Release of Bonded Labourers and their Rehabilitation, Punjab (CASE NO:663/19/1999-2000)
NHRC’s initiative results in the release of Bonded Labourers, Haryana (CASE NO:513/7/98-99)
Release of Bonded Labourers and their Rehabilitation: Punjab.(Case No. 663/19/1999-2000)
The Commission took suo-motu cognizance of a press report which appeared in the ‘Indian Express’ dated 17 December 1999 entitled "84 Bonded Labourers Freed, Narrate Shocking Tales of Torture, Molestation". In the press report, it was stated that 84 bonded labourers, who were freed from a cold storage construction site, stated that they were beaten and were given third degree treatment. The woman workers alleged rape and molestation. None of the workers were paid their wages.
The Commission directed the Director General of Police, Punjab and the Senior Superintendent of Police, Jallandhar to send reports to the Commission on this article. The latter responded saying that one Mohan Singh, who was constructing a cold storage, was providing labourers with clothes, food, free accommodation and Rs. 600 per month. The labourers, however, had stated that they had been working for the last four months and were not given wages because the owner had promised to pay them when they returned to their native places. When the Sub Divisional Magistrate, Shahkot and Station House Officer, Police Station, Shahkot visited the spot, the labourers told them that they did not wish to work with the cold-storage owner as his behaviour was insulting. A woman labourer, named Saloni stated that one Pappu had beaten her husband and locked him in a room. The owner could not, himself, be contacted. However, his employees agreed to pay the wages to the labourers. The report added that the Labour Inspector had been directed to ensure the payment of wages to the labourers so that they might go wherever they wanted. The labourers had been brought to the office of the Sub Divisional Magistrate where food had been arranged for them. The labourers were then set free and they went back to their homes. The report concluded by saying that a case, FIR No. 236 dated 15 December 1999, had been registered under section 16, 17 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and under Sections 342/323/354 of the Indian Penal Code.
Upon perusing the report, the Commission noted that it was not clear whether the District Magistrate, Jallandhar had issued release certificates and ensured that the bonded labourers would be rehabilitated. By proceedings dated 23 March 2000, the Commission therefore directed its Director General (Investigation) to contact Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Jallandhar and to secure the relevant details. The further report, received from the SSP, indicated that the 65 bonded labourers had been released and that the minimum wages due to them had been collected from Mohan Singh, owner of the cold storage. However, release certificates under the relevant Act and the rehabilitation package envisaged under it had not been provided. The Commission, therefore, directed the District Magistrate, Jallandhar:
To issue release certificates to all the 65 bonded labourers, namely the 42 men and 23 women involved. Further, a sum of Rs. 20,000 was to be paid to each of the 65 released bonded labourers under the relevant legislation, of which a sum of Rs. 5,000 may be paid in cash or by demand draft to each labourer.
Form a cooperative society; have it registered under the State Cooperative Societies Act as a Released Bonded Labourers Cooperative Society; treat the balance amount of Rs. 15,000 per head as share capital of each of the members of the society.
Under the appropriate Rozgar Yojana or any other appropriate scheme available, provide governmental work to the cooperative society.
An Inspector of the Cooperative Societies should monitor the working of the society. The work allotted to it would be jointly done by all the members of the cooperative society and the returns from their labour would be enjoyed by them in equal proportion.
In case any Government land was available in the village, the district administration shall take steps to allot the same to the cooperative society and all the members would collectively cultivate the land and reap the benefit in equal proportion. The District Administration would also, in that event, arrange appropriate loans for reclamation of land, its cultivation, and supply of seeds or saplings for agricultural operations, manure etc., for the successful working of the society. The Agriculture Department should be directed to help them in the farming.
In case all the members of the Society were illiterate, the Inspector belonging to the Cooperative Department should assist them in writing the accounts regularly and ensuring its successful working.
The District Labour Officer should ensure the successful prosecution of the offender for the offences charged against him. The District Labour Officer should act in collaboration with the concerned Public Prosecutor/District Attorney, as the case may be, and take the case to its logical conclusion.
The report received from the Deputy Commissioner, Jalandhar was placed before kthe Commission on 29 April 2002 when the Commission observed that partial compliance had been made, but it appeared that inadequate steps had been taken to comply fully with the directions of the Commission. It was added that the District Magistrate, Jalandhar should not take the directions of the Commission casually but should make strenuous efforts to trace the labourers who had been released, issue them the release certificates that were required under the law and provide them with other benefits directed by the Commission in its proceedings dated 18 September 2000.
NHRC’s Initiative Results in the Release of Bonded Labourers: Haryana(Case No. 513/7/98-99)
The Commission received a complaint from Prof. Sheotaj Singh, General Secretary of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Delhi alleging that 20 persons including men, women and children were being kept as bonded labourers in a stone quarry in Gurgaon, Haryana. According to the complaint, though the Sub Divisional Magistrate of the area had visited the site and admitted that minimum wages were not being paid to the labourers, he had refused to issue release certificates to them.
On 21 September 1999, the Commission directed the Chief Secretary, Haryana, to look into the matter and submit a report. In response to the Commission’s notice, the Labour Commissioner of Haryana stated that this was not a case of bonded labour but a dispute between workers and their employer regarding wages. Both the parties had reached an agreement, after which the labourers had been sent back to their home district, namely, Jaipur in Rajasthan. The report further stated that the complaint of Prof. Sheotaj Singh alleging non-release of the bonded labour was false.
The Special Rapporteur of the Commission, Shri Chaman Lal, was asked to look into the matter. He recommended that the Commission’s own investigation team should meet the bonded labourers who were now living in Jaipur district in order to ascertain the facts.
Accordingly, an investigation team of the Commission, along with senior representatives of the Rajasthan University Women’s Association and an officer deputed by the District Magistrate of Jaipur, visited Durgapura, 10 kilometers away from Jaipur city where about 29 persons including 10 children were found camping in the open. They had been living there since their return from Haryana in the second half of September 1999. They belonged to the Banjara Nomadic Tribe and had gone to Haryana in 1994 to market their products. While they were there, one Balkar Singh lured them to work in a stone quarry, offering them attractive wages. After a year, they were denied payment of wages and in lieu of wages, arrangements were made with a local general merchant to provide them daily rations on credit. When the labourers objected and demanded full wages, they were forcibly confined in their hutments after working hours and were guarded by armed musclemen. In August 1999, they somehow managed to establish contact with Prof. Sheotaj Singh. When word spread that Prof. Singh had lodged a complaint, labourers were made to put their thumb impressions on papers of agreement declaring that they had received Rs.5,000 each towards the settlement of their wages. This was done in the presence of the local Sub Divisional Magistrate and police officials. The money was, however, not given to the labourers and, instead, it was adjusted against the items taken by them from the local merchant. In the third week of September 1999, they were transported away from Haryana, escorted by policemen, and later dumped in the outskirts of Jaipur city.
The Sub Divisional Magistrate, when questioned by the team of the Commission, reiterated that the issue related to a wage dispute in which he had worked out a compromise and that, to avoid any further chance of exploitation, he had made arrangements for the transportation of the labourers to Jaipur on their request. He claimed ignorance of the legal interpretation of the Supreme Court verdict wherein the word "bonded labour" had been given a wider interpretation, covering all cases where wages paid to the labourers was less than the minimum fixed by the Government. The Deputy Commissioner, Gurgaon, was also not fully aware of the whole episode. However, after discussions with the officials of the Commission, the district officials dispatched 19 Release Certificates to the Commission to be handed over to the labourers. The District Magistrate, Jaipur assured the Commission that immediate steps would be initiated to render all help to rehabilitate these Banjaras under various welfare schemes of the Government.
The Release Certificates were handed over to the labourers in December 1999 at a small function held in Jaipur. To rehabilitate these labourers, arrangements were made to shift their families temporarily to a Government housing building in Sanganer, near Jaipur city. Thereafter, they would be permanently settled under the Indira Awas Yojna. The Government of Rajasthan informed the Commission that efforts are also being made to allot them cultivable land. Employment is being given to them under the Rural Development Schemes near Sanganer Airport to help them earn their immediate livelihood. A cooperative is being created for them, to which stone mines would be leased in order to generate work in which the tribals had experience. Of the Rs10,000 given to each of the 19 labourers, along with their Release Certificates, Rs. 2,000 was given in cash and rest of the money was deposited in their respective bank accounts. The District Magistrate had sanctioned Old Age Pensions to two elderly women. A pension was also announced to a person who became disabled following serious leg injuries while working in the Gurgaon mines. Cash relief of Rs. 5,000 from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund was also announced for his treatment.
The Commission expressed its appreciation of the role of the officers who were involved in the release of the bonded labourers and the subsequent effort to rehabilitate them.