Bonded Labour is a historic, cultural, social, physical, psychological and systematic economic exploitation against the Natural Justice. Bonded labour is a form of slavery. A person becomes bonded labour when his labour is demanded as a means of repayment of loan. The person is then trapped into working for very little or no pays.

Bonded labour system is prohibited under Article 21 and 23 of Indian Constitution but is still practiced in many part of the country including Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi, Utter Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Odisha and other parts of India.

As India’s economy grew rapidly, the inequality between the richest and the poorest rose, the number of landless farmers increased, rate of unemployment is expanding and distribution of growth gains have not been equitable. Bonded Labour System is not a one time or one occupation phenomenon. It may occur and recur at any point of time in any industry, any occupation or in any workplace. Prevalence of the bonded labour system is dependent on the relationship that obtains at the workplace between the employer and the employee. If the relationship is under injustice, unfair, inequitable and violating dignity, decency, equality and freedom, there is a problem of bonded labour.

Bonded labour system exists because of the persistence of poverty, illiteracy, inequality and widespread discrimination making large groups of people vulnerable to exploitation and the existence of people who are prepared to exploit the desperation of others. The need for cash for daily survival forces people to sell their labour in exchange for a lump sum of money or a loan. In India bonded labour is rooted in the caste and class system and predominately affects the Dalits and Tribals. Bonded labourer work in dangerous conditions. They often experience restricted freedom of movement, violence, physiological problems, lack of freedom of employment, economic issues such as non-payment of minimum wages and physical abuse! The system of bonded labour is one of the main characteristics of the feudal hierarchical society in India. The system was designed to enable a few socially and economically powerful sections of society to exploit the weaker sections of the society.


ARTICLE 23 & THE BONDED LABOUR SYSTEM (ABOLITION) ACT 1976

The malicious and inhuman, cruel, inexcusable practice of bonded labour system existed in many parts of India. After independence, it could not be allowed to continue to blight national life any longer. As such, when the Constitution of India was framed, Article 23 was enshrined in it which prohibited ‘traffic in human beings’, ‘beggar’ and other similar forms of forced labour.

 

Followed that, the Forced Labour (Abolition) Convention adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1919 was ratified by India in November 1954. Some States in India had also enacted laws for abolishing bonded labour. For example, the Bihar Kamianti Act was passed in 1920, the Madras Agency Debt Bondage Regulation in 1940, Kabadi System Regulation in Bastar in Madhya Pradesh in 1943, Hyderabad Bhagela Agreement Regulation in 1943, Orissa Debt Bonded Abolition Regulation in 1948, Rajasthan Sagri System Abolition Act in 1961 (which was amended in 1975), and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, Kerala in 1975.

 

The seriousness of ‘bonded labour’ issue came to forefront at the national level when it was included in the 20-Point Programme announced to the nation by the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi on 1.7.1975. Thereafter based on the Constitutional provision, ‘The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Ordinance’ was promulgated on 25.10.1975, which was subsequently replaced by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (BLSA). All the state laws became inoperative after the enactment of the Act by the Union Government in 1976. The law provides duties and responsibilities of the District Administration to implement the following rules to abolish the Bonded Labour through District Magistrate and Sub-Divisional Magistrates.

 

i Survey and identification of bonded labourers;
ii Release of bonded labourers by issuing a Release Certificates;
iii Action against offenders, i.e., creditors who had engaged
bonded labour, forced labour and other similar forms;
iv Holding of regular meetings of Vigilance Committees;
v Rehabilitation of the rescued bonded labourers;
vi Maintenance of the prescribed registers; and
vii Implementing court directions, state and central government
orders, guidelines and notifications issued by NHRC.

The District Magistrates (DM) and Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDM) have to ensure the release of identified bonded labourers on the basis of the information or reports obtained. They would also formulate suitable schemes for the rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers – land based, non-land based and skill/craft based occupations; keeping in view the preferences, felt needs and interests of the beneficiaries. The 1976 Act was amended in 1985 in which it was clarified that the contract workers and inter-state migrant workers, if hey fulfill the conditions laid down in the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, would be considered as bonded labour.

 

A number of Indian laws aresupposed to protect exploitation of our citizensfrom the issues of bonded labour, forced labour andhuman trafficking.

 

Article 23 of the Constitution of India provides the strongest voice against such exploitation. In addition, the most significant and effective law with respect to bonded labour is the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976. It outlaws all debt bondage including social customs, and it requires government intervention and rehabilitation of the bonded worker. It is the most significant law to protect rights and dignity of the worker from all types of exploitation. It is most important that rigorous enforcement of this law is key role of every district administration as per the notification of Supreme Court of India. We do have many other support laws such as the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, the Factories Act, the  Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, Indian Penal Code (IPC) and various Supreme Court order. To attain public justice system; we need to implement all these laws in every corner of the country.

 

SECTION 10-12 OF THE BONDED LABOUR SYSTEM (ABOLITION) ACT 1976

 

10. Authorities specified for implementing the provisions of the BLSA Act.-
The state Government may confer such powers and impose such duties of a District Magistrate (District Collector) as may be necessary to ensure that the provisions of this Act are properly carried out and the District Magistrate may specify the officer, subordinate to him, who shall exercise all or any of the powers, and perform all or any of the duties, so conferred or imposed and the local limits within which such powers or duties shall be carried out by the officer..

 

11. Duty of District Magistrate and other officers to ensure credit:
The District Magistrate authorized by the state Government under section 10 and the officer specified by the District magistrate (District Collector) under that section shall, as far as practicable, try to promote the welfare of the freed bonded labourer by securing and protecting the economic interests of such bonded labourer so that he may not have any occasion or reason to contract and further bonded debt.

 

12. Duty of District Magistrate and officers authorized by him:
It shall be the duty of every District Magistrate and every officer specified by him under section 10 to inquire whether, after the commencement of this Act, any bonded labour system or any other form of forced labour is being enforced by, or on behalf of any person resident within the local limits of his jurisdiction and if, as a result of such inquiry, any person is found to be enforcing the bonded labour system or any other system of forced labour, he shall forthwith take such action as may be necessary to eradicate the enforcement of such forced labour.

 

SIX STRATEGIES TO END BONDED LABOUR SYSTEM

Foundation for Sustainable Development-

an organization fighting against human trafficking and bonded labour system-

 

The Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) is a Registered Non-Profit Organization and it is a peoples-based grassroots network; working for economic equality, human dignity, indigenous identity and establishing social justice with constitutional guidelines. Promotion of education, economic prosperity, liberty, equality and enhancing livelihoods, improving living conditions of weaker sections and combating bonded labour system, preventing human trafficking and campaign to stop violence on women, increasing people’s participation in conservation of natural resources are the key focus areas of the Foundation. The organization is currently operating in the states of Tamilnadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana by networking through the National Adivasi Solidarity Council (NASC) for inclusive development with the participation of local community members, professional social workers, lawyers and leaders.

 

Eradication of Bonded Labour System with specific focus on vulnerable groups is one of the important activities of the organisation. In this process, we are involved in implementing various programmes that includes (1). Enforcing the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act with the collaboration of state and central government. (2). Ensuring freedom of the labourers from exploitation, violence, atrocities and asserting living wages, social security, and legal rights. (3). Engaging government system to establish social justice by proper implementation of Bonded Labour System Abolition Act. (4). Enhancing human rights of working Adivasi communities. (5). Empowering vulnerable groups to access legal system and to advocate for fundamental rights. (6). Educating general public to stand against inequality and injustice and taking the constitutional rights to the corner of unknown areas.

 

With the cooperation of the stake-holders, we are involved in survey work, identifying the victims under the bonded labour/forced labour, human trafficking, approaching the district administration for release of victims from the bonded labour system and safeguarding them with legal action, ensuring effective implementation of the laws such as the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Minimum Wages Act, Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act, Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, Contract Labour Act, and the BLSA Act and increasing prosecution against the offenders for punishment and for protection of freed bonded labourers. The other most important activity is rehabilitation of the freed bonded labourers by providing psycho-social counselling, obtaining basic needs, entitlement rights, support for alternative livelihoods, safeguarding the freed bonded labourers with self-help groups, activating role of the vigilance committees and prevention of bonded labour system through various activities including integrated development activities and implementation of welfare schemes.

 

 

ROLE OF FSD ORGANIZATION IN COMBATING BONDED LABOUR ISSUES

 

 

We have wonderful laws in our country and best government systems, what we need is priority to the issue, attitude in approach, perspective on the preamble of our constitution and function of systems. With number of the necessary laws and schemes in place, the focus must be on implementation and tracking improvements in performance and its impacts on the society. We need to work together to bring justice and equality in the society. In this process, the FSD organization has identified and rescued over 4500 bonded labourers during last 66 months in five states. Increasing awareness, providing legal education, conducting socio-economic research, activating vigilance committees, promoting accountability, establishing public justice system, enforcing government orders and working with state and central government for the rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers and strategies for enforcement of laws are some of the activities of the organization in abolishing the bonded labour system.

 

EXTREME POVERTY, ILLITERACY, IGNORANCE & DISCRIMINATION ARE DRIVING THE VULNERABLE

COMMUNITIES TO WORK AS BONDED LABORERS…

 

According to Professor Amartya Sen, “One of the biggest changes in the process of development in many economies involves the replacement of bonded labour and forced work… with a system of free labour contract and restricted physical movement”. Further, he is referring mainly to traditional agriculture practice, that bonded labour system still affects many indigenous peoples and rural workers throughout the world. There is certainly a strong correlation between longstanding bonded labour practices – often associated with deep-rooted discrimination against caste minorities in Asia and extreme poverty. We have been witnessing such labour exploitations in many places throughout the country. Indigenous people belonging to Irula Tribe community are victims of the bonded labour system still in Tamilnadu State. Chenchu Tribes belonging to the State of Telangana are the most vulnerable to the bonded labour system, Yenadhi Community belonging vulnerable tribal group in Andhra Pradesh are the another victims of bonded labour system and similarly Paniyas of Kerala State tribe are the victims of bonded labour system. We have been identifying and rescuing these people from different worksites and industries that includes agriculture, plantations, poultry farms, brick-kilns, rice mills, wood cutting, sugarcane cutting, constructions, spinning yards and most of them are illiterate and do not have any entitlements. With number of families including children are forced to work in dangerous situation and facing difficulties of discriminations. As per the sample survey, majority of them are working as bonded labourers from three-years to thirty years. Almost all the identified bonded labourers are live in extremely poorest living areas that includes in sugarcane field pump sets, brick-kiln dusts, rice-mill yards and children are malnourished and women are having health issues.

 

There are several newspaper highlights on the issue of bonded labour practice in India. “The issue of bonded labour practice is exists in the hundred percent literate state of Kerala” Says Deccan Chronicle. “Brick kilns’ owners are offering more advances for engaging bonded labourers” Says The Indian Express. “Bonded labourers are mostly seen in brick kilns, sugarcane fields and spinning mills. Rapid industrialization has led to tribal from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu becoming victims of this violated profession” Says Deccan Chronicle. “Bonded Labourers are rescued by the revenue administration and police registered case against the units” Says The Hindu. “Caged Birds No More; after three decades of Bonded Labour, a joint intervention by the state government and social workers helped the Chenchus of Telangana start life anew” Says Tehelka. There are many government orders and court directions to end the bonded labour system. We need everyone’s support to eradicate this social evil.

 

 

Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Freed Bonded Labour

 

The revised Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of the freed Bonded Labour (CSSRBL) andshall come into effect from 17th May 2016. The Central Government will give 50% of the amount required for conducting Survey in every district, Awareness Generation and Evaluatory Studies in Advance. A State may conduct survey once in every three years.

 

(I). As per the Central Sector Scheme (CSS), total share in the cash component of the rehabilitation package is provided through Ministry of Labour & Employment. Immediate assistance upto Rs.20,000/- can be provided to the rescued bonded labour by the District Administration irrespective of the status of conviction proceedings.

 

(II). The Rehabilitation package shall be Rs.1,00,000 per adult male beneficiary. Beneficiary shall have the option to either deposit it in an annuity scheme or receive cash grant. The District Administration will assess the cash requirement of the beneficiary and exercise its best judgment in the matter with the consent of the aid adult male.

 

(III). For special category beneficiaries such as children including orphans or those rescued from organized and forced begging rings or other forms of forced child labour, and women, the amount of rehabilitation assistance shall be Rs. 2,00,000 out of which at least Rs.1,25,000/- shall be deposited in an annuity scheme in the name of each beneficiary and the balance amount shall be transferred to the beneficiary account.

 

(IV). In cases of bonded or forced labour involving extreme cases of deprivation or marginalization such as trans-genders, or women or children rescued from ostensible sexual exploitation such as brothels, massage parlours, placement agencies etc., or trafficking, or in cases of differently abled persons, or in situations where the District Magistrate deems fit, the rehabilitation assistance shall be Rs.3,00,000, out of which at least Rs.2,00,000 shall be deposited in an annuity scheme in the name of each beneficiary and Rs.1,00,000 shall be transferred to the beneficiary account.

 

(V). Additional benefits for the rescued bonded labourers including land and housing elements, etc. of the original scheme as mentioned below:
(1) Allotment of house-site and agricultural land;
(2) Land development support;
(3) Provision of low cost dwelling units;
(4) Animal husbandry, dairy, poultry, piggery etc.;
(5) Wage employment, enforcement of minimum wages etc.;
(6) Collection and processing of minor forest products;
(7) Supply of essential commodities under targeted public distribution system;
(8) Education for children: - including school admission and facilities for, ensuring their proper education, psycho social counseling short stay home till education upto class 12th, skill development shall be an integral component of the rehabilitation package).
(9). For addressing the special needs of female freed bonded labourers, State Government shall also provide financial and other assistance for marriage, apart from other capacity building measures including skill development training.


(IV). In cases where, the DM/SDM find that immediate assistance is necessary for care and protection of the rescued persons during the pendency of the summary trial, such assistance including Fooding, Lodging, Medical assistance, Legal aid, Provisions for Victim's or Witness' Protection, etc., shall be provided under any other law or scheme forthwith, notwithstanding the entitlements prescribed under this scheme.

 

The Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) is India’s Federal Ministry, which is responsible to protect and safeguard the interest of workers in general, and the poor, deprived and disadvantaged sections of the society.

As per Article 23 of the Constitution of India, traffic in human beings, begar, and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. The Supreme Court has ruled in various judgments that bonded labor can be regarded as a form of forced labor and hence is unconstitutional under Article 23. This is one of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by our Constitution and to give effect to Article 23, Parliament has enacted the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. This Act makes system of bonded labor a punishable offence.