Union for Civil Liberties Vs. State of Tamilnadu
& Others  Insc 348 (5 May 2004)
& G.P. Mathur. Rajendra Babu, Cji. :
plight of migrant bonded laborers from Tamilnadu, who were being subjected to
exploitation in Madhya Pradesh, was originally brought to the notice of this
Court through this petition. Later the scope of this petition was expanded so
as to cover the problems relating to the bonded laborers in all States and Union Territories in the country. This Court vide Order dated 11-5-1997 asked
the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to take over the monitoring of the
implementation of the directions of this Court and that of the provisions of
the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (the Act). It is brought to our
notice that the NHRC has been interacting with the Ministry of Labour and with
Special Rapporteurs, with the State Governments to evolve suitable measures to
solve the problem of bonded labour. In the meantime the NHRC constituted a
Group of Experts to closely examine the matter and to prepare a report on the
status, suggest methods of improving the existing schemes, suggest
recommendations to effectively implement the laws for abolition of bonded labor
system and other connected matters. An Action-taken-Report filed by the NHRC
was considered by this Court on 19-1-2001.
On 6-6-2001 the Report of Expert Group was submitted to this
Court. First part of this Report contains a status report on the work relating
to the abolition of the bonded labour system in the various States. Then the
report detailed the position of the various existing schemes and made several
recommendations to improve the present works relating to the abolition of
bonded labour system. They also made considered proposals to amend the Act so
as to make the Act more effective. The Report correctly pointed out that the
implementation of the Act encompasses three functions, namely, identification,
release and rehabilitation of bonded labour. They also suggested involving NGOs
in the endeavors to abolish bonded labour. As per directions of this Court,
State Governments, Union Territories and learned Amicus Curiae submitted their responses to the
report of Expert Group. In his response dated 5-9-2002, learned Amicus Curiae made two important suggestions.
Firstly to organize Model Workshop in an appropriate district in any State
involving the District Magistrate and other statutory authorities/committees
not only to sensitize them in respect of their duties under the Act but also to
help them in achieving the objectives of the statute in full measure and
secondly, to establish a Model Rehabilitation Centre. In its Report dated 27-3-2003, the NHRC agrees with the suggestions made by
learned Amicus Curiae.
Union of India, in response to the report of the learned Amicus Curiae
submitted that the central issue in solving bonded labour system is the
rehabilitation of released bonded labors. They also detailed the various
schemes and financial assistance packages that are made available from the
Union coffers. It is also submitted that the Ministry of Labour in consultation
with the NHRC is preparing a detail manual for identification, release and
rehabilitation of the bonded laborers, particularly in planning and executing
the suitable rehabilitation package for the released bonded laborers.
Therefore, they submitted that any specific rehabilitation package couldn't be
considered ideal for all the released bonded laborers who are required to be
rehabilitated at various places. In response to the NHRC Report dated 27-3-2003, the Union
submitted that in any case rehabilitation center is established, sufficient
land area would have to be provided at a particular place by the State
Government concerned; which would be tremendous task for the State government
in the present socio- economic conditions. In this context, the Union made
clear their preference to the existing centrally sponsored scheme, wherein a
freed bonded labour is rehabilitated on land based basis, non-land basis and
skilled/craft based basis depending upon the choice of bonded labour and
his/her inclination and past experience. It is also submitted that the Ministry
of Labour release grants to the State governments for rehabilitation of bonded labour
on receipt of complete proposals from the State Government concerned. Under the
modified Centrally Sponsored Scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labor
effective from May 2000 the rehabilitation assistance to the extent of Rs.
20,000/- per bonded labour is provided for his/her rehabilitation. The Central and
State governments on 50:50 bases share the expenditure. In case of North-Eastern States and Sikkim 100% rehabilitation grants are
provided by the Central Government. The migrant bonded laborers, as per
guidelines, are to be rehabilitated at the place of his/her choice. And under
this scheme, the State Governments shall provide Rs. 1000/- as substance
allowance to a bonded labour immediately on his/her identification.
going through the detailed Report of the Expert Group, responses to it by the
Governments and that of the learned Amicus Curie, the Report of the NHRC and
the various Affidavits on record, we could easily arrive at the conclusion that
the major issue that is to be solved is the aspects relating to rehabilitation
of bonded labors. Once the bonded labors are identified and released, they have
to be rehabilitated forthwith. It is a sad reality that the rehabilitation and
related aspects of bonded labors are not given adequate consideration till now.
If we are now concentrating our attention to identification and release of
bonded labors, they will languish in streets, if there are no well chalked out
corresponding plans for rehabilitation. Hence, in our considered opinion the
primary direction shall be aimed at evolving and implementing rehabilitation
modern days Civil Society is playing a greater role in nation building
exercise. The commendable roles played by NGOs in very many situations
strengthen the confidence of general public in NGOs. Always the State may not
be in a position to reach out to the needy. As we have experienced in the past,
Civil Society could efficiently fill up this gap. Now it is time for more
interaction between Civil Society and State machinery in implementing social
service schemes. The services of philanthropic organizations or NGOs could very
well be utilized for rehabilitating released bonded labors. State could give
necessary financial assistance under proper supervision.
the vitality of rehabilitation issue in the endeavors to abolish bonded labors,
at this stage, we are issuing the following directions.
States and Union Territories must submit their status report in the form prescribed by
NHRC in every six months.
the State Governments and Union Territories shall constitute Vigilance
Committees at the District and Sub-Divisional levels in accordance with Section
13 of the Act, within a period of six months from today.
the State Governments and Union Territories shall make proper arrangements for
rehabilitating released bonded labors. Such rehabilitation could be on
land-based basis or non-land basis or skilled/craft based basis depending upon
the choice of bonded labour and his/her inclination and past experience. If the
States are not in a position to make arrangements for such rehabilitation, then
it shall identify two philanthropic organizations or NGOs with proven track
record and good reputation with basic facilities for rehabilitating released
bonded labors within a period of six months.
State Governments and Union Territories shall chalk out a detailed plan for rehabilitating released
bonded labors either by itself or with the involvement of such organizations or
NGOs within a period of six months.
Union and State Governments shall submit
a plan within a period of six months for sharing the money under the modified
Centrally Sponsored Scheme, in the case where the States wish to involve such
organizations or NGOs.
State Governments and Union Territories shall make arrangements to sensitize the District
Magistrate and other statutory authorities/committees in respect of their
duties under the Act.
The Union and State governments are directed to file
Affidavits delineating the above aspects within a period of six months. All
other aspects pointed out by the NHRC and other directions suggested to be
issued by the learned Amicus Curie would be considered thereafter.
parting with, it is necessary to place on record that this Court is beholden to
the learned Amicus Curiae Mr. A K Ganguly (Senior Advocate) for the services
rendered by him.