NHRC open forum participants say fixing agrarian crisis key to ending bonded and migrant labour problem in the country (08.06.2019)

New Delhi, 08th June, 2019

The participants of the NHRC open house discussion on bonded and migrant labour felt that the root cause of this menace lies in the agrarian crisis, which needs to be addressed on priority in the country. It was also suggested that a letter from the Prime Minister to the Chief Ministers will help priorities this issue on the lines of mission mode campaigns like Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.

Earlier, expressing serious concern over the continuance of this problem, the NHRC Member, Mr. Justice P.C. Pant, in his opening remarks, said that a preventive approach is needed to end bonded labour, as it has acquired various new forms and dimensions with the changing times and vocations since the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was enacted in 1976.

Justice Pant said that bonded labour contracts are not purely economic in India; these are reinforced by custom or coercion in many sectors such as the agricultural, silk, mining, match production and brick kiln industries, among others. He said that robust inter- state coordination mechanisms involving all ministries, agencies, trade unions and NGOs are required to address the issues of migrant workers, who may end up becoming bonded labour.

Dr. D. M. Mulay, Member, NHRC said that for the robust implementation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, it will be necessary to increase the conviction rate of those involved in subjecting people to bonded labour to act as a deterrant . It is required to expose all the elements that contribute to propagate this menace.

Mrs Jyotika Kalra, Member, NHRC said that the NHRC has been very proactively taking the cognizance of the complaints related to bonded labour. She suggested that the NGOs should try sending online complaints to the Commission by geo-tagging the photos showing bonded labour. Online complaints are easy for quick processing, monitoring and effective action to catch the culprits.

Mr. Jaideep Govind, Secretary General, NHRC said that the social and economic marginalization of weaker sections and their inability to move out of their respective group makes them particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking. Moreover, he said, the lack of labour regulations in informal and unregulated sectors creates huge power imbalances in employer-worker relationships and increases workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. Therefore, concerted efforts including community based movements and grassroots awareness campaigns, involving all stakeholders are urgently required.

Mr. Ajay Tiwari, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Labour and Employment said that despite the efforts, there are still many challenges in the way of effective implementation of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. Some of these are:

Almost Nil convictions, High pendency of Summary Trials at DM level, S.21 struck down by MP, TN, and Maharashtra High Courts, Concerns over double jeopardy, Mismatch of Names on Release Certificate & Bank A/C, Rehabilitation linked to convictions, Less sensitivity of the District Machinery/ Vigilance Committees, Poor inter-departmental coordination, Confusion over migrant workers issue of RC, Requirement of Aadhaar, bank details

He said that the Centre is focused on resolving them with the states. Besides taking various measures, it is providing financial assistance to states for some specific purposes in this regard as follows:

(i)Rs. 4.50 lakh per district to the States for conducting survey of bonded labourers once every three years ;

(ii) Rs. 1.00 Lakh for evaluatory studies (maximum 5 Evaluatory Studies per year) and

(iii) Rs. 10 Lakhs per State per annum for awareness generation.

Several important suggestions emerged during the discussions, some of which are as follows:

-Develop a page on the national portal for data pooling on bonded labour from various sources and particularly from the NGOs working in the field for a fair assessment of the enormity of the problem;

-Upload all schemes and guidelines related to bonded labour on the national portal, which can be easily accessed by the field level functionaries for building awareness;

- Create a mechanism for providing job cards to released bonded labourers so that they could get employment under MNREGA and other such schemes of assured employment;

-Design a common training curriculum for members of Vigilance Committees;

-Work on a mechanism for the portability of PDS and health care for bonded labour;

-Sensitize political parties, leaders and Panchayats through letters and broadcasting messages on radio and television about the problem of bonded and migrant labour.

The participants included senior NHRC officers, Special Rapporteurs, members of NHRC Core Group on bonded and migrant labour, representatives of government, civil society, international bodies.