BENGALURU: Karnataka stands second in the country, after Tamil Nadu, in terms of bonded labourers who have been identified and rehabilitated.
This is the finding of a research paper by Cynthia Stephen of the International Justice Mission (IJM), which was presented on Tuesday at the two-day national conference on human trafficking held at Christ University.
Citing a report tabled in the Lok Sabha by Bandaru Dattatreya, minister of state for labour and employment, on August 11 this year, Cynthia said between 1976 and 2015, 64,600 labourers were identified and released in the state. Out of this, 58,348 were rehabilitated and then released. This figure is slightly lower than that in Tamil Nadu, where 65,573 labourers were identified during the same period. All were rehabilitated and released. Odisha stands at third place with 50,441 labourers who were identified. Out of this, 47,313 were rehabilitated before being released.
Karnataka is at the top when it comes to receiving funds from the Centre for the purpose of identifying, rehabilitating and releasing labourers. It received Rs 1,694.48 lakhs, compared to Rs 1,662 lakhs received by Tamil Nadu.
According to Cynthia, the reason for the high number of bonded labourers is that the vigilance committees mandated by law to be set up in each district to monitor the existence and redressal of bonded labour are mostly non-existent, and if they exist, are non-functional.
Another reason for the persistence of bonded labour, according to her, is the extremely weak implementation of labour laws, especially the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act. “This could be on account of the fact that at the time the law was framed, bonded labour was mostly found in the agricultural sector,” she said.
However, the situation is expected to get better, according to experts. In 2012 the government amended IPC Section 370 on trafficking, and raised the penalty from just two years’ imprisonment to a minimum of seven years for first offence and a maximum of ‘remainder of natural life’.
In a panel discussion, Soumendu Mukherjee, who is in charge of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the state police, called for cooperation between NGOs and the police.
“Since the first respondents to any case of human trafficking are the police, they, in collaboration with the NGOs, must work towards eradicating this menace from the society,” he said.