NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Tuesday said the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) may consider framing guidelines for protection and rehabilitation of bonded labourers, especially during the prevailing situation of COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Krishna Murari was hearing through video-conferencing a plea which has alleged that authorities concerned in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have failed to take prompt action to help 187 victims of bonded labour who are working in brick kilns in these states.
The bench, which disposed of the plea, observed that NHRC had already passed directions on the issue and asked the petitioner to approach the commission for further directions.
"The NHRC may consider issuing guidelines for protection and rehabilitation of bonded labourers," the bench observed.
The apex court had on June 3 issued notices to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar seeking their responses on the plea, filed by social worker Zahid Hussain, seeking urgent release and rehabilitation of victims of bonded labour, including pregnant women and children, who are being allegedly held at three different brick kilns in these states.
The plea, filed through advocate Srishti Agnihotri, had said that on May 11 this year, the NHRC had taken cognisance on the complaints filed on this issue and directed the district administration of Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh and Rohtas in Bihar to depute a team of officers for conducting spot inquiry and file an action taken report (ATR) within 15 days.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the advocates appearing for both the states apprised the bench about the action taken by them in the matter.
Advocate Gopal Singh, appearing for Bihar government, told the bench that authority has taken steps in the matter.
Singh told the bench that Bihar is dealing with the issue of migrant workers, who are returning to the state, and the authority has taken appropriate steps in the matter as per the available resources.
The top court had earlier asked the district magistrates of Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh and Rohtas in Bihar to submit a report regarding action taken by them in "liberating 187 bonded labour victims working in brick kilns whose details are given in the order passed by the National Human Rights Commission".
The plea had also sought a direction to the authorities to frame "specific guidelines to release, protect, rehabilitate and repatriate bonded labourers during the COVID-19 pandemic taking into account measures to ensure access to shelter, food supplies, compensation and healthcare" during the pandemic.
It had alleged that despite NHRC's direction, the administration has not taken appropriate steps as a result of which these bonded labours are working in "perilous and inhuman working conditions".