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Force And Compulsion At The Instance Of Accused Must Be Established To Attract Offence U/Sec 16 Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 : Supreme Court

Ashok KM
22 Sep 2022 10:00 AM GMT
Force And Compulsion At The Instance Of Accused Must Be Established To Attract Offence U/Sec 16 Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court observed that, for attracting the provision of Section 16 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, the prosecution must establish that an accused has forced and compelled the victim to render bonded labour.

This force and compulsion must be at the instance of the accused and the prosecution must establish the same beyond reasonable doubt, the bench of Justices AS Bopanna and PS Narasimha said.

In this case, reversing the Trial Court judgment of acquittal, the Madras High Court convicted the accused under Sections 16 and 17 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. It was found that there is sufficient evidence that 'Bonded Labourers' were working at the Rice Mill and also that, they have been denied their due wages. The High Court also concluded that the 'Bonded Labourers' were ill­treated and prohibited from seeking alternative employment by use of force.

Senior Advocate M.N Rao, assisted by Advocate Promila and AOR S. Thananjayan, who appeared for the appellant, contended that the High Court simply presumed that the accused was the employer and that he was in control of the workmen and that there is no evidence establishing that the Appellant had compelled any person to render any bonded labour. Advocate Aristotle, standing counsel for the State of Tamil Nadu as well as Advocate David Sundar Singh, Advocate and AOR Gaichangpou Gangmei, appearing on behalf of Respondent, supported the impugned judgment.

Referring to Sections 16-17 of the Act, the bench noted:

"For attracting the provision of Section 16 of the Act, the prosecution must establish that an accused has forced and compelled the victim to render bonded labour. This force and compulsion must be at the instance of the accused and the prosecution must establish the same beyond reasonable doubt. Similarly, under Section 17 of the Act, there is an obligation on the prosecution to establish that the accused has advanced a bonded debt to the victim."

The bench observed that the reasoning adopted by the High Court that the Rice Mill belongs to the Appellant's father and also that it also bears the name of Appellant by itself cannot be the basis for convicting the Appellant for commission of the offence under Sections 16 and 17 of the Act. The court said:

"We have no doubt concluded that there is no evidence to establish the culpability of the Appellant so as to find him guilty. But regarding the incident having occurred in the factory owned by the deceased Accused No. 1, there is certain evidence to show that the incident has in fact occurred. The evidence of PW­7 and PW­8 indicates that the labourers concerned were working in the factory. Unfortunately, Accused No. 1 father of the Appellant is no more, to that extent the offence alleged against him has abated and therefore the finding recorded about his culpability cannot be examined. Though culpability of this Appellant in the offence alleged has not been established and he cannot be held guilty in a criminal proceeding merely for being the son of the deceased Accused No.1, there is however another dimension to this matter in this peculiar circumstance"

Though the bench allowed the appeal and acquitted the appellant, it refused to interfere with the direction given to the accused by the High Court to pay a compensation of Rs. 50,000/­ to each of the workmen.

Case details

Selvakumar vs Manjula | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 786 | CrA 1603-­1604 OF 2022 | 19 September 2022 | Justices AS Bopanna and PS Narasimha

Headnotes

Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 ; Sections 16-17- For attracting the provision of Section 16 of the Act, the prosecution must establish that an accused has forced and compelled the victim to render bonded labour. This force and compulsion must be at the instance of the accused and the prosecution must establish the same beyond reasonable doubt. Similarly, under Section 17 of the Act, there is an obligation on the prosecution to establish that the accused has advanced a bonded debt to the victim. (Para 11)

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