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Author: Pooja srinithi .S, LL.M from Government Law College Trichy.


In ancient times, the origin of bonded labours was started because of the Hindu society and its caste system. The lower caste people will depend upon the higher caste people for their survival. And later on, due to the extreme scarcity, the debtor and creditor entered into agreements, and then perpetual bondage was formed, and they work for their unsatisfied debt. The bonded labours were found throughout the global phenomenon.


The term ‘bonded labour’ or “bandhua mazdoor” is of recent origin. The Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act 1976, defines ‘bonded labour system’ as “The system of forced labour under which a debtor agrees with the creditor that he would render service to him either by himself or through any member of his family or any person dependent on him, for a specified or unspecified period, either without wages or for nominal wages, in consideration of loan or any other economic consideration obtained by him or any of his ascendants, or in pursuance of any obligation devolving on him by his succession”.

The National Commission on Labour defined the bonded labour as “Labour which remains in bondage for a specific period for the debt incurred”. The bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 has defined bonded labour as “A Labourer who incurs, or has, or is presumed to have incurred a bonded debt.”

Bonded labourers are employed at low wages to pay off their high-interest loan debts. The Supreme Court of India has interpreted bonded labour as the payment of wages that are below the existing market wages and legal minimum wages. Bonded labour exists in both rural and urban areas and mainly in coal mining, stone quarries, agricultural labour, etc.


ARTICLE 21 – Right to Life and Personal Liberty.

ARTICLE 23 – Prohibition of Forced Labour.

ARTICLE 24 – Prohibition of Child Labour in Factories.

ARTICLE 39 – Directs the state to secure the livelihood of the people and equal pay for workers and secure the health and strength of workers, men, women and the puberty age of children should not be abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.

ARTICLE 42 – Provision for the just and humane condition of work.

ARTICLE 43 – Directs the state to secure working condition for people.


  • UDHR, 1948 aimed towards the abolition of bonded labours, forced labours, slave labours under Article 4, article 13, Article 23(1).

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 prohibits the slavery, slave trade under Article 8.

  • International Convention on economic, social and cultural rights 1966 recognizes the right to work in a favourable condition under Article 6.

  • Slavery convention of 1926 was adopted on September 25th, 1926 and entered force on March 9th, 1927 to suppress slave trade and slavery.

  • ILO Convention No. 1095 concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour. Adopted on June 25th, 1957, entered force on January 17th, 1959.

  • According to Global The slavery Index report India states the rank of 53rd out of 167 countries in the year of 2018.


Bonded Labour System (abolition) Act 1976

  • The liability to repay the bonded debt has been extinguished and the property of bonded labour should be given back to them.

  • The District Magistrate has the power and they must ensure the provision and specify the officers subordinate to them.

  • Punishment has been given for the compulsion of bonded labour.

  • Restore the possession of property to the bonded labourers has been made.

  • If the companies commit the offence, then they will also be guilty of the offence.

  • All the offences are cognizable and bailable.

  • The offences to be tried by the executive magistrate on the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Central Sector Scheme or Regulation of Bonded Labourers (2016)

Financial assistance to the extent of Rs. 3 lakhs is provided to release the bonded labourers based on their category and their level of exploitation. In addition to the financial assistance, the government provides extra benefit to the labourers, they are:

  • Allotment of House and Agricultural land

  • Wage employment

  • Land development

  • Animal husbandry, dairy, piggery and poultry, etc.

  • Education for children.

  • Welfare scheme for the people by the state and central government.

  • Supply of essential commodities

  • Collection and process of minor forest products.

  • Provision of low-cost dwelling units.

Indian Penal Code

Recognizes the offences of unlawful compulsory labour and punishes up to 1 year of imprisonment or with a fine or both.

Minimum Wages Act 1948

It created the minimum wages for the working person on a daily basis, and if a person works for extra time i.e. overtime then the employee gets extra wages for his overtime duty.


People Union for Democratic v. Union of India

The petitioner asked to enquire condition of workmen working in Asiad projects. And the petitioner wrote a letter to Justice P.N Bhagwati. In accordance with that, the court took the notice and issued a notice to the Union of India and the State of Delhi.

The Court held that, “The Union of India, the Delhi Administration and Delhi Development Authority should see the workman condition and the provision of various labour law by its contractors and for non-compliance with the law by the contractors, the workmen would clearly have a cause of action against them as principal employers.

The Hon’ble Supreme court of India dealt with the expression “other similar form of forced bonded labour” envisaged in Article 23 of the Constitution. The court gave a wide interpretation of the objective of the Article 23. The court held that a person who has been forced to work as bonded labour and a person who is working as bonded labour at a rate lesser than the minimum wage shall be dealt equally.

Badhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India

The public interest litigation was filled in Supreme Court to issue appropriate direction for the bonded labour. The petitioner surveyed in quarries and found that they were living in substandard conditions. The court directed the Central Government to conduct the inspection, and if the workman is found in a distressed condition, they should provide medical and legal assistance for the workman.

The court observes that the right to live with human dignity in Article 21 derives from Directive Principle of State Policy and Clause (e) and (f) of Article 39 and Article 41 and Article 42 includes protection of the health and strength of workers, tender age of children against abuse, maternity relief, dignity, educational facilities, humane and condition work. These are the minimal requirements to live with human dignity, and no state or central government has the right to take any action against the enjoyment of these basic essential.

Neeraja Choudhary v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1984) 3 SCC 243, 255

The main issue in this case was related to the effective rehabilitation of the released bonded labourers. The court said that it is not enough merely to identify and release bonded labourers, but after the identification, they must be rehabilitated. Any failure on the part of the state government in implementing the provisions would be the clearest violation of Article 21 and Article 23. And the court highlighted the importance of rehabilitation measures, otherwise they would again be driven into bonded labourers because of poverty.

People’s Union for civil liberties v. State of Tamil Nadu

A writ petition was filed based on the plight of migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu to the State of Madhya Pradesh. The court passed an order directing the National commission to monitor the fulfilment of the objective of the act. And the court asked for a suggestion from the state government. And the court decided that without rehabilitation the bonded labourers cannot render their source of livelihood. So the court issues a certain direction for the rehabilitation of the bonded labour. They are:

  • States and Union Territories should submit their report to the National Human Rights Commission every six months.

  • Vigilance committees should be constituted at district and sub-district levels in accordance with the section 13 of “The bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.”

  • The main duty of the states and Union territory is to release and rehabilitate the bonded labourers either by themselves or with aid of the NGOs.

  • Sensitize the District Magistrate and other authorities in respect of their duties under the Bonded Labour Act.


  • The lack of awareness among the employers and workers.

  • Low Conviction Rates and lack of prosecution for the offenders.

  • Social bias

  • Migration of Labours.

  • Implementation of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 was weaker.

  • Punishment for forced labour is weak.

  • Lack of coordination between national and regional level in their governments.

  • Lack of administrative and political will.

  • Economic and social independence.


  • Organising campaigns to provide information to people.

  • Effective rehabilitation for the rescued labourers by the government.

  • A productive scheme for the rescued people so they don’t again get into bonded labourers.

  • The government must check on people and should give productive information.


According to the Global Slavery Index, India has a poor performance based on anti-slavery laws. The bonded labour has increased its scope and the effect on the lives of people. Often people from the rural areas and low-caste people have been working as labourers in factories. Some people work in brothel against their will. Strict measures and care have to be taken for such labourers. And more conviction rate must be increased and rehabilitation must be done quickly so that they can be protected.

The views of the author is personal


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