Supreme Court order helps rescued bonded workers get Rs 75 lakh aid

CHENNAI: A Supreme Court direction in a case of bonded labour has brought joy and hope to a group of 14 men, women and children from six families- each of their bank accounts swelled by 4.75 lakh. The SC registry deposited the cash into the accounts of the victims of the regressive practice of bonded labour. The cash was given by the convicts to secure their bail.

The SC had, on September 21, 2017, issued an order stating that the bail applications of the two convicts in the case, K Sivakumar and Munusamy Naidu, would be considered only if they handed over 75 lakh to the court registry on or before October 6 the same year.

The amount paid by them was deposited into the accounts of the victims on a pro rata basis. They were rescued on August 9, 2005 from a rice mill by revenue officials, who acted upon the information from IJM, an NGO.

The rescued bonded labours were informed about the cash deposits three days ago. "We were surprised when my uncle (Ramalingam) told us that 4.75 lakh was deposited in his account. I checked my account and found the account balance had increased to 4,77,061 lakh from 2,061," said 28 year-old Chinnarasu, who was rescued along with his parents, Malliga and Mari.

Recalling the days in the rice mill in Kadambattur village in Tiruvallur district, Malliga, 42, said it was "nightmare" and they were treated like animals. "They beat my husband with slippers for not working for long hours. Unable to bear the humiliation, he ran away from the mill. Hence, the owners of the mills forced our elder son (Chinnarasu) who was then 15 years to work," she said.

They worked for 10 to 12 hours a day and had been paid around 250 per family every three days, said Malliga, who now works under the MNREGA scheme.

The revenue officials had filed a case against owners Kandasamy Mudaliar, his son Sivakumar and their manager Munusamy under various sections of IPC and Bonded Labourer System (Abolition) Act. The Tiruvallur district's fast-track court, on May 18,2010, awarded five years rigorous imprisonment and imposed fine ranging from Rs 26,000 to 52,000 for them.

Though the trio approached the Madras high court against the verdict in the lower court, it upheld the judgment in June, 2017. Following this, they approached the SC for bail. Welcoming the SC's direction, activists said it would set a precedent for all cases of bonded and forced labourer.