The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 8 September, said that there is a racket running in the country in which labourers take "advantage" of the concept of "bonded labour" and that no such thing actually exists.
A bench of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia made these remarks during the hearing of a case filed by now deceased social activist Swami Agnivesh back in 2012.
Agnivesh had filed a petition on behalf of a woman worker in the RS Pura of Jammu, seeking a direction to the Jammu police to investigate rape and other offences alleged by her, and to identify other bonded labourers in Jammu and Kashmir for their release and rehabilitation.
What Did Justice Hemant Gupta Say?
Justice Hemant Gupta said that these labourers are not bonded, but are paid to work and then resign.
"Do you know who are bonded labourers? They are not bonded. They take money and come there and are engaged by brick kilns. They come from backward areas. They take money and eat the money, and then resign. This is a racket. These labourers only take advantage of this bonded labourer thing."
The lawyer representing the petition, Advocate Pooja Sharma, said that many of these bonded labourers were victims of sexual harassment and that they had not been paid any compensation in 10 years.
"The state will take remedial steps if any required under law," the bench said while noting that the government had filed a detailed response to these claims, addressing various aspects.
According to the petition, the woman and her husband expressed that they wished to return to their village, however, the contractor refused to relieve them unless they gave him Rs 3 lakh.
The petition further alleged that the woman was raped repeatedly by the construction unit owner, and other workers, after her husband had escaped from the site.
The woman and her son were later shifted to a rehabilitation home after an NGO and police intervened, the petition claimed.
When the top court took up the case, initially a First Information Report (FIR) was directed to be registered and an investigation in the case to be started.
However, Advocate Taruna A Prasad, representing Jammu and Kashmir, informed the court than an FIR was registered and an investigation was initiated already, but the victim was untraceable, which led to the closure of the case by the state in 2018.
After the demise of Swami Agnivesh, the state pressed that there is not much left to investigate in the case.
However, when the advocate for the petitioner stated that the broader issue of bonded labour needs to be dealt with, the court observed that "there was no such thing as a bonded labour."
(With inputs from Bar&Bench and PTI.)