A day prior to World Day Against Child Labour, the Bombay High Court rapped the state government for “its apathy in tackling child labour”.
“It was expected of the state to take appropriate action and ensure child labourers are rescued and rehabilitated and not exposed to such dangerous work,” the high court observed.
“Apathy of the state attitude is sufficiently indicated by records.”
In 2005, the HC had converted a letter from retired high court judge Justice Ratnakar Shetty into a suo moto petition.
Observing that considerable time had lapsed since the HC had taken cognisance of the issue, the division bench of Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice S.C. Dharmadhkari on Thursday directed Kavita Gupta, principal secretary of the labour department to file a detailed affidavit.
The affidavit should include details of the number of children rescued, rehabilitated and educated. It should also contain what steps have been taken against errant employers and how many cases have been registered against them.
Rebecca Gonsalves, who was appointed as amicus curie (friend of court), pointed out three recent incidents wherein children employed in factories or units died or were injured.
In April, 22 people died in Parola, Jalagaon district when a fire broke out in Savitri Fireworks, a firecracker factory. Six of the deceased were underage workers, claimed Gonsalves.
Last month, a 13-year-old boy was killed in an explosion at an aerosol unit in Dharavi and the municipal contractor for the sewage pipeline work at Peddar Road was pulled up for employing child labourers, she added.
The state had constituted Special Task Force in 2005 for Mumbai and Thane, and in 2006 for the rest of Maharashtra.
The force has 261 inspectors who are expected to conduct surprise inspections in factories and manufacturing units to ensure that no children are employed and also the safety of workers.
But in reality, the force does not conduct surprise checks and functions on tip-offs from NGOs.
“Raids should be conducted but they should also perform surprise checks. The state has never elaborated whether inspections are carried out, and if they are what was the report,” argued Gonsalves.
The HC also wanted to know whether the state has fixed responsibility on any errant officers for non-performance of duty and negligence.
According to the government, only three of the 33 districts in the state are free of child labour in hazardous sector.