A controversy erupted in Bihar on Monday over two young boys being used as oxen to plough the land of the brother of Union Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh who was slapped with charges of violation of labour laws.
The incident in Vaishali district on Sunday rocked the state assembly amid demands by the ruling NDA members for the resignation of Union Rural Development minister but he claimed it was "stage-managed".
Vaishali district authorities lodged an FIR against Prasad's brother Raghuraj charging him with engaging the children for ploughing a piece of land "in utter violation of the labour laws."
An inquiry has been ordered into the incident, a senior official of the state labour department said. "The incident beamed by TV channels has been stage-managed ... There might be a well-hatched conspiracy to defame me," Prasad said.
"We do not need any ploughing in the fields during this season and they must have helped in throwing seeds in the fields. No manual labour has been used - the media has hyped the issue," he asserted.
But Raghuraj had a different tale to say as he admitted to having taken the services of the two children to plough the area for growing crops on payment. He said tractors or bullocks could not reach the field as it was still slippery after the monsoon floods. "We take needy poor people ... We have never forced anybody as they volunteer their service for succour," he said.
NDA MLAs created a ruckus in the state assembly demanding immediate sacking of Singh in the wake of the TV reports. TV channels had on Sunday shown two child labourers till the land owned by Raghuraj Singh at Shahpur in Bihar's Vaishali district.
JD(U) MLA Sudhanshu Shankar Bhaskar, in the absence of opposition MLAs who had left the house on an issue raised by them earlier, pressed for a resolution seeking dismissal of the union minister for his brother's 'unlawful act'.
NDA colleagues who voiced their support to his demand joined him.
Speaker Udai Narain Choudhary, however, refused to pay heed saying the house cannot hold debate on a person who is a member of the union cabinet.
Bashishtha, a labourer, had also said he was not forced to plough and did the job for money. In Bihar, cases of labourers being used instead of animals to plough land are not unusual. A similar incident had been reported in Begusarai district.
"In fact, I have come to know that some TV channels' crew went to Shahpur (his native village) yesterday to have footage of the areas which are still waterlogged even after the floods receded," Prasad said.
"Not only politicians but even common people have the right to see their faces on national channels," Singh remarked sarcastically.
When the TV crew found that they could not get a story, they approached the villagers to hire two children for ploughing so that "their faces will be shown on channels," he claimed.
"They (children and villagers) must have posed for the cameras and they will be posing for any news channel," the union minister said.