Govt Rejects Claims Of Bonded Labour In Budgam Brick Kilns

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Srinagar- Coming to the rescue of brick kiln owners in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district accused of holding migrant workers as ‘bonded labourers’, the Jammu and Kashmir administration Tuesday refuted the allegations saying that a deliberate attempt was being made to defame the Union Territory.

“There are no bonded labourers at brick kilns in Budgam. It’s a malicious and deliberate attempt to defame the Union Territory,” Deputy Commissioner (DC) Budgam, Syed Fakhrudin Hamid told Kashmir Observer.

Hamid’s reaction comes at a time when the brick kilns in Budgam are facing accusations of holding migrant workers from Janjgir-Champa and Sakti districts of Chhattisgarh as bonded labourers. A team of officials from Chhattisgarh also visited Valley to probe complaints about workers from the state being forced to work as ”bonded” labourers at some brick kilns in Budgam district.

However, the brick kiln association, Kashmir refuted the allegations of bonded labour, while a preliminary investigation by the district administration found that the labourers were paid in advance by the brick kiln owners.

Talking to Kashmir Observer Zahoor Ahmad Malik, President brick kiln association, Kashmir said that the allegation of bonded labour was far from reality as all the migrant labourers are being paid in advance.

“This is a scam. The Supreme Court has said it recently. The labourers took the money in advance but didn’t work at all,” Malik told Kashmir Observer.

Malik was referring to a recent Supreme Court ruling that there was a “racket” running in the country in which labourers take “advantage” of the concept of “bonded labour”, which actually doesn’t exist.

The court made these remarks while dismissing a petition seeking direction to the Jammu police to investigate rape and other offences alleged by a woman, and to identify other bonded labourers in Jammu and Kashmir for their release and rehabilitation.

The President brick kiln association further said that migrant workers are engaged on need basis through a contractor, who takes a good amount for offering the services. The contractor, he said, disburses the fixed amount to the workforce he brings from other states of the country.

“This year, the labourers couldn’t work due to the inclement weather. They are cooking false stories just to grab the money they have taken as advance,” Malik said.

“Hence they filed a complaint in their state and took advantage of the complaint. Why would we force anyone to work here,” he added.

The brick kiln owners maintained that the migrant workers get much better facilities and wages in Kashmir than other states of the country.

“You must have observed that lakhs of labourers from different parts of the country come to Kashmir for work. They get a good amount of money and we provide them good facilities,” said Majeed Ahmad, owner of M21 brick kiln.

In the complaint, the labourers have alleged that they went to return to their home states but the brick kiln owners were prevented from doing so. Following the complaint, the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBL), an umbrella organisation of activists, had raised the issue and filed a complaint that 90 migrant and ‘bonded’ labourers from Chhattisgarh are stuck in the brick kiln at Mangepura in Budgam.

However on September13, a joint team of Budgam administration including Sub-divisional Magistrate Chadoora and Assistant Labour Commissioner, Budgam inspected Mangepura and Dangarpura brick kilns and found that there was no case of bonded labour, as claimed.

According to sources, the SDM has filed a report to Deputy Commissioner Budgam, who will send the report to the Chhattisgarh government.

SDM Chadoora, Prince Noorul Hamid, who visited the twin brick kilns to probe the allegations, told Kashmir Observer that there was no bonded labour and the allegations levelled were totally baseless.

“In our preliminary inquiry, we found there wasn’t any sort of force or enforced bondage. The labourers were freely working,” Hamid told Kashmir Observer.

He further said there are many groups working and only the agitated one was allegedly beaten up by the owners.

“However we found no bruises on their (workers) body. The allegations were baseless but they (labourers) wanted to leave the Valley,” Hamid added.

According to SDM, the owner had paid Rs 17 lakh in advance to the contractor who had distributed the money among the workers already.

He further said the administration arranged buses and sent them back home.

The officials found that both owners and the contractor had paid the labourer their wages but “there was no proof,” .
“There was no formal agreement and the payment was also disbursed offline. When they couldn’t prove their agreement, we asked the labourers to leave,” Hamid added.

The official said this was the only group that wanted to return, others are still working, while many left after completing their work.

Heera Lal, the contractor who arranged the labourers Ahmad’s M21 brick kiln, told Kashmir Observer that the migrant workers cheated the owner and played a trick to leave Kashmir.

“They thought the government will provide them some monetary help after pleading the case of bonded labour,” Lal told Kashmir Observer.

The migrant workers, he said, came to Kashmir on their own and no-one forced them to work anywhere.

“The owner used to cover all their expenses, including food but the workers cheated him,” Lal added.

Meanwhile, DC Budgam Syed Fakhrudin Hamid told Kashmir Observer that the leader of a particular worker group was misguided by someone from New Delhi.

“Also, there was some monetary dispute between two groups of labourers. Somebody wanted to defame the Union Territory through social media,” he added.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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