrally-sponsored plan scheme for rehabilitation of released bonded labourers, the expenditure of Rs. 20,000 is shared by the Central and State Governments equally.

In the case of North-Eastern States (Assam in this case), the expenditure is fully borne by the Central Government, official sources said.

The inquiry indicated that the workers had come in search of greener pastures due to the unemployment situation and underdevelopment in their States. Some workers had come with members of their families. There was also a couple with a child, Satyamangalam Tahsildar T. Muthuramalingam said. The officials had learnt that labourers from these States were working in several industries across South India.

“Action unfair”

When contacted, a representative of the P.V. Spinning Mill from where the labourers were rescued said the action taken (by the officials) was “unfair” and the industry prefers not to comment on the issue. As on Wednesday, the Puliampatti police did not register any case against the spinning mill.

Voicing the industry perspective, the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association has taken exception to the classification of the rescued persons as bonded labourers.

K. Venkatachalam, its Chief Advisor, cited the definition of the Bonded Labour System to explain that a bonded labourer is one who incurs, or has, or is presumed to have incurred a bonded debt. A bonded labourer is one who has entered into an agreement with the creditor to work in consideration of the advance received and interest, in pursuance of any customary or social obligation, in pursuance of an obligation devolving on him by succession or by reason of his birth in a particular caste or community.

“Unless or otherwise prevalence of such a system is proved, no worker can be considered as bonded labourer,” Mr. Venkatachalam said, adding: “Prima facie, the (rescued) workers are not bonded labourers.”

As for grievances with regard to rate of wages, system of payment of wages and all other service conditions, and employment of child labour being “omissions” under labour laws, only the jurisdictional Inspector of Factories (Deputy Director of Industrial Safety and Health) has to take suitable action, he said.

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