Study finds that bondage has spread from farm sector to fast-food chains, carpet-making units

The banned system of bonded labour, albeit with a new twist, still survives among us. About 7,646 people are forced to work in bondage in different districts of Karnataka, according to a report submitted by a committee constituted to study the prevalence of the practice in the State.

The committee, headed by journalist Sivaji Ganesan, submitted an 84-page report to Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj H.K. Patil on Thursday. The report draws its statistics from a survey done in 2013 by Jeevika, a non-governmental organisation working with bonded labourers.

The report said while bonded labour was earlier confined to the agricultural sector, a large number of workers have been forced to work now in coffee plantations, fast-food chains, carpet-making units, brick kilns, quarries and in beedi-making units.

In its new form, owners of factories of plantations pay an advance to labourers and ask them to work for months, without a break or daily wages. The committee found many instances of workers borrowing between Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 1 lakh in the form of “advance” and ending up working with one landlord or factory owner, foregoing his or her liberty to change jobs. In some instances, they are also physically confined to the premises.

The Jeevika survey revealed that among districts Bidar had 1,357 bonded labourers, Mysuru: 830, Hassan: 827, Chickballapur: 607, and Raichur: 469. The committee noted that Deputy Commissioners in north Karnataka districts were reluctant to share data on bonded labourers and have not taken steps to rehabilitate them.

Mr. Ganesan said the committee has given 22 recommendations, including effective implementation of rehabilitation schemes, for making Karnataka free of bonded labour. Mr. Patil, who received the report, said efforts would be made to rehabilitate all bonded labourers in the next two months. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, would be implemented strictly.

Monthly pension for rehabilitated bonded labourers has been increased from Rs. 300 to Rs. 1,000, and an order to this effect was issued on May 23, 2015, Mr. Patil said.

Observations of committee

Characteristics of the practice have changed over the years

Expensive weddings, medical expenses, acute poverty, lack of job opportunities major reasons for bondage

Most prevalent among Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, with people of all age groups in the net

District, taluk administration often indifferent to issue; in denial mode

Inordinate delay in disposing of petitions related to bonded labour

Periodic survey not being conducted

Vigilance committees not active

No instances of initiating criminal proceedings against those involved

Rehabilitation in many places not satisfactory.