88 bonded labourers rescued: After inaction from Meerut, Muzaffarnagar district magistrates, Allahabad HC seeks reply
Nirmal Gorana vs State Of UP & Ors (PIL 2936/2018) The case pertains to the rescue of nearly 88 bonded labourers from 22 Dalit families hailing from Muzaffarnagar and Meerut districts that were in 2016 trafficked to a brick kiln in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (SBS Nagar) in Punjab. They were forced to work without breaks or payment, while living under deplorable and unhygienic conditions. On the discovery of this group of trafficked labourers, the petitioner in the case, who is the convener of HRLN’s National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBL) filed a complaint with the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police SBS Nagar, Punjab and SDM Nawanshahar in July, 2017. The SDM, with a team of District Child Protection Officer, Tehsildar Nawanshahar, Labour Inspectors and SHO PS Rahon went to the kiln and rescued the labourers. Their statements were recorded and it was ascertained that they were indeed bonded labourers. After this, in the same month, the labourers were issued release certificates by the SDM (Nawanshahar) under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, and were, under police protection, sent to their native places in Uttar Pradesh. After their return, the petitioner met the District Magistrates of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar seeking proper rehabilitation of the labourers along with payment of back wages and the filing of an FIR against the principal employer and trafficker. Over the next few months, the petitioners and the labourers wrote several letters to the district magistrates of the two districts and authorities of SBS Nagar reiterating their needs, but to no avail. In February, 2018, the survivor families, aggrieved with the lackadaisical attitude of the district administration made an open declaration that if immediate measures for their rehabilitation and the arrest of their trafficker were not taken, they would be compelled to change their religion. This declaration, which was widely covered by the local newspapers, prompted the SHO to register an FIR against the trafficker. However, after this, the authorities made no further rehabilitation efforts – in clear violation of the Constitution that guarantees the right to life, liberty and freedom, and Article 38 which asks the state to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people, among other things. The petition said that according to the Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers, 2016 the victims in this case are entitled to receive Rs 3 lakhs each. Further, the district administration is also mandated to restore the bonded labourers to the possession of residential premises as early as practicable. The Act also provides for the economic and social rehabilitation of the freed bonded labourers, facilities for ensuring their proper education, short stay home till education up to class 12th skill development, marriage assistance, etc. The petition sought that court’s direction for the district magistrates of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar to rehabilitate the rescued labourers in accordance with the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and the Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers, 2016. In response, the court directed the Muzaffarnagar and Meerut district magistrates to file their reply affidavits explaining the steps they have taken for the proper rehabilitation of the labourers, and listed the case for March 13, 2018.