Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976: Critical Analysis


Indian Constitution prohibits any form of forced labour and any contravention to this shall be punished in accordance with law[1]. Bonded labour is a kind of forced labour in which the person is forced to sell his labour in order to repay his debt or to repay the amount taken by his remote ancestors. Bonded labour is an utter violation of human right and dignity. It is also known as debt bondage. A bonded labour has to offer his labour to the creditor until the debt is paid or the fixed time period gets over. In spite of the provisions, a system exists where the debtor or his descendents have to work for the creditor with no wages in order to satisfy the debt. This practice leads to the exploitation of labourers and deterioration of their health too. At times it happens that the several generation works under the bondage to repay the small amount of loan because of increasing interest rate from time to time.  Bonded labors do not have any other option rather they have to agree to the terms and conditions of their creditor. It can be inferred that the bonded labour does not have the power to bargain and no power to refuse to the terms and conditions of their creditor.

Poverty, heavy debts, exclusion from the society, caste based discrimination are some of the prominent causes of bonded labour. The labourers are required to work in agricultural fields, brick industry, manufacturing plants and modus operandi remains same everywhere. Many organizations recognized the harms of bonded labour and raised their voice against such system. Accordingly, the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, 1976 was passed by the Parliament. As per this Act, bonded labours were freed from obligation to provide any bondage and their debts were also waived[2].

The objective of the researcher is to find out the effectiveness of the Bonded Labour Act through doctrinal research and see if the aims and objective of the legislation is fulfilled or not. Also, the main concern of the researcher is to find out the relation between the efficacy of the Act and condition of Child Labour and its interplay with the Indian Constitution in brief.


Lot of improvisations have been made in the legislations in terms of eradicating any form of slavery or bonded labour which affects the dignity of the labourers and violative of their human rights. Indian Constitution prevents the children below age of 14 years to work in any factory or mine or getting engaged in any hazardous employment[3]. Indian Penal Code also provide with the provision where the person will be punished if he compels anyone to labour against his will[4]. It is the duty of state to provide suitable working conditions for the labourers to work and enjoyment of leisure. Similarly, Contract Labour Regulation and Abolition Act, 1970 was also enacted in order to regulate the working condition in labour law.

Read – Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

Every possible step should be taken by the Government in order to eradicate any form of debt bondage. Although it is pretty much evident from the fact that stringent laws are being prevailing in order to curb the bonded labour, but still in the core areas this practice can be found prevailing. Bolivia became the first country to legalize child labour below the age of 14 and children above 14 should be employed on contract basis with parental consent and compulsory school attendance. Similar should also be done by India in order to curb this practice because in writing there is everything which prevents this practice, but the problem lies in practicality where this practice is still prevailing without any fear.

Apart from the legislations and provisions Supreme Court has also been seen active in curbing this form of slavery. But the disappointment comes when it is seen that there is not a single case where the offender is convicted. Some of the major case laws pertaining to the issue of bonded labour-

Dharambir vs State of UP[5], where Supreme Court ruled that prisoners doing work in jail are entitled to get fair wages and also held that free labourer by prisoners is violative of Article 23 of Indian Constitution.

PUDR vs Union of India[6], where Supreme Court ruled that giving wages to the workers below the limits set by the Minimum Wages Act would amount to forced labour.

PUCL vs State of Tamil Nadu[7], in this case Supreme Court appreciated the work of NGO’s in prevention of bonded labour and also observed that judiciary should benevolent toward bonded labourers.

Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs Union of India[8], Supreme Court issued the directions of release and rehabilitation of bonded labourers engaged in the mining operations. It also ruled that bonded labour comes within the ambit of forced labour hence prohibited as per Article 23 of the Indian Constitution.


The bonded Labour Abolition Act was enacted in 1976 and the main objective of this Act was to punish the people who employee bonded labours and to release and rehabilitate them. It is apparent that the government is unable to meet these requirements so as a result this evil practice still continues to thrive.

Though on paper the practice of bonded labour has been curtailed but it should also be done in practicality. It should’nt be prevailing in any part of the country and if so the offenders should be seriously penalized. Prosecutions should be initiated against all those who use bonded labour and against those also who tends to use violent means in order to retain people as bonded labour. The number of successful convictions should be published. In order to eradicate the debt bondage the enforcement of law is not enough but also requires government action and community involvement going hand in hand.

All the people who have been released from the evil practice of bonded labour should be properly rehabilitated. As held in the case of P. Sivaswamy vs State of A.P[9], Supreme Court found that the rehabilitation amount payable was only Rs 740/- per family as per Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976. Supreme Court observed that the aid was certainly inadequate for rehabilitation and unless the rehabilitation is given, the purpose of this Act will not be fulfilled. The proper rehabilitation of the released worker is essential in order to survive. If there is inadequate rehabilitation, those who have been released will again fall into the bondage. As a result the net outcome being that the initiative taken by the court and government would be ineffective. This can be established among the both i.e., adult and child bonded labourers. Nonetheless, government have jointly failed in the rehabilitation procedures of the released workers and as a result because of no relief granted these workers are again forced to offer debt bondage in order to survive. Rehabilitation resources are paid late or they are not distributed at all or somewhere because of the corrupt officials pocketing themselves are some of the reasons why rehabilitation process is inadequate. Effective redressal machinery should be set up for speedy disposal of cases of bonded labour. 

Read – Transformative Constitutionalism – The Saga Of Social Change

Non Governmental Organizations should be encouraged by the Government to collaborate in this effort of eradicating the practice of debt bondage. NGO’s can act as a watch dog on the policies of Government on the ground level keeping it away from corruption and apathy.

[1] Article 23(1) of Indian Constitution, 1949

[2] Kalyan Chaudhary, “Bonded Labour”, Economics and Political Weekly, 11, 13th March(1976), Pg 415.

[3] Article 24 of Indian Constitution, 1949

[4] Section 374 of IPC, 1860

[5] AIR 1979 1595

[6] AIR 1982 1473

[7] 2004(5) SCALE 690

[8] AIR 1984 802

[9] AIR 1988 SC 1863

This article is authored by Praharsh Verma, student of B.A. LL.B (Hons.) at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai

Law Corner

Leave a Comment