Delhi High Court was informed on Monday that more than 200 children working as child labourers here have been rescued since January and further raids are underway.
A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Datta granted four weeks to the Delhi government counsel to file a further status report in the matter and listed it for hearing on May 4.
The high court was hearing a plea by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which filed a petition in the aftermath of a fire that killed over 40 people, including several minors, at a factory in the Anaj Mandi area here in December 2019.
The NGO had sought a direction to the authorities to inquire into the angle of trafficking and child labour.
Advocate Prabhsahay Kaur, representing the NGO, said during the hearing that there had been “unprecedented success” in rescuing child labourers from various units here since January 11 when the last order was passed for constitution of committees in each district.
She said the government rescued more than 200 children and of the 183 complaints filed by the NGO, the authorities had taken action in most of them.
The Delhi government’s counsel told the court that in pursuance of an earlier order, a status report had been filed in the matter and added that the process of conducting raids was still going on.
In its status report, the Delhi government said 45 people were killed and 17 injured in the December 8, 2019, fire.
It informed that a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each was given to the victim’s next of kin in all the 45 cases. In the case of the 17 injured, Rs 1 lakh each was given to 13 people. Four people could only be traced only now and they are being paid the amount.
“In accordance with the directions of the court, in all revenue districts, district task force (DTF) on child labour has been constituted and is functioning under the chairmanship of (the) district magistrate with members from the Labour department, WCD (Women and Child Development) department, Police department, Education department, Health department and the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi).
“Regular meetings of DTF are held. NGOs working in this field including the petitioner are also invited in these meetings,” the report said.
It further said the list of 183 locations identified by the petitioner was shared with the DTFs, which started action on the locations. The joint labour commissioners or deputy labour commissioners have sent their report of action taken in this regard.
The report said the action of search or inspection or rescue shall be completed in next two weeks.
The high court, which earlier directed that minors found working in units be rescued and rehabilitated, had said children who ought to have been studying in schools were forced to work at these places that were unhygienic and inhabitable and where accidents were waiting to happen.
It was stated by the NGO that many such units were still operational in the Anaj Mandi, Sadar Bazar and Nabi Karim areas and while the fire tragedy occurred on December 8, 2019, the compensation had not been disbursed yet despite more than three years having been passed.
The high court, in its January 11 order, had said it was “extremely disturbing” that the government was taking a lackadaisical approach and showing extreme insensitivity in the case that had resulted in the deaths of 45 people, including 12 children aged between 12 and 18.
The Delhi Police, in its status report of January 10, had informed that of the 45 deceased, nine were minors — the youngest being 12 years old — and six children suffered injuries.
It had said the factory where the fire broke out was illegally storing and using highly inflammable material without safety precautions and said that the deaths occurred due to burn injuries or suffocation and after an investigation, a charge sheet for commission of offences under the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice Act had been filed against the accused persons, including the building’s owner and manager.
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 contended that the minors were “tutored and coerced” by the traffickers to say they were 19 years old and only visiting the factory if 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 were “attempting to cover it up”.
It 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 the national capital and carry out rescue operations in pending complaints regarding the 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.