The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (Act no. 19 of 1976) being an Act of Central Government was enacted with the object to make provisions for abolition of ‘Bonded Labour System’ for preventing the exploitation being economic and physical one of the Weaker sections of the population. The Act was extended to the entire Indian territories. The present Act was enacted by the Parliament of India in the 27th year of republic of India and the same was assented by the President of India on 9th day of February, 1976. The enactment was brought into operation as per provisions of thereof, on 25th day of October, 1975. The provisions of this Act were amended several time by the Act of 1970, 1985, etc.

The provisions of the Act are divided into seven chapters and the first among them is making preliminary provisions where the Act was short titled and its extension and commence as aforesaid is provided. Besides, certain important definitions are also provided under the second provisions of the Act. The Act is also defining the most relevant term being ‘Bonded Labour System’. It is provided that the system of forced or partly forced labour where a debtor enters expressly or implicitly an agreement with the Creditor that for any advances obtained by him or by any lineal ascendants or descendants, or for any customary or social obligation or for any successive obligation, for his birth in such caste or community that he should render labour services to the creditor either by himself or by any member from his family, without any wages or for nominal wages or do any specified act which termed here as Bonded labour.

It is made clear that the present Act’s provisions should have effect irrespective of whatever contrary contained in any other laws, instruments, etc.

The next chapter of the Act being Chapter II makes provisions for abolition of such bonded labour system. The Section 4 of the Act provides that the sail bonded labour system should be abolished and all bonded labourers should be freed and discharged from their obligations as to rendering the bonded labour, from the date on which the present Act brought into operation. Similarly, the Act sought to prohibit the persons from making any advance in relation to the bonded labour system and also such persons prohibited from compelling any persons for rendering any such bonded labour. Further, it is also provided that any custom or tradition or contract, agreement, etc. where any persons is required to perform the bonded labour work should be treated as void after commencement of this Act.

The next chapter makes provisions as to any liability or obligation in relation to such bonded labour system as to repayment of debt being bonded debt which here should also be treated as extinguished and for recovery of any such debt, no suit or other legal proceedings should be maintained before any Court of authority and all such already done proceedings should be deemed as complied with without any further fulfilment. Similarly, every properties of the bounded labourer which were mortgaged, charged, etc. with the bonded debt should also be treated as freed and discharged from as such. Also it is made clear by this Act that if any person who was bonded labourer earlier, should after his freedom from as such, should not be evicted from any homestead or other residential premises where he was residing earlier and if so evicted then he should be restored by the Executive Magistrate having jurisdiction thereof. The creditor is prohibited from accepting any payment against the bonded debt extinguished under this Act.

Further, chapter IV of the Act makes provisions as to implementing authorities under this Act, where such authorities are appointed and authorised by the State Government to exercise such duties of District Magistrate for ensuring the provisions of this Act. Further, Chapter V of the Act makes provisions as to Vigilance Committees for each Districts and each Sub- divisions are to be constituted by the every State Government. Further, section 14 specifies the Functions of such Vigilance Committees including to advise the District Magistrate or any officer authorised by him as to the efforts made, etc. for implementation of the provisions of this Act or Rule made under Act, and also other mentioned functions.

Moreover, chapter VI of the Act makes penal provisions in the Act where for enforcement of Bonded Labour, the punishment is given maximum up to 3 years imprisonment and maximum fine is given extending to 2000 rupees. For advancement of bonded debt the punishment is given extending similar as above. Similarly, there are also several punishments for offences under this Act.

The Act under its last chapter makes miscellaneous provisions, wherein protection is provided to the State Government and other officers of the State Government or any member of the Vigilance committee for doing anything in good faith or in pursuance to this Act against the legal actions. Civil Courts are exempted to have jurisdiction in relations to the matter under this Act. The Central Government is empowered to provide for rules under this Act, on certain matters provided under this Act. The Act also sought to repeal the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Ordinance, 1975 without affecting anything done under that ordinance.

Adv. Faim Khalilkhan Pathan