The Supreme Court yesterday issued notice to the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on a PIL alleging that as many as 187 persons are in bonded labour in brick kilns in some districts of the two States.
The Bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Krishna Murari, and S Ravindra Bhat heard a PIL filed by a social worker who sought the rescue and rehabilitation of as many as 187 victims of bonded labour which include pregnant women, children and infants.
Pointing out that even after the enactment of the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, 1976, there are “millions of Indians” who are made victims of bonded labour, the petitioner asserted that the rescue and rehabilitation of these labourers was pertinent.
In the instant matter, it is claimed that 187 labourers are kept in inhuman conditions, made to do hard labour in scorching heat and are provided one meal a day only.
Citing the urgent need for their rescue and rehabilitation, the petitioner added that guidelines should be formulated for rescue and rehabilitation of bonded labourers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The plea says,
“The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant nation-wide lock-down has intensified every factor of vulnerability that bonded labourers are ordinarily subjected to. From increased isolation to restriction of movement, lack of food supplies, lack of healthcare, non-payment of wages and restricted access to law enforcement authorities, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely exacerbated the abusive conditions that bonded labourers are trapped in. It has also pushed persons who were not originally working in a state of bondage, into a state of bonded labour.”
The PIL details that the information regarding these 187 persons in bonded labour was uncovered in 2019, based on research carried out by the petitioner.
It is further informed that these labourers belong to the Scheduled Caste communities and are working at brick kilns, two of which are in Bihar’s Rohtas district and another the Sambhal district in Uttar Pradesh.
On May 11, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has passed certain directions in the issue, following several complaints. However, the local authorities allegedly failed to take any action despite these orders.
The petition avers,
“The district administration has not made sufficient arrangements to move the labourers to an alternate safe location, arrange for their release certificates, ensure the payment of wages and access to healthcare and ration for the labourers. The labourers are left vulnerable to being tortured by the brick kiln owners for complaining against them and the owners have threatened to throw the labourers out without any payment for their labour.”
Hence, the Supreme Court yesterday directed the District Magistrates of Rohtas and Sambhal to file detailed reports of the action taken by them pursuant to the directions by NHRC.
The court stated, “Respondent Nos.3 and 4 are directed to submit a report regarding the action taken by them in liberating 187 bonded labour victims working in brick kilns whose details are given in the order passed by the National Human Rights Commission.”
The Court will next hear the matter on June 9.
The petition was filed through Advocate Srishti Agnihotri and the petitioner was represented by Senior Counsel AnithaShenoy.
Read the petitions here :