By P.T. Bopanna
Karnataka’s rural development and panchayat raj minister H K Patil has been quoted as saying that there were bonded labourers, especially involving migrants, in the coffee estates located in the coffee growing districts of the state.
Prior to making such serious allegation against coffee planters, the minister should first define who is a bonded labourer. Further, he should also note the fact that the ‘Anna Bhagya’ (cheap rice) scheme of the Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka has led to a situation where the local labourers have become very irregular, forcing the planters to depend upon migrant labourers from Assam (Bangaladesh) and Odisha.
It is said that a report submitted by the Bonded Labour Review Committee to the department of rural development and panchayat raj has stated that “the plight of the workers in the coffee and tea estates in the state is similar to that of bonded labourers.”
The report has suggested that the government must look into the alleged exploitation of migrant labourers working in coffee estates.
The demand for workers is so acute in the coffee estates in Coorg that these migrant workers keep hopping from one estate to the other. In the circumstances, it is difficult to keep bonded labourers.
If the authorities get to know that bonded labourers exist, they should take firm action against such planters.
There are some genuine problems involving the children of migrant workers as they do not have access to schools due to the language problem and also on account of lack of proof of identity. A solution needs to be found for this problem.
It is no secret that the main cause for the influx of migrant labourers in the plantation districts is the cheap rice scheme of the Karnataka government. With rice being sold at rupee one a kilogram, the local work force does not find the need to slog for six days a week. The chronic absenteeism has made planters to look for migrant workers.
Is it possible that people from regions where bonded labour is common have bought estates in Kodagu and are up to the same dirty tricks? They will bring us a bad name if not identified and punished.