The Bonded Labour System stands abolished throughout the country with effect from 25.10.1975 with the enactment of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. It freed unilaterally all the bonded labourers from bondage with simultaneous liquidation of their debts. It made the practice of bondage a cognizable offence punishable by law.
2. The Act is being implemented by the State Governments. Salient features of the Act are given below:
- On commencement of this Act, the bonded labour system stood abolished and every bonded labourer stood freed and discharged free from any obligation to render bonded labour.
- Any custom, agreement or other instrument by virtue of which a person was required to render any service as bonded labour was rendered void.
- Liability to repay bonded debt was deemed to have been extinguished.
- Property of the bonded labourer was freed from mortgage etc.
- Freed bonded labourer was not to be evicted from homesteads or other residential premises which he was occupying as part of consideration for the bonded labour.
- District Magistrates have been entrusted with certain duties and responsibilities for implementing the provisions of this Act.
- Vigilance committees are required to be constituted at district and sub-divisional levels.
- Offences for contravention of provisions of the Act are punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years and also with fines, which may extend to two thousand rupees.
- Powers of Judicial Magistrates are required to be conferred on Executive Magistrates for trial of offences under this Act. Offences under this Act could be tried summarily.
Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer, 2021
In order to assist the State Governments in their task of rehabilitation of released bonded labourers, the Ministry of Labour launched a Centrally Sponsored Scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labourers in May, 1978. Originally the Scheme provided for rehabilitation assistance up-to ceiling of Rs. 4000/- per freed bonded labour, which was shared by the Central Government and State Governments on (50:50) basis. In case of North Eastern States, 100% central assistance were provided if they expressed their inability to provide their share.
2. Subsequently the scheme was modified from time to time. In 2016, the Scheme was revamped and known as "Central Sector Scheme' for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer – 2016". Further, the scheme was modified in January 2022 and came into effect from 27.01.2022 as "Central Sector Scheme' for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer – 2021". The salient features of the Scheme are as under:
- Financial assistance for rehabilitation of a rescued bonded labourer is Rs. One lakhs per adult male beneficiary, Rs. two lakhs for special category beneficiaries such as children including orphans or those rescued from organized & forced begging rings or other forms of forced child labour, and women and Rs. three lakhs in cases of bonded or forced labour involving extreme cases of deprivation or marginalization such as trans-genders, or women or children rescued from ostensible sexual exploitation such as brothels, massage parlours, placement agencies etc., or trafficking, or in cases of differently abled persons, or in situations where the District Magistrate deems fit.
- The State Governments are not required to pay any matching contribution for the purpose of cash rehabilitation assistance.
- The Scheme provides for financial assistance of Rs. 4.50 lakhs per district for conducting survey of bonded labourers once in every three years for sensitive district, Rs. 1.50 lakhs for evaluatory studies (maximum of five evaluatory studies per year) and Rs. 10 lakhs per annum for awareness generation per State.
- The release of rehabilitation assistance is linked with conviction of the accused. However, immediate cash assistance upto Rs. 30,000/- may be provided to the rescued bonded labour by the District Administration irrespective of the status of conviction proceedings. Further, in case, where the trial has not been concluded, but the District Administration has arrived at a prima-facie finding and proof of bondage, then the proposal for cash assistance shall not be stopped for want of details of conviction.Any such immediate financial assistance shall be deducted from the rehabilitation assistance amount.However, final disbursement of cash assistance and non-cash assistance shall be made upon proof of bondage and other legal consequences as per judicial process.
- The Scheme provides for creation of a Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Fund at District level by each State with a permanent corpus of at least Rs. 10 lakh at the disposal of the District Magistrate which would be renewable for extending immediate help to the released bonded labourers.
- The above benefits are in addition to other cash or non-cash benefits provided by the States.