The Hindustan Times New Delhi February 22, 1996
NEW DELHI: Senior political leaders are in search of political will to tackle human problems like child and bonded labour. But where should one look for the will, though they felt strongly about the issues. Leaders of all the national political parties, barring the BJP, were there to express solidarity with the cause and with a firm assurance to get the issues added in their poll manifestos. But in the end they questioned the effectiveness of the political system which they strongly felt lacked both will and direction.
On where to look for the will to implement the plethora of laws already existent for the eradication of these human problems, the only answer they had was to invoke the conscious of the people through building a movement. And on their part they assured the functionaries of the citizens' commission on bonded and child labour to get the same included in their party election manifesto.
It was a rather paradoxical situation. But at the end, the man most satisfied was the commission's convener Swami Agnivesh, who drew solace in having managed some kind of a commitment from the representatives of these political parties, which included the Congress, CPI-M,CPI and the Janata Dal.
For some of them, it was soul searching which culminated in blaming their own party set-ups for not having taken up the issues in right earnest. For others, like AICC general secretary B.P. Maurya, it was an emotive issue for he claimed having personally undergone the ordeal of child bonded labour right from his birth to his formative days. He ended up assuring that being a member of the draft committee for the party's manifesto, he would do everything to include it in the manifesto. "If I fail, I will resign from the committee," he added.
It is a national shame, they all opined, that this menace has existed even 49 years after independence. But in the end, they added that all leaders in their respective parties did not think alike on such vital issues and hence pulled in different directions when it came to framing laws and forcefully implementing the same. Swami Agnivesh has collected all those leaders who were emotionally attached to the issue. It would have been better had some others also been involved to rouse their consciousness, averred Janata Dal leader and former Labour Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. He recounted how some plans initiated by him during his theme as a Minister could not become a reality due to opposition from within his own party.
The system is not working properly. All leaders in the political parties do not think alike. It is wrong to blame the bureaucracy. They toe the line they are given by the political bosses, he said while squarely blaming the political set up for having lacked will in tackling problems likechild and bonded labour. These issues should be given top billing in the national agenda. This section of the society has no voice of its own. All of us should build a movement to make their voice effective. As a first step the right to work should be made a fundamental right. He exhorted the individual political leaders to forcefully rake up the issue on their party fora. There is no reason that the parties would not accept their pleas and arguments in this connection, he added.
Mr. Paswan also had a word of advice for the judiciary. It is praise worthy that they have launched "one-sided" tirage against corruption. It would help a great deal if they used their powers to ensure implementation of laws in regard to child and bonded labour and deal sternly with the violators.
Mr. Maurya admitted that somewhere the system has faltered or the direction was wrong. That is why the number of child and bonded labourers has increased manifold since independence. This freedom has no meaning if these problems touching humanity, were not eradicated. These problems have not been tackled as strongly as they should have been done.
Mr. A.B. Vardhan, deputy general secretary, CPI, said that merely drafting the laws or including the issue in the manifestos will not help. Political will is direly needed to implement them. He criticised the attempts made to categorise the industries into hazardous and non-hazardous ones for the purpose of child labour. Every industry is hazardous for the child.Citizens' conscience will have to be awakened to send across this message.
Mr. Hanan Maula, MP (CPI-M), reiterated that these issues should be put on the agenda of the nation. The CPI-M was already engaged in a battle against these issues and these have already figured in the election manifestos also.
Earlier, inaugurating the meeting organised by the commission to convince the political parties in including these issues in their election manifestos and show some commitment to work for their eradication, its chairperson, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer said that the political parties should show commitment to liberate every child from bonded labour. Their childhood could be saved only if there is political will.