Aid for rescued bonded labourers may go up in India

NEW DELHI: To liberate crores of children, transgenders and others trapped in human trafficking, beggary or any such forms of forced labour, the Union government has proposed a major revamp of the rehabilitation scheme for rescued bonded workers, raising aid from the present Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 3 lakh.

The government has finalised a proposal to institute a three-tier rehabilitation funding scheme, under which a rescued transgender or disabled person will get Rs. 3 lakh, women or children Rs. 2 lakh and adult men Rs. 1 lakh. Now, Rs. 20,000 goes towards rehabilitation of a bonded labourer with an equal contribution from both the Centre and the States.

It is estimated that 1.4 crore workers in the country are bonded labourers, one of the highest in the world, according to the Global Slavery Index of 2014 released by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.

However, official estimates show the State governments had rehabilitated 2.80 lakh workers till March 2015. A person becomes a bonded labourer when his or her labour is demanded as a means of repayment of a loan.

To ensure a sustainable flow of money, a significant chunk of the rehabilitation sum will be credited to the bank accounts of the rescued persons in the form of fixed monthly deposits. For instance, of the total entitlement, transgender and disabled people will get Rs. 2 lakh in the form of monthly deposits signed by the District Collector.

Collector will keep a tab on freed labour

Under the Union government’s proposed revamp of the rehabilitation scheme for rescued bonded workers, women and children will get Rs. 1.25 lakh on a monthly basis out of a total of Rs. 2 lakh.

“It is seen that Rs. 20,000 is insufficient in the present times to lead an independent life. With the transformation of society, bonded labour has taken new colours. At this juncture, it is important that such people get a sustainable flow of money on a monthly basis in their bank accounts,” a senior government official said, on condition of anonymity.

The official added that under the new system, the Collector will be able to keep a tab on the rescued workers as he or she will have to sign the money deposit slip every month.

At present, executive magistrates are empowered to conduct a summary trial of offences to release bonded labourers and issue release certificates under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

The penalties under the Act include imprisonment for a term of up to 3 years and a fine of up to Rs. 2,000.

Trade unions have welcomed the move. But they argue that the labour reforms initiated by the Union government are taking away some of the rights of workers.

“Enhancing the rehabilitation amount is welcome. However, with the labour law amendments the government has proposed, it is pushing workers to a form of slavery by taking away their statutory rights and allowing employers to hire and fire workers,” All India Trade Union Congress secretary D.L. Sachdev said.