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"The Covid-19 pandemic has severely exacerbated abusive conditions that bonded labourers are trapped in. It has also pushed persons who were not originally working in a state of bondage, into a state of bonded labour."
The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on a PIL which alleges that as many as 187 persons are in bonded labour in brick kilns in some districts of the two States.
The Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Krishna Murari, and S Ravindra Bhat was hearing a PIL filed by a social worker who sought the rescue and rehabilitation of as many as 187 victims of bonded labour which include pregnant women, children and infants.
Pointing out that even after the enactment of the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, 1976, there are "millions of Indians" who are made victims of bonded labour, the petitioner asserts that the rescue and rehabilitation of these labourers is pertinent.
In the instant matter, it is claimed that 187 labourers are being kept in inhuman conditions, made to do hard labour in scorching heat and provided one meal a day only.
Citing the urgent need for their rescue and rehabilitation, the petitioner also added that guidelines should be formulated for rescue and rehabilitation of bonded labourers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The plea says,
The PIL details that the information regarding these 187 persons in bonded labour was uncovered in April 2020, based on research and due diligence carried out by the petitioner.
It is further informed that all of these labourers belong to the Scheduled Caste communities and are working at brick kilns, two of which are in Bihar's Rohtas district and another the Sambhal district in Uttar Pradesh.
On May 11, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) passed certain directions in the issue, following several complaints. However, the local authorities allegedly failed to take any action despite these orders and the NHRC's intervention.
The petition further avers,
Therefore, the Supreme Court yesterday directed the District Magistrates of Rohtas and Sambhal to file detailed reports of the action taken by them pursuant to the directions issued by NHRC.
The Court will hear the matter next on June 9.
The petition was filed through Advocate Srishti Agnihotri. The petitioner was represented by Senior Counsel Anitha Shenoy.