The Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi Police, government and MCD to form a committee in each district to inspect the premises where units employing child labourers are being run and file a report on the action taken.
The high court, which directed that minors found working in these units be rescued and rehabilitated, said children who ought to have been studying in schools are forced to work in these places which are unhygienic and inhabitable, and accidents are waiting to happen.
“For their greed for money and profit, unscrupulous factory owners employ children as they have to be paid less than minimum wages and, driven out of extreme poverty, these children are forced to work at these places instead of seeking education in order to earn bread for their families. The laudable object of Article 21A (Right to Education) of the Constitution of India has been completely thrown to the winds,” a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad said.
The bench further said, “What is more saddening is that these units are working right under the nose of the government which includes police officers who are aware of these factories being run, and yet no steps are being taken by the State to curb this menace.”
The high court’s order came on the plea by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan which had filed a petition in the aftermath of a tragedy in which over 40 persons, including several minors, lost their lives in December 2019 when a fire broke out at a factory in Anaj Mandi here.
The NGO had sought a direction to the authorities to inquire into the angle of trafficking and child labour.
It was stated by the NGO, represented through advocate Prabhsahay Kaur, that many such units are still operational in the Anaj Mandi, Sadar Bazar and Nabi Karim areas and while the fire tragedy occurred on December 8, 2019, the compensation has not been disbursed yet despite more than three years having been passed.
The high court, in its order which was passed on January 11 but made available recently, said it is “extremely disturbing” that the government is actually taking a lackadaisical approach and is showing extreme insensitivity in this case which has resulted in the death of 45 persons, including 12 children aged between 12 and 18 years.
As the NGO identified 183 locations where children are working, the court directed the government to search the locations, conduct an investigation and file a status report on the action taken by them before the next date of hearing.
It said that under the supervision of Delhi chief secretary, the deputy commissioner of police of each district in coordination with Delhi government’s Labour Department and Women and Child Welfare Department and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi are directed to form a committee in each district to inspect the premises where units employing child labour are being run.
The court said that a status report regarding the action taken by the committee be filed before the next date of hearing, that is, March 27 and also impleaded the Fire Department as a party to the case.
The court noted that the Delhi government has brought out the Delhi Victims Compensation Scheme, 2018 and under which the minimum and maximum compensation was fixed at Rs 3 lakh and Rs 10 lakh respectively for loss of life.
Another order has been issued by the Delhi government on March 5, 2020, in which ex-gratia relief for victims of fire and other accidents has been enhanced at the rate of Rs 10 lakh for each victim in case of death of a major and Rs 5 lakh for a minor victim.
The court said “nothing concrete has been done” and directed the government to immediately release Rs 5 lakh as ex-gratia interim payment for each of the minor victims who have lost their life.
“It is expected that in the last three years, the government has already identified the relatives of the victims who have lost their lives in the incident. If the exercise has not been concluded yet, then the government is directed to conclude this exercise within four weeks from today,” it said.
The court, which noted that the relatives of the victims have given an undertaking that they are willing to forgo the amount of compensation, said despite such undertaking, the payment of compensation should be concluded within six weeks.
“Any lapse on the part of the government in not paying the compensation would be viewed very seriously by this court as willful disobedience of the orders of this court,” the bench said.
The Delhi Police, in its status report of January 10, informed that out of the 45 deceased, nine were minors — youngest being 12 years of age, and six children suffered injuries.
It had said the factory where fire broke out was illegally storing and using highly inflammable material without safety precautions and said that the deaths happened due to burn injuries or suffocation and after an investigation, a charge sheet for commission of offences under the Indian Penal Code and Juvenile Justice Act has been filed against the accused persons, including owner and manager of the building.
The petitioner had moved the court alleging that the child labourers were employed at the factory where the fire broke out on December 8, 2019.
It was also claimed that most of the children hailed from Bihar from where they were brought here by traffickers to work in the factories.
The plea has contended that the minors were “tutored and coerced” by the traffickers to say they are 19 years old and were only visiting the factory if they are caught by the authorities.
The NGO has also alleged that employment of child labour at the factory was with the knowledge of state authorities who are “attempting to cover it up”.
It has also claimed in its plea that child labour was employed all over Delhi under the noses of the state authorities and thus sought directions to the authorities to carry out a time bound comprehensive survey of child and bonded labour in Delhi and carry out rescue operations in pending complaints regarding employment of children.
It has also sought directions to the authorities concerned to “rehabilitate, compensate and recover minimum wages of the child labour at the Anaj Mandi establishments” and to seal establishments, units or factories where child labour is found.
(With PTI inputs)