Introduction

Brick industry is one of the informal/unorganised industries in India. This industry is booming with the expansion of real estate business. It is a labour concentrated industry. In India there are more or about 1,50,000 brick kilns with approximately 23 million workers directly or indirectly dependent on this industry[1]. In National Capital Region (NCR), brick making on simply business-related basis started during the commencement of the nineteenth century.

Due to acute landlessness and high unemployment, the youth especially in rural India are bound to take money in advance from kiln owner for their daily sustenance by selling their labour. This arrangement confines their freedom to look for other locations to work in. It also hinders their negotiating power concerning minimum wages and services, forcing them to work in terrible conditions. A vicious debt trap sucks in these toothless workers; creating a situation known as neo-bondage. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) almost 21 million people are sufferers of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. And the brick production industry, centring on India, is an epicentre of abuse[2]. In contrast to older forms of bondage, which were rooted into a broad set of rights and obligations and were repeatedly intergenerational, neo-bondage is time restricted and added economic in nature. Neo-bondage is estimated to include around 10 per cent of the working population in the casual sector in India’s urban and rural financial system, namely, around 40 million. “Neo-bondage” exists in various industries in India’s rural and urban areas.  In Uttar Pradesh, this system was known by different names such as begar, bajgee, bandhwa mazdoor, sevak, bandhak, harwah, etc., and was prevalent in agriculture, brick kilns, stone quarries, matchbox, fireworks and factories of bidi, brassware, glass bangle and carpet manufacturing industries. It is prevalent in the most important seasonal industries where heavy physical work within an exacting time-frame is required. Since the majority of the brick kiln workers are uneducated or have low levels of education, it was experiential that many of the labourers had little to no knowledge of labour laws in India.[3]

NCR and brick kilns

National Capital Region (area 54,984 km2) covers 23 districts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. At present about 4018 functional brick kilns are operating in NCR (according to the Report published by the Centre for Science and Environment).[4]

States in Delhi NCR Number of districts Total number of brick kilns
Uttar Pradesh 8 2291
Haryana 13 1610
Rajasthan 2 252

 Number of Brick Kilns in Delhi, NCR

There are 8 districts of Uttar Pradesh covering under NCR, having an area of 25,327 km2 in National Capital Region. There are around 2291 kilns in the NCR districts of Uttar Pradesh. As per the data submitted by the Brick Kiln Association there are 13 districts covered under NCR from Haryana State and there are around 1610 kilns. Rajasthan shares only two districts with the NCR — Bharatpur and Alwar[5] with Alwar District having 142 brick kilns and Bharatpur having 110 brick kilns. Four million labourers are engaged directly or indirectly in this sector. The brick kiln industries in Delhi NCR are typically unincorporated concerns under owner management, mostly proprietary or firm establishments.

Recruitment and advance payment system fuels enslavement

The way the workers are recruited and paid in the kiln is critical to understanding the system of power relations which keep the workers poor and vulnerable to debt bondage.[6] Work in brick kilns demands physical labour that usually exceeds 10 and often more than 12 hours and normally leads to 20-40 workers at a time. These workers work as per their expertise and are paid accordingly. Moulder who prepares the ditch and moulds the brick is waged per thousand bricks. He uses the workforce of women and children of the family to mould the mud and to take the moulded brick to dry in the sunlight. The loader loads the brick into the kiln, which includes transporting the dried green brick to the kiln with the help of carts and animals, is paid a consolidated salary. The stacker arranges the green bricks into the kiln and “rapaswala” covers it with earthen preparation he is paid as per thousand bricks. The fireman fires the kiln and watches over it all through the operation, is paid monthly on consolidation basis. The “nikasi” or unloader removes the baked brick from the kiln and stacks them accordingly to the quality of the bricks, the women engaged in this activity and also clean the kiln after the bricks are removed are paid per thousand bricks.[7]  The workforce is migrant and seasonal. Production is stopped in the rainy season or by NGT during winter to curb the problem of pollution in NCR, the workers are not paid throughout the year. Payment is by piece rate and issued at the end of the season. Production and processing units do not directly recruit workers and their families, but rather through local, native intermediaries who are often from the same community. These agents of brick kiln owners known as jamadar come to villages to recruit workers with an advance or peshgi. However, by contracting out this debt, they are unknowingly forced into bondage[8]. Normally jamadars are either from the same village as the labourers, or from a neighbouring village. They follow the instructions of brick kiln owners, asserting the amount of labour required and paying part of the advances. Wage advances attract workers; as money is lent mostly for societal customs like weddings, celebrating festivals, for funerals and other rituals, follow by medical emergencies like surgeries for elders, pregnancies or children falling ill. Sometimes money is also borrowed for building a house or purchasing livestock. The money is mainly dispersed during the lost season which comes immediately at the end of working season. During the work season, brick producers are just given weekly allowance which cover their basic needs. Mostly workforce accounts are settled at the end of the season, with the season’s production deciding the total remuneration, and a deduction of the sum of advance and weekly allowances. Some go away with a little amount, others have settled their accounts, while still others, more frequent, remain in debt at the end of the season and will have to come over for the next season.[9]

Since the workers are uneducated, their financial records are easily counterfeit to maintain false records of the number of bricks made and the sum of money they owe. The liability adds up as the workers are given a sum of money for basic needs. This adds up to the novel debt and spirals into a sum that is away from the ability of the workers to refund. Neo-bondage exhibits some outstanding differences with the enslavement of the past. It tends to be time-bound to a season or fixed period, not indefinite as in the history; the credit-labour indenture is exclusively economic, missing any element of the previous paternalistic societal defence provide by the landlord; the contract is most regularly done through a employment intermediary; and migrant workers are particularly affected.[10]

 Brick kiln owners in NCR offer money in advance to the workforce who are worried to make ends meet on the understanding that labour will refund these “loans” in exchange for their labour. This “give and take” association is deeply deep-rooted in the brick kiln industry. The owners have an intrinsic interest in giving advance to the workforce, the key one being the maximum utilisation of workforce and the other is the labour bound to work at a lesser wage for particular period of time. The labourers are compelled to take advance from the kiln proprietors since they do not have something else to mortgage apart from their workforce. They are generally offered advance through contractors by which they are bound to wait at the brick kiln sites. Before they complete the time period for this advance because of their economic as well as physical condition they again receive one more advance and this situation of neo-bondage continues.

Constitutional and Bonded Labour Regulations

In accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution of India[11] that guarantees the right to life with dignity to every citizen of India, MGNREGA[12] imparts dignity to the rural people with an assurance of livelihood security[13]. Article 16 of the Constitution[14] guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and prevents the State from discriminating against anyone in matters of employment on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, place of residence or any of them. The Indian Constitution prohibited forced labour under Article 23(1) Part III of the Constitution[15]. Article 24[16] prohibit the employment of children whether as bonded labour or otherwise. The Constitution guarantees the promotion of welfare of the people[17] and eradication of the inequalities[18] and it provides for the State to direct its policy towards securing livelihood, commonhood[19] etc. By the Constitution the operation of a legal system shall be secured[20] and effective provisions[21] were made by the State for the participation of workers in undertakings[22] and for securing just and humane conditions of work[23] and a decent standard of life[24]. Under the Constitution of India, labour is a subject in the Concurrent List where both the Central and State Governments are capable to act out legislation subject to certain matters being retained for the Centre.

Union List Concurrent List
Entry 55 Regulation of labour and safety in mines and oil fields
Entry 22 Trade unions; industrial and labour disputes.
Entry 61 Industrial disputes concerning Union employees
Entry 23 Social security and insurance, employment and unemployment.
Entry 65 Union agencies and institutions for “vocational … training…”
Entry 24 Welfare of labour including conditions of work, provident funds, employers liability, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pension and maternity

The Government of India ratified ILO Convention No. 29 on 30-11-1954, and enacted the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976[25], which stated, “bonded labour means service arising out of loan/debt/advance. It represents the relationship among a creditor and a debtor where, the debtor undertakes to mortgage his services or the services of any of his family members to the lender for a particular or indefinite period with or without earnings accompanied by rejection of alternative of alternative avenues of employment, or to deny him freedom of movement. Then the person would be covered under the definition of a bonded labour”.

Forced labour, or enslavement, continued unabated and passed on from one generation to another. Another Act for workers’ security was the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008[26]. The Act was passed with the objective of providing appropriate and adequate social security to the workers engaged in the unorganised sector of the country. It would be pertinent to mention that ninety-four per cent workforce of the nation is busy in the unorganised sector. So, it is the ethical responsibility of the Government to give social safety to the labour working on such a large scale. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, is surely a praiseworthy move in this course but this Act cannot be measured to be sufficient since its provisions come out more as a formality. It is not astonishing that a large figure of workers engaged in the unorganised sector is displeased with the necessities of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. The most important issue is that “social security” has not been distinct legally in this Act. Besides, the requirements of the Act are moreover in many conduct insufficient or do not imitate the main objective of providing social security to the work force. Several labour legislations such as the Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923[27]; the Trade Unions Act, 1926[28]; the Minimum Wages Act, 1948[29]; the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961[30]; the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970[31], the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976[32], etc. have been enacted which are related to wanderer workers in an unorganised sector also. It is helpful to note that some pieces of legislation are added universal in character and relate across the board to all categories of the unorganised sector.

Neo-Bondage: A Micro form of bonded labour

Bonded labour, understood as one of a number of forms of non-decent work, should be set in the broader situation of the globalisation and neo-liberalisation of the Indian economy, which has accelerated roughly since the early 1990s. This has led to an important enlargement in development of NCR and thus increase of elevated range structures which needs more and more bricks as well as labourers. In both sectors workers are circular migrants and are one of the groups most vulnerable to bondage[33]. Bonded labour system is the most widespread form of slavery. The bonded labour system disproportionately exploits the susceptible castes and tribes, and migrant people, forcing man, woman and children into a state of perpetual custody. Four types of bonded labourers are identified in the NCR: first, bonded labour where there was a indication of traditional social relations; second, bonded labour in farming; third, bonded labour that was found in rural and urban unorganised and casual sectors; and fourth, teenager bonded labour.

As per the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 “bonded labour system” is a system of forced, or partly forced, labour beneath which the debtor enters, or has, or is supposed to have entered, into an accord with the creditor. “Bonded labour” means any labour or service rendered under the bonded labour system. “Bonded labourer” means a labourer who incurs, or has, or is presumed to have, incurred, a bonded debt. Bonded labour is a type of forced labour, which is prohibited under international law[34]. “Bonded debt” means an advance obtained, or presumed to be have been obtained, by a bonded labourer under, or in pursuance of the bonded labour system. Once a labourer is rescued from bondage, the arrears or obligation that caused the bondage is extinguished. This uneven system between employers and employees inside the brick kiln business is exacerbated by the detail that workforce do not be given daily wages, but are paid by a piece work arrangement. Any belonging that has been seized is to be returned. The Act protects labourers from all existing and potential liabilities to repay bonded debts, and provides rehabilitation to labourers who have been victims to the system.[35]

The emergence of “neo-bondage” is strongly connected to the reinforcement of the casualisation and the informalisation of employment. Neo-bondage reflects the augment monetisation of product connections and of social relationships, as well as the growth of mass consumption. With the prevailing unemployment rate and sharp fluctuations in the demand for skilled labour, the workers may experience dependence on a solitary owner or an intermediary as a guarantee and job security[36]. The brick kiln labourers, as most of them are migrant labourers are exterior the boundaries of their social hold up network, and roughly all of the government schemes do not benefit those out of their place of residence. Furthermore, due to the seasonality of the brick industry, worker’s earnings are frequently suspended to the end of the period. This means that the workforce is often not given any amount for approximately eight to ten months, and as a consequence, which is often lower than agreed upon.[37] Debt restricts the labourers’ freedom and significantly cheapens wages and driven out of their habitat in search of gainful work, a major chunk of this huge army of labour is recruited in neo-bondage[38]. They may also have a loan from other sources. Workers not only have to have paid off their debt, but also have to be in a position to admission other opportunities. This requires mostly relations and networks, in a context where the workers’ markets remain extremely disjointed. Workers in the labour concentrated brick kiln sector are widely documented to be one of the most exploited sections of the working class in India.

The factors precipitating the susceptibility to bondage in unorganised sectors comprise distress relocation for work, lack of sufficient livelihood opportunities locally, no awareness or right of entry to the services of formal financial institutions and creative assets, illiteracy, existing social inequalities based on social group and civilisation. In destination areas, harsh physical, social and economic hardships, unequal labour conditions, exploitation at the offer of recruiters/middlemen and a total lack of communal protection for these labour further deepens their vulnerability. Majority of the workers are migratory migrants intra-State as well as inter-State migrating with their relatives for six months. In order to speak to the issue of vulnerability of attainment into bondage situation, the Project on Reducing Vulnerability to Bondage in India through Promotion of Decent Work was initiated in the year 2008[39]. The project was operational in the States of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. The main focus and finding of the project were regarding the need for scouting rural brick kiln technology. The Report states that[40]:

Every year, around October-November, brick kiln workers travel to other districts of their own States or dissimilar States in search of their income and to protect themselves from the hopeless poverty. They return to their basic villages after a period of 6-9 months, when it rains marking the finish of the brick-making season. Brick kiln workers are uncovered to poor living and working circumstances attached with poor remuneration. Lack of tools and techniques to decrease drudgery, makes brick making a very labour concentrated process. The simple techniques used in some parts have helped, but these techniques require to be refined additional and disseminated extensively. Several reports have established that the workforce and their children are exposed to high concentrations of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM), more often during the firing of the bricks (where ash is used as insulator) or during preparation of dough using fly ash, which is often stored uncovered. The workers carry the raw (green) brick and fired (red) bricks on their heads/shoulders with an average load of 9-12 kg which causes physical condition problems, including underdeveloped growth in younger children and young adults, excellent of skulls and women are particularly pretentious. The workers do not get any work-related health and safety training, often sit in awkward position for hours for brick moulding, and do not use boots/gloves while addition the dough. These result in small and major injuries, cuts, bruises, postural trouble, and body aches. Lack of access to medical care/primary healthcare amenities often aggravates the trouble. Lack of clean environment, non-appearance of safe drinking water often marks in disease such as tuberculosis and diarrhoea. Even though the brick workers are uncovered to these occupational hazards, coverage under any sort of indemnity or medical facilities is virtually unheard off.

Conclusion

The decrease of vulnerability to bondage at the brick kilns themselves is a larger challenge for the Government. It is still not clear which division of the Department of Labour should implement labour laws in brick kilns. The pattern of fascinating and disposing labour at brick kilns is one that resembles the practice of contemporary enslavement. The workers who are recruited are brought to a distant off region, frequently cut off from the rest of the town and made to live in appalling conditions. Being ignorant of workers’ rights, they comprise the least level of the pecking order of authority and therefore have no unions or organisations for communal bargaining and to put into effect their rights, they are bound to take loans for their endurance and thus being captured by neo-bondage. The Indian Government’s reply-to address the modern-day slavery or the neo-enslavement is limited to three ministries i.e. Ministry of Labour & Employment, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Ministry of Women and Child Development. The criminal justice system has not yet been able to deliver justice to the victims of enslavement labour, not only in prosecuting the perpetrators but also in taking a long-term measure to prohibit and rehabilitate the victims. There is hardly any inter-ministerial coordination in the direction of working jointly on the issue. The State Governments are required to conduct surveys on a regular basis identify responsive districts which are prone to enslavement labour, find root causes for and forms of bonded labour and implement remedial measures. A special enforcement wing should conduct routine visits to ascertain the implementation of labour laws and welfare programmes in brick kilns.


* Research Scholar, Department of Law, Meerut College, Meerut.  Author can be reached at ravish013@gmail.com.

**Associate Professor, Department of Law, Meerut College, Meerut.  Author can be reached at anuragsinghmcm@gmail.com.

[1] Rinju Rasaily, Breaking the Bondage: Organising Brick Kiln Workers in Rural Punjab (2018) in Redefined Labour Spaces: Organising Workers Post-Liberalised India by Sobin George and Surely Sinha (ed.), Routledge, New York, p. 34.

[2] Brady, Andrew, “Blood Bricks: Ending Modern Day Slavery, International Business Times, UK (28-1-2008).

[3] Singh, Kainth and Gursharan Singh, “Push and Pull Factors of Migration: A Case Study of Brick Kiln Migrant Workers in Punjab” (January 2010).

[4] Centre for Science and Environment Report on Makeover: Conversion of Brick Kiln in Delhi-NCR to a Cleaner Technology, 2018.

[5] Tanya Mathur (ed.), Makeover:  Conversion of Brick kilns in Delhi-NCR to a Cleaner Technology (A Status Report), Centre for Science and Environment, 2018, pp. 8-9.

[6] Brady, Andrew, “Blood Bricks: Ending Modern Day Slavery”, International Business Times, UK (28-1-2014).

[7] Data collected by field survey in Loni (Ghaziabad District) and Sarurpur Kalan (Baghpat District) of Delhi NCR.

[8] Bhukuth, Augendra and Ballet, Jérôme (August 2006), “Is Child Labour a Substitute for Adult Labour?” International Journal of Social Economics, 33 (8): 594-600, https://doi:10.1108/03068290610678734.

[9] Slavery in India’s Brick Kilns and the Payment System: Way Forward in the Fight for Fair Wages, Decent Work and Eradication of Slavery, Anti-Slavery International Volunteers for Social Justice, 2017, p. 7.

[10] J. Breman (2007), Labour Bondage in Western India: From Past to Present, Oxford University Press, Delhi,    p. 7.

[11] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/VN1u87S9.

[12]Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005 that aims to ensure livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/7xf2szwQ.

[13] Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, Employment Assurance Scheme, National Food for Work Programme, Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana and Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana—MGNREGA recognised employment as a constitutional right.

[14] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/k8TMppSJ.

[15] Art. 23, Constitution of India.  23. Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.—(1) Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law. http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/1RoWjnWY

[16]  http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/MhB7I48Z.

[17] Art. 38(1), Constitution of India. — The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice, social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of the national life.

[18] Art. 38(2), Constitution of India. — The State shall in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different avocations.

http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/pd9EUWHe

[19] Art. 39, Constitution of India: (a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood; and (e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and tender age of children are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.

[20] Art. 39-A, Constitution of India http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/66p43PQk: The operation of a legal system shall be secured by the State which promotes justice, … to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/HgecD61Z

[21] Art. 41, Constitution of India: …shall make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in case of employment….

http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/4K1yIhAx

[22] Art. 43-A, Constitution of India: The State shall take steps, by suitable legislation or in any other way, to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertakings, establishments or other organisations engaged in any industry.

http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/tM0669I8

[23] Art. 42, Constitution of India: The State shall make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.

http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/9YVL1E6k

[24] Art. 43, Constitution of India: The State shall endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation or economic organization or in any other way to all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social opportunities and in particular, the State shall endeavour to promote cottage industries on an individual or cooperative basis in rural areas.

http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/C86Lq30R

[25] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/537oMEWB.

[26] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/8LH2W50g.

[27] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/uttEfohO.

[28] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/4jkI2Q88.

[29] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/IqRnX11j.

[30] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/07hBlTVN.

[31] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/LhtVkG1F.

[32] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/s5G12f5T.

[33] Abhijit Dasgupta and N. Purendra Prasad (2018), Silent Violence and Neo-Bondage in the Urban Informal Sector in India Migration Report 2017: Forced Migration by S. Irudaya Rajan (ed.), Taylor and Francis, New Delhi, p. 212.

[34] ILO Convention (No. 29) Forced Labour Convention (1930); ILO Convention (No.105) Concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour (1957); Protocol to the 1930 Forced Labour Convention (2014).

[35] State Action Plan for Release, Rescue and Rehabilitation of Bonded Labour and Implementation of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 GO(Ms) No. 163 Labour and Employment (U1) Department dated 21-9-2017.

[36] Ibid.

[37] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Bricks_Campaign #Modern_slavery_in_the_Indian_brick_kiln_industry.

[38] Jan Breman (2019), Capitalism, Inequality and Labour in India, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom, p. 238.

[39] Joint collaboration of Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE), Government of India; International Labour Organisation (ILO), India and the Department of Labour and Employment, Tamil Nadu.

[40] International Labour Organisation (2013), Reducing Vulnerability to Bondage in India through Promotion of Decent Work, available at <https://www.ilo.org/newdelhi/whatwedo/projects/WCMS_195622/lang–en/index.htm>, assessed on 10-4-2020.

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