Despite the enactment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976, bonded labor remains prevalent in India. Reports of bonded laborers facing severe exploitation and even death continue to surface, such as the tragic case in 2020 where an eight-year-old child and their parents were beaten to death by their employer after seeking financial assistance.

To comprehensively understand the persistence of bonded labor, it is essential to delve into the features of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and examine the shortcomings that hinder its effectiveness in eradicating this practice.


·  “Bonded Debt”: According to Section 2 of the Act, “bonded debt” refers to an advance obtained, or presumed to have been obtained, by a bonded laborer under, or in pursuance of, the bonded labor system.

·  “Bonded Labour”: This term denotes any labor or service rendered under the bonded labor system.

·  “Bonded Labourer”: A bonded laborer is a laborer who incurs, has incurred, or is presumed to have incurred a bonded debt.

·  “Bonded Labour System”: The Act describes this system as forced or partly forced labor under which a debtor enters, or is presumed to have entered, into an agreement with the creditor. This agreement may arise from various conditions, including:

  • An advance obtained by the laborer or by any of their lineal ascendants or descendants, irrespective of whether such advance is documented.
  • The interest, if any, due on such an advance.
  • Pursuance of any customary or social obligation.
  • Obligations devolving by succession.
  • Any economic consideration received by the laborer or by any of their lineal ascendants or descendants.
  • The laborer’s birth in a particular caste or community.

Salient features of bonded labour system abolition act

(i) Upon the commencement of this Act, the bonded labour system shall be abolished. Consequently, every bonded labourer shall be immediately freed and discharged from any obligation to render bonded labour.

(ii) Upon the commencement of this Act, any custom, tradition, contract, agreement, or other instrument (whether entered into or executed before or after the commencement of this Act), by virtue of which any person, or any member of their family or dependant, is required to perform any work or render any service as a bonded labourer, shall be rendered void and inoperative.

(iii) Upon the commencement of this Act, every obligation of a bonded labourer to repay any bonded debt, or any portion of such bonded debt that remains unsatisfied immediately prior to such commencement, shall be deemed extinguished.

(iv) Following the commencement of this Act, no suit or other proceeding shall be maintainable in any civil court or before any other authority for the recovery of any bonded debt or any part thereof.

(v) All property of a bonded labourer under mortgage or lien due to bonded debt will be freed from such obligations when this Act begins. Property held by a mortgagee or lienholder before this Act will be returned to the bonded labourer, unless subject to another charge.

(vi) No person who has been freed and discharged under this Act from any obligation to render bonded labour shall be evicted from any homestead or other residential premises they occupied immediately before the commencement of this Act as part of the consideration for the bonded labour.

(vii) No creditor shall accept payment for any bonded obligation that has been canceled, presumed to be extinguished, or fully settled under the terms of this Act.

Vigilance committee

A vigilance committee shall be established in every district and sub-district deemed appropriate by the District Magistrate. The composition and functions of this committee are as follows:

Composition of the Vigilance Committee

1. Chairman:- The District Magistrate shall serve as the Chairman of the committee.


Three persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes: These individuals must reside in the district and will be nominated by the District Magistrate.

 Two social workers: These individuals must reside in the district and will be nominated by the     District Magistrate.

 Representatives of official or non-official agencies: Not more than three persons connected with rural development in the district will be nominated by the State Government.

 Representative of financial and credit institutions: One person representing the financial and credit institutions in the district will be nominated by the District Magistrate.

Functions of the Vigilance Committee

1. Advisory Role:- To advise the District Magistrate or any officer authorized by him on the efforts made and actions taken to ensure proper implementation of the provisions of this Act and any rules made thereunder.

2. Economic and Social Rehabilitation:- To facilitate the economic and social rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers.

3. Coordination with Financial Institutions: – To coordinate the functions of rural banks and cooperative societies to ensure adequate credit is provided to freed bonded labourers.

4. Monitoring Offenses:- To monitor the number of offenses taken cognizance of under this Act.

    To conduct surveys to identify any offenses that should be taken cognizance of under this Act.

5. Legal Defense: – To defend any suit instituted against a freed bonded labourer, a member of their family, or any other person dependent on them for the recovery of the whole or part of any bonded debt or any other debt claimed to be a bonded debt.

Shortcomings in the Act

Despite its noble intentions, the act has several shortcomings:

  1. Poor Implementation: There has been a substantial delay between the law’s enactment and its actual implementation. Enforcement agencies frequently lack the resources, expertise, and dedication to adequately apply the act.
  2.  Lack of Awareness: Many bonded labourers are uninformed of their rights under the Act. This lack of understanding stops people from obtaining assistance or pursuing legal action against their exploiters.
  3. Corruption and Complicity: In certain circumstances, local officials are either involved in the practice of bonded labor or corrupt, preventing the law from being enforced properly.
  4. Inadequate Rehabilitation: The statute calls for the rehabilitation of liberated bonded laborers, however the procedures are frequently insufficient. There is a dearth of appropriate infrastructure and support structures to assist rehabilitated persons in reintegrating into society and establishing sustainable livelihoods.
  5.  Judicial Delays: The legal process for prosecuting criminals under the Act is sometimes sluggish, resulting in delayed justice. This prevents victims from coming forward and pursuing legal action.
  6. Economic Factors: The legislation does not sufficiently address the underlying economic factors that force people to bonded labor, such as poverty and a lack of job alternatives.
  7.  Inconsistent Data: There is a scarcity of trustworthy data on the prevalence of bonded labor, making it impossible to estimate the real scope of the problem and properly deploy resources.
  8.  Social and Cultural Barriers: Caste-based discrimination and social hierarchy contribute to the perpetuation of bonded labor. These flaws are strongly rooted and are not adequately addressed by the legislation.
  9.  Limited Scope: While the legislation primarily addresses the agricultural sector, bonded labor persists in other areas such as brick kilns, carpet weaving, and domestic work. This narrow breadth reduces the law’s efficacy.


In conclusion, the Bonded Labour Abolition Act of 1976 was enacted under the provisions of Article 21 and Article 23 of the Constitution of India. Article 21 ensures the right to a dignified life, guaranteeing personal liberty and preventing deprivation thereof. Meanwhile, Article 23 specifically prohibits trafficking in human beings and forced labor. Addressing any shortcomings in the implementation of this Act would be crucial for its comprehensive success in India.



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