50 Bonded Labourers Rescued!

On March 13th, 2020, 50 victims of Bonded Labour including dependents were extracted from three eucalyptus farms as a result of a rescue operation initiated by the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) in Bangalore Rural District.

The labourers, hailing from the SC/ ST community, had been trafficked from Shivamogga District in Karnataka and Krishnagiri District in Tamil Nadu. Two traffickers had lured these impoverished families with false promises of good jobs and decent pay. Little did they know that they were being deceived and that these promises would turn out to be false. The owners used physical abuse, violent threats and confinement to control the labourers. They were forced to toil for long hours and lived in the most exploitive conditions of bondage. On the plantations each family was forced to live in makeshift tents made from tarpaulin sheets. On three occasions, some of the labourers tried to escape but they were traced and brought back to the facility.

The two owners would operate their business by transporting the victims across different eucalyptus plantations and groves in Bengaluru Urban and Rural Districts and other surrounding districts to harvest the timber. The labourers would spend at least five days at each plantation and up to two months depending on the size of the plantation and the number of trees to harvest. Apart from cutting the trees, they had to chop the wood, remove the bark and load it onto tractors.

The case first came to light when the older brother of a victim from Krishnagiri District with assistance from IJM approached KSHRC with information about his sister and her family being trapped in bonded labour in Bengaluru. A priority hearing was accorded and a full bench comprising of the Chairperson and Members of the Commission had initially discussed the case during a hearing. After the members of the Commission had heard the particulars of the case, a complaint was registered at the Commission and the Chairperson, KSHRC directed their Investigation Wing to probe further in the case.

KSHRC, as a first responder to the information regarding the case, led this operation in close collaboration with Police and District Administration. They coordinated with officials from the Revenue Department and Police and, as a result, two Rescue Teams were formulated for the operation. Since the labourers are moved from place to place to harvest timber, the shifting worksites posed a grave challenge in tracing their exact location, but the operation was finally successful and brought rescue to 30 labourers and 20 children from three sites.

Their owners were traced and taken into custody. A detailed enquiry was conducted at the rescue sites, following which cases were lodged against the owners. 2 First Information Reports (FIR) were registered under sections of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and Section 370 of Indian Penal Code.

The District Administration ensured that a medical examination was done for all the labourers. According to Karnataka Minimum Wages Act, a labourer should be paid Rs. 565/- per day for 8 hours and monthly 16000/- per person but the labourers were paid meagre amounts for the toil that they were put through. Hence, a backwages claim for the labourers was noted based on the findings of the enquiry. Release Certificates were issued and the labouers were repatriated to their native villages by the District Administration

The role of KSHRC in this case was significant! The entire rescue operation was conducted under the scrutiny and supervision of the Member of the Commission, a former DG/ IG, Karnataka Police. KSHRC’s Investigation Wing led by two Deputy Superintendents coordinated with the relevant departments, swung into action at the worksites and ensured that the due procedure was adhered to during the entire operation.