Another batch of bonded labourers set free
KODAIKANAL, DEC. 3. As many as 95 tribals and Dalits, identified as bonded labourers, were set free at Pallangi village near here, today.
This is the second batch of bonded labourers released this year in the Palani Hills of Western Ghats. The Dindigul district administration had released 53 labourers from bondage in the first five months of this year.
At a simple function at Pallangi village today, 36 tribals of Paliyar caste along with a few Dalits, belonging to Pallangi Kombai village, 12 tribals of Vilpatti Kumbur and the rest from Mannavanur, were released. They were also given the Bonded Labour Release Bonds which would ensure them a compensation of Rs. 10,000 each. The amounts could not be distributed immediately due to a financial constraint in the district.
Releasing the labourers from the bondage, the Kodaikanal Revenue Divisional Officer, Mr. N. Chellaiah, said he would take all steps to rehabilitate them soon. He also assured the labourers they would be given priority in government welfare schemes such as housing and loans.
Ms. Manoharidoss of Women Development Resource Centre which identified the bonded labourers in the area, said the released labourers should immediately be provided with funds for their sustenance. Legal advisor, Mr. Edward M.Arockiadoss, said obstacles while releasing the labourers should be tackled legally.
The district administration has been initiating concerted efforts to release many tribals and Dalits, who have been kept as bonded labourers in the plantations of Palani Hills which are owned mostly by those hailing from Palani town and its suburbs. The first batch of bonded labourers who were rescued were also given a sum of Rs. 10,000 each.
The existence of bonded labour in the Palani Hills was admitted by the Government itself through a detailed report presented by the then RDO, way back in 1997. The report, however, did not claim that tribals were being detained as bonded labourers. But exhaustive studies by various organisations and Panchayat records of Vadakaunchi village had shown that most of the labourers were tribals. The RDO report, however, admitted the existence of bonded labour in Saverikadu village under Vadakaunchi Village Panchayat. The labourers were paid a meagre daily wage of Rs. 25 to Rs. 30 and were forced to live in sub-human conditions.
Accordingly, the then district administration released a few labourers from bondage under the provisions of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976. Meanwhile, a sustained campaign by social organisations, had prompted the Dindigul administration to issue instructions to the Kodaikanal RDO to identify and rescue bonded labourers in the Palani Hills.
On instructions from the District Collector, Mr. A. S. Jeevarathinam, the RDO, Mr. Chellaiah made a physical verification which eventually led to the identification of the first batch of 53 bonded labourers in and around Kombaikadu, Saverikadu, Kamanur, Kanalkadu, Pulathur and Kumbaraiyur villages in June.