Vigilance Committees actively tackle bonded labour in Tamil Nadu

Vigilance Committees (VC) in Thiruvallur, Vellore and Thiruvannamalai districts of Tamil Nadu have been taking proactive initiatives to curb bonded labour in their jurisdiction. By prioritising rehabilitation initiatives and leading inspections, these VCs have set a precedent for other districts to follow.

Released bonded labourers receive houses

In April 2018, the Thiruvallur VC led a field assessment and identified that seven bonded labour survivor families in their jurisdiction were in need of houses. The VC worked collaboratively with various government departments and today, ten months later, seven pucca houses are ready, along with bore-wells. Other crucial needs such as hand pumps and electricity will soon be met.

Rehabilitation is crucial for survivors of bonded labour. Without adequate support from the government, survivors are at a high risk of falling prey to false promises and ‘help’ extended by unscrupulous people. To counter that, VCs are stepping up to protect them from exploitation and violence.

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VCs lead bonded labour inspections

The Vigilance Committees of Vellore and Cheyyar worked with their District Administration officials to conduct systematic inspections in worksites in their jurisdictions on 8th and 25th February respectively. The officials went unannounced in order to avoid tipoffs, and ensure that offenders, if any, could be caught red-handed.

The team of officials in Vellore was led by Mr. K. Meghraj, IAS, Sub Collector, Vellore Sub-Division and the team in Cheyyar was led by Ms. Annamal, Revenue Divisional Officer, Cheyyar. The officials inspected labour-intensive industries such as brick kilns, flower gardens and crusher units.

“Though no bonded labourers were identified, regular inspections such as these will help regulate industries and deter owners from retaining bonded labourers,” said Mr. Meghraj.

Furthermore, the inspection in Vellore helped identify that seven Irular families who were working as daily wage labourers did not have their Community Certificates and land pattas. The Sub Collector immediately asked the officials to issue the same in less than a month’s time.

Vigilance Committee, a mandate by law

Section 13 of The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act makes it mandatory for every District and Sub-Division to constitute VCs to monitor the implementation of the Act at the district level. The Committees are required to meet once a quarter and provide support to the District Collector. Functions of the Committee include: inspecting establishments for bonded labour crimes, rehabilitating survivors, defending survivors during trial, conducting surveys on the prevalence of bonded labour and creating awareness on the crime.

VCs play a crucial role in the Tamil Nadu Government’s goal of ending bonded labour in the state. Functional and effective VCs help monitor the crime, deter offenders and support victims at the district level. Regular and proactive action from the VCs can subsequently eradicate the crime.