Vigilance Committee conducts inspection, rescues 21 bonded labourers

The Vellore Sub-Division and Vellore District Vigilance Committee (VC) led an unannounced inspection of businesses on 24th April 2018. The group of officials inspected four worksites - a rock quarry, a poultry farm, an incense-stick-making unit and a brick kiln. There were no bonded labour elements present in the first three worksites. But the inspection in the fourth worksite, the brick kiln, led to the rescue of 21 bonded labour victims (9 adults and 12 children), resulting in the first ever VC-led rescue in Tamil Nadu. This is a significant step that sets a precedent for other districts to follow.

The six families rescued from the brick kiln had taken loans ranging from Rs. 7000 to Rs. 20,000 and had been working there for almost seven years. They were bound to the work site, denied alternate employment opportunities and were paid less than the State’s minimum wage. The Collector of Vellore, Mr. S. A. Raman gave release certificates to 10 victims — one of them was a 14-year-old boy.

This rescue was the result of inspection plans made in the previous VC meeting led by the Collector early in the month of April.

Vigilance Committees are key to ending bonded labour

Section 13 of The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act makes it mandatory for every District and Sub-Division to set up VCs to monitor the crime of bonded labour in their jurisdiction.

The Committee is required to meet once a quarter to discuss plans and actions and share the status of efforts taken with the District Magistrate. The functions of the Committee include: inspecting businesses for bonded labour crimes, rehabilitating survivors, defending survivors during trial and creating awareness on the crime.

Though the Vigilance Committee has been constituted by law, there has been a challenge in bringing it together for regular meetings. In 2015, the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department sent a letter to all District and Sub-Divisional VCs containing guidelines for effective functioning of VCs. Since then, the ball has been set in motion and we have come a long way.

Tamil Nadu has seen a total of ten meetings this year– two District VCs and six Sub-Divisional VCs. As a result of a VC meeting in Kanchipuram, 21 land pattas were issued to survivors in February.

A functioning Vigilance Committee is key to ending bonded labour. Increased number of meetings and active action from VCs can accelerate this goal. Since this Committee’s sole purpose is to counter bonded labour, its potential to end bonded labour in various pockets of the State is very high. This essentially means that every VC member is vested with the power to create a significant difference.