Officials prioritise prosecution of bonded labour offenders

On 8th March 2019, a tree-cutting unit owner and his maestri (middleman) from Chengalpattu were arrested and remanded to judicial custody for employing bonded labourers. The owner had victimised 31 people and had subjected them to situations that denied them their basic human rights. This is the second time since 2013 that the owner is being charged for committing the same bonded labour offence. Previously, the owner had escaped punishment, and consequently resumed his exploitative business. But this time, the district officials and police worked together collaboratively to approach the case holistically.

In 2013, the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) was highly proactive in rescuing 23 people, issuing 13 Release Certificates to victims and extending rehabilitation support. However, the importance of creating deterrence was neglected. It took three months for the district officials to register a complaint and for the police to file the FIR against the owner. Nonetheless, the owner got off scot-free.

Today, six years later, it is evident that there is a significant shift in the officials’ approach towards tackling the bonded labour system. The RDO of Chengalpattu, Mr. Muthuvadivel collaborated with other government departments, police and IJM to identify and rescue the victims, provide rehabilitation support and take necessary actions against the offender. In less than 24 hours, the Tahsildar filed the complaint against the owner and the maestri. Subsequently the police filed an FIR and remanded the two men to judicial custody. Additionally, when the offenders applied for bail, the public prosecutor opposed it and the court rejected bail. The two offenders spent 20 days in jail before their bail was finally approved by the court.

The steps taken by the district officials, police and judiciary in this case stands to prove that they will protect the marginalised people in the State. The officials’ actions also act as a warning to other offenders: should they be caught committing this offence, they would not be exempted from punishment.