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NHRC acts against customary bondage: Hundreds released, rehabilitated in Bihar
At least 100 bonded labours have been released in Madhubani District of Bihar after the intervention of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Acting on the complaint of a social worker Tojo Jose NHRC has earlier issued notice and directed to release and rehabilitate the bonded labour according to the provision.

The petitioner alleged that more than thirty eight families are being exploited under an illegal bonded labour system in the revenue jurisdiction of Benipatti Sub-Division of Madhubani District. These labourers were forced to work by their respective employers at agricultural lands under "Kamiya" bonded labour custom.

The labourers are working since generations. The labourers are not paid their statutory minimum wages, instead they receive in kind two kilograms each (husband and wife) of raw rice per day against their hard labour rendered. Most of the labourers belong to the Scheduled Caste category (Mushahar) and work more than 10 hours a day. They are trapped in a customary bonded labour system in which the labourers are not free to move out or to be employed elsewhere, alleged the Petitioner.

NHRC team's spot inquiry:

NHRC have formed a team to conduct a spot inquiry in the matter. Accordingly Commission's Joint registrar (Law) A.K. Parashar and other three officers had visited the spot and inquired there from January 22 to January 24, 2015. The team had submitted the report finding the allegations to be true.

Commission had directed District Magistrate of Madhubani to issue 'Release Certificates' to the bonded labourers and ensure that the victims are paid their past wages and are extended all the benefits under Social Welfare Schemes and an amount of 20 thousands each as mandated under the law is paid to them without loss of further time.

Direction and action:

The NHRC had also ordered the District Magistrate of Madhubani and Sub Divisional Magistrate of Madhubani to appear before the Commission in person on 27 February without fail along with their response to the report and the compliance report. The Commission also had served a notice to Chief Secretary of Bihar for appropriate action and report within a period of four weeks.

District Magistrate had submitted the action taken report on February 8 stating the release and rehabilitation measures taken by the administration. After allegation a team of six subordinate officers had inquired the matter and admitted all the 101 labourers of 38 families were bonded labourers.

Accordingly 'Release Certificates' have issued to them and at least 113 cases have been filled against 18 errant employers under section 20(2) Minimum Wages Act, 1948 in respect of 48 labourers. They are also booked under the provisions of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Child Labour Act, the Juvenile Justice Act and the Indian Penal Code.

The benefits under Social Welfare Schemes of the Central Government and the State Government are also extended to all the 101 released bonded labourers after NHRC's order. And steps are being taken to disburse an amount of 20 thousands rupees each to the 101 released bonded labourers.

NHRC praised both the District Magistrate of Madhubani and Sub Divisional Magistrate of Benipatti. The Commission also places on record its appreciation for Joint registrar (law) A. K. Parashar and Assistant Registrar, (Law) O.P. Vyas for conducting the spot enquiry with perfection having brought relief to 38 families.

Fresh notices:

NHRC has served fresh notices to the Union Secretary of Ministry of Labour and Employment, and Principal Secretary, Department of Labour and Labour Commissioner of Government of Bihar to submit a report on release of funds from the Central share in respect of 101 released bonded labourers and from the State share in respect of remaining 37 released bonded labourers towards rehabilitation of the released bonded labourers within six weeks.

A notice has also sent to the District Magistrate of Madhubani to submit a report on further steps taken for rehabilitation of the victims and status of all the cases pending investigation with police and pending adjudication before the courts within six weeks. The officers of Law Division who were involved in the spot enquiry in the matter will also visit the victims after about three months to assess the rehabilitation measures and steps taken by the State Govt. towards their rehabilitation, the Commission ordered.

(Akhand is an Independent Journalist and Human rights defender. He can be contacted at: indiamediacentre@gmail.com)

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