Release of Bonded Labour: Legal Angle

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Recently, on June 04,2020 our Hon’ble supreme court has issued a notice to the state of Uttar Pradesh and state of Bihar with respect to Public Interest litigation filed under Article 32 of Constitution, with an urge to issue writ of mandamus or any other writ of similar nature to order immediate release and rehabilitation of 187 victims of bonded labour who are working in brick kilns in Sambhal district, UP and Rohtas in Bihar. In this particular case, on 11th May NHRC took the cognizance and District magistrate of these two states were given orders to deploy teams to conduct spot enquiry and to file a report on action taken, within 15 days. But even after this no action was taken.

The roots for bonded labour have been cultivated in Indian society from a very long time. Bonded labour or debt bondage is a relation between employee and employers wherein both are related by way of some unpaid debt. The entire framework which is artefact of old- fashioned ladder in the society is entirely based on exploitation of the one’s at the bottom of this ladder who are poor and deprived people.

This entire practice of labour law is disallowed by our national charter i.e. Indian Constitution via Article 23. But to utmost disappointment this constitutional injunction which was issued as early as in January 26,1950 turns out to be highly ineffective and no major steps have been taken for proper implementation of Article 23. Fortunately, one sincere step towards this was taken by parliament by enacting the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. This act was enacted with an aim to eradicate bonded labour and to put a full stop on economic and physical misuse of the people. Unfortunately, even after the legislation got implemented, the study and researches done by union and state governments, shows that there are still large number of active bonded labourers.

Legal safeguards against Bonded Labour.

The legislation enacted in 1976, provided for various statutory safeguards against the cruel act of bonded labour. Some of them are enumerated beneath;

  1. The primary relief which is provided under section 4 of the Act says, that the labourers are liberated from any sort of obligation to provide bonded labour.
  2. Any custom/ agreement by which bonded labour existed stands void and inoperative by virtue of section 5 of this Act.
  3. No suit could then be instituted before any civil court for the recovery of bonded debt after commencement of the said Act.
  4. The commencement of the said act rendered every decree or order, instituted for recovery of bonded debt which was passed before commencement of the act and was not fully satisfied, to have been fully satisfied.
  5. Property rendered by bonded labour for repayment of debt, under section 7 of the act stands freed.
  6. As per the provision of this act any person detained in civil prison with respect to any bonded debt shall be liberated.
  7. Section 8 of the Act provides that any labour who has been freed by the above stated measure, should not be evicted from the home instead.

Apart from this, Hon’ble Supreme court has various times interpreted various constitutional provisions to provide safety to weaker strata of the society. There are many Judicial pronouncements which signifies this like, Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights V. Union of India (1983 1 SCC 525) in this the court gave wider interpretation to “other similar forms of bonded labour” to meet its objectives.

Procedure for release of bonded labour:

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 basically provides two broad contours for the release of bonded labour, these are:

  1. Identification of bonded labour by authorised agencies.

The initial stage for the implementation of the provisions of this act requires identification of those labourers who are victims of bondage. The Act, shoulder’s this responsibility on District magistrates and his subordinate officials as he may specify. This step of identification has been taken up seriously and various studies shows that by way of inquiry various bonded labourers have been identified in several parts of the country.

  • Maintenance of list.

Under this stage, immediately after identification proper lists needs to be prepared of released bonded labourers. The Act also provides for a legal registrar for this purpose.

  • Liberation of bonded labour.

Preparation of lists signifies successful completion of identification stage. Immediately after identification labourers are liberated. Mainly tehsildars and various other Revenue official’s both at district and sub – divisions levels are responsible for the release process. After the making of list, these are sent to proper authorities who are responsible for final liberations. Inquiries are made and after making proper verifications, the release is affected.

  • Rehabilitation of bonded labourers.

This is the most difficult stage, as in this stage not only the labour needs to be physically prepared but also mentally. This stage requires definite change in the attitude of labour’s life. At this stage he needs to accept alternate source of living and must be mentally prepared to start his life from a whole new point.

Critical analysis:

Various surveys’ and studies indicate that the entire process of liberating the bonded labour is highly complicated and authoritative. The results of the entire process at the end of the day doesn’t put the poor and illiterate in a good state as it becomes difficult for them to stand in front of the rigid procedure of law.

It is seen that the above-mentioned process is not simultaneous. i.e. identification and release of labourers are not consequential and there is a gap ranging from 2 to 4 months. Sometimes this gap can also get expanded to years when trials are part of the process.

When court cases are involved the release may get extended for up to 3 years. To counter this problem, introduction of summary trial is the best possible way out.

Conclusion:

The enactment of Bonded labour Act in 1976 was definitely a commendable step taken by Indian parliament to counter the maniac of bonded labour. In depth analysis of the situation shows that by way of this Act high percentage of labourers have been freed from the control of bondage.

Irrespective of this, Bondage labour has become an integral part of the society in India. On broader aspect studies indicate that India definitely is the poor performer when it comes to the proper implementation of anti- slavery laws. Regardless of all the statutory safeguards, still there are thousands of labours who are still at the mercy of their owner because of the dominance of socio- economic conditions of the country.

Studies conducted by Gandhi peace foundation, Indian labour institute etc shows that there are lots of shortcomings when it comes to identification and rehabilitation of bonded labour. In such circumstances it is suggested that help of nationalised bank should be taken to give such labourers short term loans for consumption and for conducting family functions so that they do not stay dependent for such petty issues on their landlords. Ample efforts should also be put to cut- short the procedure to ensure that relief is immediately granted to the labourers.

Author: Paridhi Swami from UPES, Dehradun.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

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