It has been abolished all over India with effect from October 1975 by Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. The Act enjoins discharge of any obligation, debts etc. from bonded labour. The States are implementing the Act.
The incidence of bonded labour is still coming from States like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Up to February 1984, 1, 62,637 bonded labourers had been identified and freed, of them 1, 23,194 have been rehabilitated either under centrally sponsored schemes or under State Government schemes.
In 1986, a voluntary organisation, “Jana Jagriti Kendra” in Raipur, identified 4,125 bonded labourers. Many of these unfortunate workers were working for more than twenty years in different villages almost as serf. These labourers were paid arbitrary some lump sum amount only once, but were working for unspecified hours month after month.
The process of exploitation was severe and inhuman. They worked sometimes as casual labourers; and their insignificant personal things like cycles and oxen were sometimes disposed off their owners. Recently, in Raipur (MP), a conference was held for liberation of bonded labour.
The irony and, tragedy of bonded labour was recently dramatized by the fact that 693 bonded labourers, who had been freed by the Supreme Court ruling about two years back, again returned to their former place of bonded work, mainly due to lack of alternative employment, and the failure of State Government to provide financial aid.
Under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, over 94 thousand bonded labourers had been identified and over 58 thousand have been rehabilitated by the end of June 1979. But the estimate has been disputed by the National Sample Survey and National Labour Institute.
According to National Sample Survey estimate, the number is 3.5 lakhs in 1977-78, and according to National Labour Institute, the figure is much higher, i.e., 22.4 lakhs. Recently, a number of steps have been taken to rehabilitate bonded workers through their inclusion among the beneficiaries of integrated rural development programme and other ongoing rural development schemes.
A centrally sponsored scheme has also been initiated to provide financial assistance to State Governments on a 50.50 basis. Steps have also been taken to give assistance to bonded workers immediately after their release for consumption credit to cover their needs until they get wage employment or income from self-employment.
On the basis of the estimate of the Rural Enquiry Committee, the number of rural labour households had registered a rise from 18 to 25 million from 1964-65 to 1974-75. The need for organising rural labourers had been stressed by ILO Convention No. 141, which had been ratified, by India.
According to this, national policy should be formulated to establish independent organisation like Trade Unions of rural labourers including agricultural labourers, artisans, share croppers, tenants and small farmers for enjoying the benefit of economic development.
For this purpose, Government of India under the Sixth Plan was considering enactment of State legislations to give proper recognition to the organisations of rural labour on the basis of the model of Kerala Agricultural Workers Act 1974.
The Union Government also was considering the legal inclusion of the representatives in all the agencies of the following with advisory and executive powers:
(a) Land reforms.
(b) Minimum wages.
(c) Supply of credit, inputs and marketing.
(d) Special employment programmes.
(e) Block level planning and development.
(f) Public distribution system in rural areas.
(g) Intra-structural and social services. Specifically, to translate these into practice, a standing committee and three sub-committees had been set up in unorganised sector of rural labour.