Release and Rehabilitation of Bonded Labour

The National Campaign Committee for the Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBL), in collaboration with Socio-Legal Information Centre, is an umbrella organisation comprised of activists, human rights groups, trade union leaders, students and several voluntary organisations who all share the same goal — eradicating bonded labour in all its forms.

Bonded labour is any labour or service rendered under the bonded labour system, and is illegal in all of its forms. The Bonded Labour System (abolition) Act 1976 provides definitions as to what bonded labour is according to the law. A bonded labourer is a labourer who incurs or has presumed to have incurred a bonded debt. A bonded debt is an advance obtained/presumed to have been obtained by a bonded labourer under or in pursuance of the bonded labour system restrictions in employment and movement, working on nominal or no wages and beggar work.

The organisation started with a network of emails to the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission on the eve of international day for the abolition of slavery notifying the chairperson of the organisation’s first successful rescue of 146 labourers from a brick kiln industry in Mirjapur, Uttar Pradesh.

The same email expressed concern about the lack of support from the Mirzapur district administration. This interaction identified the necessity to drastically increase working towards the abolition of bonded labour, and expand the organisation to reach out to everyone still subject to bonded labour systems.

What SLIC Does?

- Identification: Continuing to seek out any existing bonded labour systems still in place across the country.
- Release: Extracting people from exploitation within the bonded labour system.
- Rehabilitation: Integrating rescued labourers back into mainstream society, and giving them the means necessary for them to prosper in their relocation. Successful rehabilitation includes financial support, employment solidarity, suitable housing and other property. This 3rd step is imperative to prevent freed labourers from falling back into bondage.

Main Concerns

·      Stronger enforcement of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 through increased funding, and pressure on the existing Vigilance Committees
·      The introduction of financial incentives for Vigilance Committees when they rescue bonded labourers to encourage greater action
·      Amendment of the Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Scheme to allow for simultaneous prosecution of perpetrators and rehabilitation of victims
·      Legislative changes to provide a strict time-frame between the identification and rehabilitation of bonded labourers
·      Amendment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 to allow for more punitive measures to be taken against perpetrators of bonded labour
·      Disclosure by the Indian Government of the rates of conviction and penalties imposed on perpetrators of bonded labour
·      A more comprehensive rehabilitation package for victims of bonded labour that extends beyond cash and assets and provides for education and the allotment of secure and safe employment
·      Greater government consultation with victims of bonded labour to ensure that rehabilitation packages are adequate and that the assets provided are appropriate
·      Amendment of the Minimum Wages Act 1948
·      Provide a minimum standard of living conditions for individuals living within their place of employment or in housing provided by their employer
·      Ensure that workers are able to freely associate and become members of trade unions
·      Nationwide awareness campaigns on bonded labour that warns individuals against accepting loans that are paid through continued employment
·      Greater implementation of existing health and food schemes for India’s most vulnerable to provide alternatives to seeking loans from employers
·      Stronger guidelines and policing of labour agents
·      Greater access to employment and education schemes for rural and disadvantaged communities
·      Enable victims who belong to the ST or SC communities to register FIR under the SC And The ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989
·      The creation of greater links between the government, vigilance committees and NGOs working to free bonded labourers

SLIC Impact

Since its inception in December 2014, the NCCEBL has continued to grow and currently stretches over 10 states in India. Through advocacy and litigation, per year around 1,000 children and bonded labour are identified and rescued from brick kilns, construction sites, poultry farms, restaurants (’dhabhas’), shops, garbage collection sites, and as domestic workers. The NCCEBL and SLIC team have filed number of PILS and cases, some of the landmark cases are:

Rehana Begum case — In a case of manual scavenging, a resident of a ‘jhuggi’ in Dwarka, Rehana Begum, was rescued after she reached out to NCCEBL team stating that she was lured by a contractor on the pretext of providing employment as a sanitation worker at DDA-owned public toilet. The contractor for Dwarka’s DDA toilet, Mr. Sonu, employed Rehana Begum on the promise of making her a permanent employee and also gave her an advance of Rs 5000. The decision proved unwise as she was reduced to the position of a bonded labour with inhumane working hours and no further steady payment. Social activist and national convenor of NCCEBL, Nirmal Gorana, went to the work site to meet Rehana and brought the matter to the notice of District Magistrate (DM) and Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Dwarka. The SDM raided the DDA complex on 8th February 2017 where she was found cleaning the complex. However, in a shocking move the S.D.M passed the ruling in favour of the employer. NCCEBL immediately filed a case with NHRC against SMD’s ruling. The NHRC issued a notice to chief secretary of Delhi government. Upon consistent efforts of NCCEBL and NHRC the office of the SDM on 17/04/17 passed an order declaring Rehana Begum a “bonded labourer” and issued her release certificate. Further directions to pay an interim relief amount of Rs. 20,000 and filing of FIR under provisions of Bonded labour System (Abolition) Act against the accused persons i.e; Chief Engineer of DDA and Sanjeev Kumar Sharma, Jawed Khan and Sonu Kumar were issued.

On 29th May 2017, the office of Deputy Commissioner of Police (South-West district) Delhi responded after conducting enquiry on the matter. The DCP’s report stated that after an inquiry it was discovered that Rehana Begum was not a bonded labourer and therefore no FIR was filed against the accused. On 6th July 2017, the NCCEBL has sent a mail to Deputy Commissioner regarding filing of FIR and taking legal actions against the accused, who have been continuously harassing Rehana Begum and her family. Rajasthan’s Baran district case — Mr. Maangi Lal Sahariya, along with his family, was illegally trafficked as bonded labourers from Madhya Pradesh to Baran district in Rajasthan. In 2016, after being approached by Mr Sahariya, NCCEBL team rescued the entire family from the house of their employer and was able to get release certificate issued for the family.

Srinagar rescue case — The team of the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBL) on August 24 2018, rescued 11 bonded labourers and child labourers from Srinagar. The bonded labourers were trafficked from Bihar by agents, who had promised them work and later made them do forced work for contractors operating buildings in Srinagar district of Jammu & Kashmir. The bonded labourers were made to work for 17 hours altogether without proper meals and any wages. Even the minor children were not spared. They were made to do work at construction sites at Nowgam and Hyderpora areas in Srinagar district and some of them contracted diseases due to lack of any basic amenity.

Reasi-Sambha case — In December 2017, a NCCEBL team rescued more than 100 bonded labourers from work sites spread around Reasi-Sambha region in Jammu and Kashmir. The NCCEBL team, with support of Samba and Reasi district administration, jointly conducted a raid at two brick kiln sites to rescue the bonded labourers, some of whom were working there since several decades. Around 100 bonded labourers including women, pregnant women, lactating mothers and women were rescued from the Reasi-Sambha area. The workers who were rescued had submitted a memorandum at the Jammu and Kashmir House in Delhi where they have requested officials to grant them the release certificates without which they would be treated forever as migrant workers and be denied benefits due to the exploited bonded labourers. Most of the rescued labourers claimed that they went to Jammu and Kashmir in search of money and work but soon got trapped in a cycle that was difficult to escape.

Bonded labour is any labour or service rendered under the bonded labour system, and is illegal in all of its forms. The Bonded Labour System (abolition) Act 1976 provides definitions as to what bonded labour is according to the law. A bonded labourer is a labourer who incurs or has presumed to have incurred a bonded debt. A bonded debt is an advance obtained/presumed to have been obtained by a bonded labourer under or in pursuance of the bonded labour system restrictions in employment and movement, working on nominal or no wages and beggar work.
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