A Special Task Force (STF) on Tuesday rescued 79 child labourers allegedly locked up in a terrace, at a garment factory on Ludhiana’s Rahon Road. The factory is shockingly located right opposite the Meharbaan police station but police said they were unaware it had employed children.
A local NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), claimed that the number of children rescued was close to 90 and alleged that the factory owners presented illegal identity proofs to show that some of the children were over 14 years of age. Majority of the rescued children are aged between 8 and 17 years and were getting paid Rs 50-100 per week. Some allegedly received no wages as they were ‘learners’.
When the team — including officials from the labour and factories departments, health department, anti-human trafficking wing, local police station and BBA volunteers — raided the factory, the gates were not opened for more than fifteen minutes.
“What we found was shocking. We estimated 30-35 children to be working here but when the terrace door was opened, almost 90 children were lying on the floor. There was no space and the children had been piled on top of each other and to hide them from us, the owners had put them under bales of cloth,” alleged Dinesh, a BBA volunteer.
The children reportedly told the team that they were from Bihar and Nepal and were brought here to work in the factories. “Despite provisions for immediate registration of FIRs in such cases, neither police nor the labour department have taken action against the factory owner,” Dinesh said. “The Child Labour (Prohibition and Rehabilitation) Act, 1986, calls for one year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 20,000 for the accused. Similarly, the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, calls for one year jail and Rs 10,000 fine. Even the Bonded Labor Act calls for minimum three years punishment but even when we rescue child getting minimum wages from factories, FIRs are not registered,” Dinesh alleged.
The administration, meanwhile, appeared to pass the buck on the issue. Ramninder Singh, SHO Meharbaan police station, said, “We were not aware of so many child labourers working at the factory opposite the police station. The anti-human trafficking wing will take action after the labour department submits a written complaint”.
Shamsher Singh, in-charge of the anti-human trafficking wing said, “We can register FIR only after labour department gives us in written the proceedings of the raid.” Mohit Singla, assistant director factories who raided the factory said, “We raided S S Bobby Garments on Rahon road from where 79 child labourers were found. Police can take suo motto action and register an FIR against owner. It is not mandatory for us to file the written complaint”.
Ludhiana DC Rajat Aggarwal said, “I will look into the matter on why FIR is not being done and necessary action will be taken”.