The social evil of debt bondage or bonded labour in still in continuance even after 75 years of independence. Examine the reasons behind it and discuss steps to be taken for its redress.

Bonded labour refers to work without pay/minimum pay and suspension of basic human rights of workers. According to the Supreme Court of India it is the payment of wages that are below the prevailing market wages and legal minimum wages.

It was historically associated with rural economies where peasants from economically disadvantaged communities were bound to work for the landlords.

Causes:

  • Socio-economic realities, large number of poor people (21.6% under poverty line: Census 2011).
  • Lack of awareness among labourers.
  • Tradition of caste-based oppression of lower castes.
  • Ineffective implementation of laws and low conviction rate of perpetrators.
  • Political and monetary clout of perpetrators, making enforcement difficult.

Constitutional and legislative measures:

  • Article 23 – prevents bonded labour, slavery and “begar”.
  • Article 21 – Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
  • Article 24 – prohibition of employment of children below fourteen years of age.
  • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
  • Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers, 2016.
  • Minimum wages act, stipulating minimum wages for workers.

Steps needed:

  • Increased focus on implementation of laws.
  • Providing impetus to the agricultural economy to prevent distress.
  • Land reforms, tenancy regulation and redistribution of land to landless labourers.
  • Providing social security to unorganised workers.

The continuance of bonded labour is a blot on principles of social justice in our preamble and must be remedied at the earliest.

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