When a group of policemen, civilian activists and district administration officials entered the narrow street in Govindapura, near K.G. Halli, to ‘rescue bonded labourers’ on February 8, a sense of deja vu perhaps descended on them.
After all, it was barely three months ago that the small shoe soles factory was raided for child and bonded labour. On February 8, the group encountered the same set of players at the factory, only the trafficked labourers were different.
During the recent raid, 11 persons — all aged between 16 and 43 and hailing from Madhubani, Sitamarhi and Darbhanga districts of Bihar — were rescued. The K.G. Halli police have filed a case, again, against the two owners and the traffickers — all of whom are absconding — under the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976.
On October 27, 10 labourers — including nine minors from Bihar — were rescued, while the police arrested the owners. A senior police officer conceded that the raids had made little difference. “After the previous raid, the owner secured bail after two days in jail. He restarted the factory and used the same links to obtain bonded labourers,” he said.
A little more than a garage, the factory held up to 15 workers, confined amidst chemicals and dyes to manufacture more than 1,200 soles in 14-hour work shifts. “This has been going on for five years now. After the first raid, the factory was reopened and labourers were brought in,” said a person who works in a neighbouring factory.
Ranganath, Assistant Commissioner (Bengaluru North), said that while there was no provision to suspend the factory licence after the first offence, action can be taken against habitual offenders. “Raids have not instilled fear, so we will cancel the licence. This should act as a deterrent to trafficking,” he said.
It is this easy escape from criminal cases that may have contributed to the impunity of Mohammad Anjal, a trafficker who is believed to be a key part of the network transporting workers from Bihar. He, too, was arrested previously on January 13, after a raid at a plastic recycling factory in Nayanadahalli, in which 23 bonded labourers were rescued.
According to the police, Anjal w as in judicial custody for two weeks before returning to the same trade. Cumulati vely, he has three cases against him, which have seen him transport at least 44 bonded labourers from Bihar.