TN: Petitions on child labour dismissed

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Chennai, Nov 12: The Madras High Court has dismissed as misconceived and devoid of merit, writ petitions challenging an order of the Inspector of Factories, Mettur, that directed powerloom factories in Salem to comply with an earlier legal notice issued to them for allegedly violating the law by engaging child labourers.

Justice K Chandru, in his order yesterday, said the official had acted on the Supreme court's directive, which was binding on all authorities. There could be no exception to either the show cause notice or the final order passed by the Inspector of Factories.

The grievance of the petitioners, who were either proprietors or partners of powerloom factories at Taramangalam, was that they received a legal notice from the Inspector in November 1997, stating that they had employed child labourers in violation of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

The name and age of the child and the father's name were mentioned and the petitioners attention were drawn to a Supreme court judgment.

The respondent inspected the factories and directed the petitioners to deposit Rs 20,000 towards the child labour rehabilitation-cum-welfare fund in ten days.

In one case, the petitioner sent a reply in which it was stated that the worker concerned was 17 years old and she was working in the petitioners address as an independent weaver. The person, who came for inspection had not determined her age. A demand was made to re-inspect the factory and cancel the notice.

Notwithstanding the reply, the Inspector sent the final order, dated March 2004, asking the powerlooms to comply with the notice, which the petitioners challenged.

Justice Chandru said the petitioners had not raised any dispute with regard to the age of the children in question. After the Child Labour Act came into force, the burden of proving the children's age did not vest only with the Department.

In the present cases, the show cause notices definitely came out with the age of the children as ascertained during the inspection.

It also mentioned that if any employer wanted to dispute the age, he ought to come out with a specific plea and records, if any, maintained by the factory. Even otherwise, the supporting documents from the parents of the children could have been produced.

As they did not raise any dispute, the petitioners could not rely upon Section 10 of the Act (dispute pertaining to age) for the purpose of shifting the burden to the respondent to prove the age of the children, the judge said.


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