Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday exhorted citizens not to celebrate Diwali by bursting crackers and instead suggested that they should light lamps only.
"I have never celebrated Diwali in my life by bursting crackers. I light lamps and perform puja, but no crackers," he said. And the reason was that the cracker industry employs a large number of children and bonded labourers.
He added that abolition of bonded labour may be true on paper but not in reality as millions are still enslaved despite enactment of the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976.
The minister said that the ambitious National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) would join hands with NGOs and become an institutional partner of the Bandhua 1947 campaign to combat bonded labour.
Bandhua 1947 is national-level campaign aimed at mobilising people to advocate with their governments to protect millions currently vulnerable to bonded labour and fight for their rights.
"Under the NRLM umbrella, we will begin pilot projects in 10 districts which are considered to have a substantial population of bonded labourers. We will locate the bonded labourers there, get surveys done, rehabilitate them and create conditions for alternative livelihood," Ramesh said.
Starting December this year, NRLM will fund projects in the following districts: Gaya (Bihar), Bastar, Kondagaon (Chhattisgarh), Bolangir, Naupada (Orissa), Gumla (Jharkhand), Prakasam, Chittoor (Andhra Pradesh), Kanchipuram, Vellore (Tamil Nadu).
They will help locate and rehabilitate bonded labourers, by inclusion in self-help groups and their federations, provision of soft loans and vulnerability reduction funds, and special projects for alternative livelihoods including skill development interventions.