Plea in SC alleges 187 persons in bonded labour in brick kilns of UP, Bihar
A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao, on Wednesday issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar governments and also asked the district magistrates (DMs) of Rohtas and Sambhal in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, respectively, to submit their reports regarding a public interest litigation (PIL) that had alleged 187 people were forced into bonded labourers in three brick kilns operating under their jurisdictions.
The apex court ordered the DMs to file their reports on Monday, when the case would be heard next.
Earlier on May 25, a plea was filed before the SC by a social worker Zahid Hussain, who had alleged that 187 people – all of them belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community -- were forced into bonded labour in three brick kilns in Bihar and UP and were made to work under inhuman conditions, including lack of food and non-payment of their statutory minimum wage.
The local administrations allegedly didn’t take any action against the deplorable condition of the bonded labourers, despite an order issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on May 11, the plea stated.
“The bonded labourers were left vulnerable. They were tortured by the brick kiln owners for complaining against their inhuman working conditions. The owners also threatened to throw them out of their jobs and refused to pay the statutory minimum wage,” the plea added.
Advocate Srishti Agnihotri filed the plea on behalf of Hussain.
Two of the brick kilns are located at Bharkol and Dhaudarh villages in Bihar’s Rohtas district, and another one is situated in western UP’s Sambhal district.
Senior counsel Anitha Shenoy appeared for the petitioner, Hussain, and prayed for the release and rehabilitation of the 187 victims and also sought specific guidelines from the SC to repatriate them to their native places amid the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
He cited the viral outbreak has accentuated the bonded labourers’ woes.
“From restrictions of their movements to lack of food supplies and healthcare, non-payment of wages and restricted access to law enforcement authorities, the bonded labourers are trapped in abusive conditions amid the pandemic. Besides, they have been pushed into working as bonded labourers to tide over their economic crisis,” the plea said.
The petition said 41 bonded labourers, including 14 children, are trapped in the Bharkol brick-kiln, while in Dhaudarh there are 84 victims, including 27 children. Similarly, the Sambhal brick-kiln has 62 victims.
Hussain contended that the bonded labourers have been held hostage at the brick kilns, denied their minimum statutory wage, physically and verbally abused, and even the women and children are made to work for over 12 hours at a stretch.
“One of the labourers (at the Dhaudarh brick kiln) was assaulted on his head that left him bleeding profusely after he had asked for the payment of his wage. Three victims, who are four, five and nine months pregnant, respectively, have been denied any medical assistance,” the petitioner alleged.
The plea stated the Sambhal district administration conducted a cursory inquiry of 17 families of the bonded labourers at the behest of the NHRC order.
But, the district authorities ordered the labourers to stay put at the brick kiln and left them at the mercy of the owner, the plea alleged.
The petitioner blamed the Sambhal district administration of gross dereliction of their duties.
He made similar complaints against the Rohtas district authorities for their alleged failure to bring the guilty to book and set free the bonded labourers.
Hussain cited the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, and the standard operating procedures (SOP) on rescue, release by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) that stipulate a 24-hour deadline for the rescue of bonded labourers after a complaint is lodged.
However, he alleged that the norms have been overlooked and the authorities concerned are yet to take any action.