Cuttack: The Odisha high court has issued notice to the State government in response to a PIL filed by Anti-Slavery India (ASI) seeking release of 14 bonded labourers of Gadagoanpur village under Bhuban block of Kamakhyanagar sub-division in Dhenkanal district.

A division bench of the court comprising of acting chief justice Sanju Panda and justice AK Sahoo has issued notices to the principal secretary of panchyati raj principal secretary, dhenkanal collector and Kamakhyanagar sub-collector to filed their resposnes within two weeks time.

The PIL seeks release and rehabilitation of 14 persons and immidiate financial assistance of Rs 20,000 to each of them. The alleged victims are bonded labourers in the form of ‘bartan’ practice. The upper-caste families are extracting work from the barbers and washermen by giving 15 kg of paddy for the whole year under the customary ‘bartan’ system. The 14 victims are of barber and washermen communities.

The petitioner Baghambar Patnaik, chairman of ASI, has sought direction to the State government to create a Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Fund at the district level with a corpus fund of at least Rs 10 lakh at the disposal of the district magistrate. Advocate Khirod Rout has filed the PIL on behalf of the petitioner.

The Government had on February 17, 2011, issued a notification abolishing the practice of ‘bartan’ system. The Government had abolished the practice after the NHRC asked it in January 2011 to stop the system and take action against those who failed to stop the ‘illegal practice or abetted it’. The NHRC had described the practice as a bonded labour within the definition of ‘bonded debt’ and ‘bonded labour’ as defined under Section 2 (d), (e) and (g) of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.