Alleged bonded labourers rescued from farm in Bylakuppe

Fourteen people, allegedly kept in confinement as bonded labourers, were rescued from a ginger farm in Bylakuppe in Periyapatna near here.

After receiving a tip-off, a team led by Periyapatna taluk tahsildar Mahesh J., accompanied by Social Welfare Department official Rame Gowda, and the police, raided the farm on Friday evening and arrested the grower Umesh while rescuing the fourteen who had been forced to work in the farm allegedly as bonded labourers.

The rescued labourers, who hailed from different parts of the State including Gadag, Dharwad, Mandya, Haveri, Raichur, Davangere, Koppal and Nelamangala, had not been paid their wages for the last five months and were forced to work for more than 12 hours a day, and often beaten, according to the FIR.

Mr. Mahesh J. told The Hindu that the ginger farm was part of the 25 acres of land the accused and his associates Shankar and Niranjan had taken on lease from the Tibetan community of Bylakuppe.

The labourers, all of whom are men between 28 and 60 years of age, had been brought to the farm by a relative of the accused on the promise that they would receive wages of ₹350 per day, a house to live in, three meals a day and alcohol at night, according to a note issued by International Justice Mission, whose representatives were part of the team that rescued the labourers. But, the labourers were neither paid their wages nor were they allowed to leave the farm and return. “They had to work seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., planting and harvesting ginger among other tasks like weeding, spraying pesticide, applying fertilisers, etc. They were only given short breaks for meals which one among them cooked,” the note added.

The rescued, who are presently housed in a government hostel in Hunaswadi near Periyapatna, will on Tuesday be issued Release Certificates by the district administration declaring them free and absolving them from any agreement with the owner of the farm. They will also be given an initial rehabilitation amount of ₹20,000 per head as per the Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers – 2016.

While Umesh, who has been booked under Section 370 of IPC for Trafficking of Persons and Sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, was produced before the court and remanded in judicial custody for two weeks, Shankar and Niranjan, the two co-accused in the case, are absconding.

The rescued labourers will be sent back to their respective native places on Tuesday by the district administration. “All the labourers are entitled to a further compensation of ₹80,000 upon conviction of the employer or trafficker,” a note from IJM stated.