JK Brick Kilns Absolved of Bonded Labour Charge, SC Says It Is A Racket

SRINAGAR: In 2012, a number of workers were “rescued” from Jammu and Kashmir brick kilns and it was reported that the kiln owners were engaged in “bonded labour”. A decade later, the Supreme Court said it was untrue and, in fact, a racket.

A division bench of the top court comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia observed that the people from backward areas work at brick kilns in Jammu and Kashmir, but after taking money in advance refuse to work later. Later, they seek to be rescued alleging they are being held as bonded labourers.

“It is not necessary for us to consider the matter any further,” the bench observed and directed the state to take remedial measures, if necessary.

The bench was hearing the petition filed by social activist Swami Agnivesh – who is no more, and an alleged victim of bonded labour Raj Kumari Sahoo. She had claimed in the petition that her husband was desperate to quit the “bondage” but his employer was not permitting it and holding him against his wishes and even using violence against him. The petition was on behalf of the woman worker who was allegedly raped by an associate of a brick kiln contractor in RS Pura sub-division of the Jammu region.

“Do you know who are bonded labourers?” the bench told the petitioner’s lawyer Puja Sharma. “They are not bonded. They take the money and come there and are engaged by brick kilns. They come from backward areas. They take the money and eat the money and then resign. This is a racket in the country. These labourers only take advantage of this bonded labourer thing.”

The petition had said that as many as 49 people had been rescued from Jammu and Kashmir and were denied compensation under the law. “These persons come from backward areas to work in brick kilns and try to take benefits as bonded labour,” the bench replied. “They take lump sum payment as advance from their employers and resign.”

The Jammu and Kashmir government had told the court that the complaint had differences with her husband. The lawyer appearing for Jammu and Kashmir told the bench that a first information report was filed in the (rape ) case and an investigation started. But the survivor went untraceable, leading to the closure of the case in 2018.

The petition had alleged that the woman and her husband were keen to quit the “bondage” and return home in June 2012 but the contractor refused to relieve them unless they paid him Rs 3 lakh. Though Sahoo managed to escape from the kiln, Raj Kumari, his wife and their child were kept under illegal confinement. During the illegal confinement, she was allegedly raped by the contractor and others. They were later rescued and shifted to a rehabilitation camp.

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