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Unique 5-day Satyagrah by UNI employees ends in the hope that dues will be paid

Management accepts the backlog of 56 months’ salary, says it represented a “grave state of affairs”

11 Oct 2021

UNI

On October 2, a unique Satyagrah, or peaceful Gandian protest, had begun on the streets of New Delhi. Sitting on protest, and a relay hunger strike, were a group of senior journalists demanding wages that had remained unpaid for 56 months! Ironically it was not really covered in the major news outlets. Ironically also because it was undertaken by UNIFront, the banner formed by a group of  employees of the United News of India (UNI), a news agency that most news organisations once depended on for breaking news and news from far away districts of the country. Those sitting on hunger strike too had come from places outside Delhi, and were holding demonstrations on the pavement right outside the head office of UNI in the heart of the National Capital.

Five days later, the serving and former employees of UNI, who were protesting the massive delay in their salaries and backlogs payments of dues pending for decades, marked their first victory and called off the agitation. The UNI management, for the first time ever called UNIFront for three rounds of  discussions ”which resulted in agreement on several points and assurances of action on others,” UNIFront said. They later issued a joint Statement of UNI Management and UNIFront according to which, “The management team headed by Ajay Kumar Kaul, Editor-in-Chief, accepted that the backlog of 56 months’ salary, which is a legacy issue, represented a grave state of affairs.”
 

There is a massive backlog of pending salaries

The management, according to the members of UNIFront, has said that they will “clear the backlog in due course.” The management has now started disbursement of “Rs. 15,000/- as part-payment of salaries to current employees and Rs. 10,000/- of former employees", the payments will be made on a monthly basis.  The UNIFront, members who sat on dharna and persuaded the management to invite them for talks included M L Joshi, Shailendra Jha, Imran Khan, Gurmeet Singh and Mahesh Rajput, who are all from various state bureaus of the organisations and have been fighting for their basic right of a timely salary for a long time.

There are also around 200 employees who have retired or resigned, and 68 have now been “paid Rs. 10,000/- as part payment  towards their pending dues,” the UNI management said. However, the UNIFront has asked that the amount be increased to Rs. 15,000 which is at par with the current employees. The management also agreed to share with the employees “detailed statements regarding their terminal dues, including Gratuity”. Till now, the employees were kept in the dark and had no option but to hope that a salary was credited in their account.

"Many had been taking out small loans to even meet their basic needs," an employee told SabrangIndia. Senior journalist Mahesh Rajput added that the massive delay of salaries have impacted the children of the UNI employee, many of whom had had to compromise with the education they desired and were forced to pursue courses they could afford. Many more have depleted family savings, and now have debts on their heads.

There are former employees, including those who had opted for VRS in July 2010 who were yet to get their dues. Dues are also pending for employees who had either died on duty or passed away after leaving the organisation. Now the UNI management has assured that “such cases would be dealt with on a priority-basis.” As the UNI shut down its Kolkata and Bengaluru Centres due to “non-viability”, Kaul assured that “the affected non-journalist employees would be paid in due course or then accommodated in other Centres.” Wage had also been deducted of non-journalist employees who were not able to attend the office during the Covid-19 lockdown. Now the management says all cases of “punitive action” taken by the  management in the recent past will be reviewed.


What went wrong at UNI?

The United News of India, the premier news agency, “celebrated” 60 years of its news operations on March 21, 2021. However, while Chairman of the Board of Directors, Sagar Mukhopadhyay, in his note marking the occasion said, “The rich legacy of UNI is the fruit borne by 60 years of collective efforts of generations of UNI’s employees. For this and more, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the present and retired staff of UNI and their families who have stood by the organisation even through adverse circumstances and  displayed remarkable commitment.” The truth was that many employees were battling a two-decade-long financial crisis in UNI.

Recently many contractual appointments in the editorial as well as other departments were made and there also panic resignations at the same time. Contractual employment was introduced in UNI, in the 2000s, and had in effect “divided” the employees, as contractual employees were paid regularly, while “pay-roll employees” alleged they were “made to wait for their salaries for months together”. The delay in salary payments began in 2006 and the situation worsened. "Now," say employees, “the gap  between two salary payments has increased between six and eight months in many centers. Which  means that employees are not even getting two salaries in a year!”  

According to the statement they issued, the Editor-in-Chief on September 14, 2021 issued a signed note by which “employees were told that Rs. 15,000/- (Rs. Fifteen Thousand Only) paid on a monthly/rotational basis would be part of the due salary of that month and that the rest of the salary would remain due and would be paid in due course of time, depending on the availability of funds.” This was the final blow that forced the group to come to Delhi and state their protest under the newly-formed All-India UNI Employees’ Front. According to the members, “In July 2010, a Voluntary Retirement Scheme was introduced to reduce the employees’ cost. Fifty-six employees opted for VRS. They were promised to receive benefits under the scheme in two installments.The first installment of 50 per cent of the total amount was paid in August 2010”. Ten year later, they are still waiting for the second and last installment. “The liability of unpaid salaries and legal dues like  gratuity, LTA, leaves encashment, etc to regular as well as retired/resigned/VRS employees has risen to  Rs. 150 crore (Rupees One Hundred and Fifty Crore Only) today,” said the employees. 
 

The big blow 

In October 2020, the UNI’s largest subscriber, Prasar Bharati, suddenly announced its decision to discontinue UNI and Press Trust of India (PTI)  services. According to employees, it seems that this was a decision taken “after a couple of stories about the border dispute with China by the PTI angered the Narendra Modi government.” The Prasar Bharati subscription amounted to around 45% of the revenue of UNI. Due to the said loss of revenue, the gap between the payment of two salaries increased from 60 days to 180 days!  

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the employees alleged that the management even deducted wages of non-journalist employees. In May 2020, the management allowed journalists and administrative staff to continue to work from home, however they “asked non-journalist employees to attend office as media “falls under essential services”. Some 12 non-journalist employees across the country who were unable to attend the office due to strict lockdown measures and unavailability of transport in their respective states were treated as absent from duty and their wages were deducted,” stated UNIFront. Soon the Kolkata office was shut down, some other offices may be facing a similar fate in the near future.  

(UNI management is yet to respond to a query sent by SabrangIndia, but the UNIFront members, all employees shared a statement after their talks. Story will be updated if and when the management responds.)

 

Related:

From Watchdog to Lapdog, Weaponisation of the India Media

Union Govt fines Press Trust of India Rs 84 crore for ‘breaches’ in office building

What was so ‘anti national’ about interviewing China’s ambassador to India?

Unique 5-day Satyagrah by UNI employees ends in the hope that dues will be paid

Management accepts the backlog of 56 months’ salary, says it represented a “grave state of affairs”

UNI

On October 2, a unique Satyagrah, or peaceful Gandian protest, had begun on the streets of New Delhi. Sitting on protest, and a relay hunger strike, were a group of senior journalists demanding wages that had remained unpaid for 56 months! Ironically it was not really covered in the major news outlets. Ironically also because it was undertaken by UNIFront, the banner formed by a group of  employees of the United News of India (UNI), a news agency that most news organisations once depended on for breaking news and news from far away districts of the country. Those sitting on hunger strike too had come from places outside Delhi, and were holding demonstrations on the pavement right outside the head office of UNI in the heart of the National Capital.

Five days later, the serving and former employees of UNI, who were protesting the massive delay in their salaries and backlogs payments of dues pending for decades, marked their first victory and called off the agitation. The UNI management, for the first time ever called UNIFront for three rounds of  discussions ”which resulted in agreement on several points and assurances of action on others,” UNIFront said. They later issued a joint Statement of UNI Management and UNIFront according to which, “The management team headed by Ajay Kumar Kaul, Editor-in-Chief, accepted that the backlog of 56 months’ salary, which is a legacy issue, represented a grave state of affairs.”
 

There is a massive backlog of pending salaries

The management, according to the members of UNIFront, has said that they will “clear the backlog in due course.” The management has now started disbursement of “Rs. 15,000/- as part-payment of salaries to current employees and Rs. 10,000/- of former employees", the payments will be made on a monthly basis.  The UNIFront, members who sat on dharna and persuaded the management to invite them for talks included M L Joshi, Shailendra Jha, Imran Khan, Gurmeet Singh and Mahesh Rajput, who are all from various state bureaus of the organisations and have been fighting for their basic right of a timely salary for a long time.

There are also around 200 employees who have retired or resigned, and 68 have now been “paid Rs. 10,000/- as part payment  towards their pending dues,” the UNI management said. However, the UNIFront has asked that the amount be increased to Rs. 15,000 which is at par with the current employees. The management also agreed to share with the employees “detailed statements regarding their terminal dues, including Gratuity”. Till now, the employees were kept in the dark and had no option but to hope that a salary was credited in their account.

"Many had been taking out small loans to even meet their basic needs," an employee told SabrangIndia. Senior journalist Mahesh Rajput added that the massive delay of salaries have impacted the children of the UNI employee, many of whom had had to compromise with the education they desired and were forced to pursue courses they could afford. Many more have depleted family savings, and now have debts on their heads.

There are former employees, including those who had opted for VRS in July 2010 who were yet to get their dues. Dues are also pending for employees who had either died on duty or passed away after leaving the organisation. Now the UNI management has assured that “such cases would be dealt with on a priority-basis.” As the UNI shut down its Kolkata and Bengaluru Centres due to “non-viability”, Kaul assured that “the affected non-journalist employees would be paid in due course or then accommodated in other Centres.” Wage had also been deducted of non-journalist employees who were not able to attend the office during the Covid-19 lockdown. Now the management says all cases of “punitive action” taken by the  management in the recent past will be reviewed.


What went wrong at UNI?

The United News of India, the premier news agency, “celebrated” 60 years of its news operations on March 21, 2021. However, while Chairman of the Board of Directors, Sagar Mukhopadhyay, in his note marking the occasion said, “The rich legacy of UNI is the fruit borne by 60 years of collective efforts of generations of UNI’s employees. For this and more, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the present and retired staff of UNI and their families who have stood by the organisation even through adverse circumstances and  displayed remarkable commitment.” The truth was that many employees were battling a two-decade-long financial crisis in UNI.

Recently many contractual appointments in the editorial as well as other departments were made and there also panic resignations at the same time. Contractual employment was introduced in UNI, in the 2000s, and had in effect “divided” the employees, as contractual employees were paid regularly, while “pay-roll employees” alleged they were “made to wait for their salaries for months together”. The delay in salary payments began in 2006 and the situation worsened. "Now," say employees, “the gap  between two salary payments has increased between six and eight months in many centers. Which  means that employees are not even getting two salaries in a year!”  

According to the statement they issued, the Editor-in-Chief on September 14, 2021 issued a signed note by which “employees were told that Rs. 15,000/- (Rs. Fifteen Thousand Only) paid on a monthly/rotational basis would be part of the due salary of that month and that the rest of the salary would remain due and would be paid in due course of time, depending on the availability of funds.” This was the final blow that forced the group to come to Delhi and state their protest under the newly-formed All-India UNI Employees’ Front. According to the members, “In July 2010, a Voluntary Retirement Scheme was introduced to reduce the employees’ cost. Fifty-six employees opted for VRS. They were promised to receive benefits under the scheme in two installments.The first installment of 50 per cent of the total amount was paid in August 2010”. Ten year later, they are still waiting for the second and last installment. “The liability of unpaid salaries and legal dues like  gratuity, LTA, leaves encashment, etc to regular as well as retired/resigned/VRS employees has risen to  Rs. 150 crore (Rupees One Hundred and Fifty Crore Only) today,” said the employees. 
 

The big blow 

In October 2020, the UNI’s largest subscriber, Prasar Bharati, suddenly announced its decision to discontinue UNI and Press Trust of India (PTI)  services. According to employees, it seems that this was a decision taken “after a couple of stories about the border dispute with China by the PTI angered the Narendra Modi government.” The Prasar Bharati subscription amounted to around 45% of the revenue of UNI. Due to the said loss of revenue, the gap between the payment of two salaries increased from 60 days to 180 days!  

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the employees alleged that the management even deducted wages of non-journalist employees. In May 2020, the management allowed journalists and administrative staff to continue to work from home, however they “asked non-journalist employees to attend office as media “falls under essential services”. Some 12 non-journalist employees across the country who were unable to attend the office due to strict lockdown measures and unavailability of transport in their respective states were treated as absent from duty and their wages were deducted,” stated UNIFront. Soon the Kolkata office was shut down, some other offices may be facing a similar fate in the near future.  

(UNI management is yet to respond to a query sent by SabrangIndia, but the UNIFront members, all employees shared a statement after their talks. Story will be updated if and when the management responds.)

 

Related:

From Watchdog to Lapdog, Weaponisation of the India Media

Union Govt fines Press Trust of India Rs 84 crore for ‘breaches’ in office building

What was so ‘anti national’ about interviewing China’s ambassador to India?

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Shankar Guha Niyogi: Gone, but not forgotten

On Niyogi’s thirtieth death anniversary, SabrangIndia looks back at the long legacy left behind by the trade union leader

28 Sep 2021

Death anniversary Image Courtesy:thewire.in

Farmers on September 28, 2021 celebrate the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. However, the day also marks another noteworthy incident – the killing of Indian labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991.

Niyogi was the Founder of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS) that is now known as the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). He was a respected trailblazer for mine workers in the state. As a person influenced by Marxist ideology, Niyogi started the labour union run in Dalli Rajhara Mines in Bhilai to fight for the rights of miners in the area. The community included tribal communities and other marginalised sections of society.

Married to a tribal woman Asha, Niyogi considered himself a part of the local group and worked towards solving many issues, especially relating to health and environment.

Contribution for Adivasi community

Particularly in the field of healthcare, Niyogi and his union built a hospital to help the pregnant women and ailing people in society. He also started a campaign called “Let’s Struggle for Health” that called for clean streets, orderly waste management and personal hygiene. In tandem with this, he encouraged people to give up on liquor citing economic and health and even cultural costs, such as domestic violence.

Working on other aspects of the local culture, Niyogi propagated the name of Gond Adivasi freedom fighter Veer Narayan Singh. Similarly, understanding the tribe’s connection with nature he called on a campaign to save the environment, not merely by planting trees or saving forests, but by criticising the Bhilai Steel Plant for destroying traditional livelihood.

Eventually, the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh evolved into the CMM that looked at rural issues of other peasant communities like farmers. Their efforts were endorsed by a Supreme Court order that supported the call for the rehabilitation of bonded workers in many villages.

Growth of the CMSS

The CMSS was formed to fight for locals’ cultural identity and upliftment of workers and peasants. Its two mottos ‘Sangharsh aur Nirmaan’ (Struggle and Construction) and ‘Virodh Nahi Vikalp’ (Not resistance, but alternative), reflect this sentiment.

So much so, that its work impressed workers across the state all the way to Maharashtra. In response, Niyogi reached out and helped workers in other areas but struggled to maintain the struggle’s momentum in Dalli Rajhara. Corporates introduced large-scale mechanisation proposals in the mines that would have led to downsizing. Still he managed to save jobs by asking sympathetic engineers to prepare an alternative semi-mechanisation proposal that increased production.

However, Niyogi made enemies as he reached his twenty-fifth birthday. Unlike the CMSS’s headquarters, other regions in the state faced much more aggressive oppression from the corporates. He was threatened multiple times and several of his colleagues were attacked. Finally, on September 28, the beloved leader was shot in his sleep.

Nowadays the CMM that has become a political front, continues other peasant struggles such as that against genetically modified seeds.

Acquittal of those accused in Niyogi’s death

Even after his death, workers remained united to bring Niyogi’s murderers to justice. The trial of his alleged killers and ensuing punishment to the guilty became another form of defiance against the oppression by the corporate class.

In time, a trial court found Simplex industries owner Moolchand Shah, Oswal Iron and Steel Private Limited owner Chandrakant Shah, Gyan Prakash Mishra, Abhay Singh and Awadesh Rai guilty of murder June 1997. It sentenced them to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs.10 lakhs each for the two industrialists. The hired assassin Paltan Mallah, who was accused of committing other crimes in the region, was sentenced to death.

However, a year later, the Madhya Pradesh High Court reversed this judgment and acquitted all accused. In retaliation, both the CBI and the CMM appealed to the Supreme Court. The former even produced Niyogi’s diary and an audio cassette where he had talked about dangers from some of the accused.

Still the apex court only sentenced Mallah to imprisonment for life by relying on his confession to prosecution witness and relative Satyaprakash Nishad. Interestingly, his confession to the same witness about the co-accused giving him money for the crime was deemed insignificant in the absence of any “substantive” evidence.

For the workers community in Bhilai, this case has remained a sore point in their struggle for their rights.

Related:

MP: 40 Adivasi families illegally evicted amidst a pandemic!
MP: Rain God ritual, a deeper issue than meets the eye
Pathalgadi: Assertion of Adivasi rights over land

 

Shankar Guha Niyogi: Gone, but not forgotten

On Niyogi’s thirtieth death anniversary, SabrangIndia looks back at the long legacy left behind by the trade union leader

Death anniversary Image Courtesy:thewire.in

Farmers on September 28, 2021 celebrate the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. However, the day also marks another noteworthy incident – the killing of Indian labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991.

Niyogi was the Founder of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS) that is now known as the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). He was a respected trailblazer for mine workers in the state. As a person influenced by Marxist ideology, Niyogi started the labour union run in Dalli Rajhara Mines in Bhilai to fight for the rights of miners in the area. The community included tribal communities and other marginalised sections of society.

Married to a tribal woman Asha, Niyogi considered himself a part of the local group and worked towards solving many issues, especially relating to health and environment.

Contribution for Adivasi community

Particularly in the field of healthcare, Niyogi and his union built a hospital to help the pregnant women and ailing people in society. He also started a campaign called “Let’s Struggle for Health” that called for clean streets, orderly waste management and personal hygiene. In tandem with this, he encouraged people to give up on liquor citing economic and health and even cultural costs, such as domestic violence.

Working on other aspects of the local culture, Niyogi propagated the name of Gond Adivasi freedom fighter Veer Narayan Singh. Similarly, understanding the tribe’s connection with nature he called on a campaign to save the environment, not merely by planting trees or saving forests, but by criticising the Bhilai Steel Plant for destroying traditional livelihood.

Eventually, the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh evolved into the CMM that looked at rural issues of other peasant communities like farmers. Their efforts were endorsed by a Supreme Court order that supported the call for the rehabilitation of bonded workers in many villages.

Growth of the CMSS

The CMSS was formed to fight for locals’ cultural identity and upliftment of workers and peasants. Its two mottos ‘Sangharsh aur Nirmaan’ (Struggle and Construction) and ‘Virodh Nahi Vikalp’ (Not resistance, but alternative), reflect this sentiment.

So much so, that its work impressed workers across the state all the way to Maharashtra. In response, Niyogi reached out and helped workers in other areas but struggled to maintain the struggle’s momentum in Dalli Rajhara. Corporates introduced large-scale mechanisation proposals in the mines that would have led to downsizing. Still he managed to save jobs by asking sympathetic engineers to prepare an alternative semi-mechanisation proposal that increased production.

However, Niyogi made enemies as he reached his twenty-fifth birthday. Unlike the CMSS’s headquarters, other regions in the state faced much more aggressive oppression from the corporates. He was threatened multiple times and several of his colleagues were attacked. Finally, on September 28, the beloved leader was shot in his sleep.

Nowadays the CMM that has become a political front, continues other peasant struggles such as that against genetically modified seeds.

Acquittal of those accused in Niyogi’s death

Even after his death, workers remained united to bring Niyogi’s murderers to justice. The trial of his alleged killers and ensuing punishment to the guilty became another form of defiance against the oppression by the corporate class.

In time, a trial court found Simplex industries owner Moolchand Shah, Oswal Iron and Steel Private Limited owner Chandrakant Shah, Gyan Prakash Mishra, Abhay Singh and Awadesh Rai guilty of murder June 1997. It sentenced them to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs.10 lakhs each for the two industrialists. The hired assassin Paltan Mallah, who was accused of committing other crimes in the region, was sentenced to death.

However, a year later, the Madhya Pradesh High Court reversed this judgment and acquitted all accused. In retaliation, both the CBI and the CMM appealed to the Supreme Court. The former even produced Niyogi’s diary and an audio cassette where he had talked about dangers from some of the accused.

Still the apex court only sentenced Mallah to imprisonment for life by relying on his confession to prosecution witness and relative Satyaprakash Nishad. Interestingly, his confession to the same witness about the co-accused giving him money for the crime was deemed insignificant in the absence of any “substantive” evidence.

For the workers community in Bhilai, this case has remained a sore point in their struggle for their rights.

Related:

MP: 40 Adivasi families illegally evicted amidst a pandemic!
MP: Rain God ritual, a deeper issue than meets the eye
Pathalgadi: Assertion of Adivasi rights over land

 

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Widows of three manual scavengers get compensation and rehabilitation from Bombay HC

In a year where the government refused to accept any deaths due to manual scavenging, the court stepped in to recognise their rights

23 Sep 2021

Bombay HC
Image: Live Law

 “This case should be an eye opener to all of us,” said the Bombay High Court while directing the concerned District Collector to compensate and rehabilitate widows of three manual scavengers, who lost their lives cleaning septic tanks in December 2019. Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar directed compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to be paid to Vimla Govind Chorotiya, Neeta Santosh Kalshekar and Bani Vishwajit Debnath, within a period of four weeks.

Their counsel, Isha Singh, referred to the supreme court ruling in Safai Karmachari Andolan (2014), to argue that in the case of death of manual scavengers while carrying out manual scavenging even in the private sector, there is strict liability on the State to pay compensation. That apart, she said, “The State must also take effective steps for rehabilitation of the family members of the deceased persons in terms of section 13 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.”

The government opposed this argument, allegedly in an effort to evade paying compensation. The government pleader, Ms. P.H Kantharia, argued that since the death happened in the private sector, the head of the private sector is liable to pay compensation. She also argued that since the death happened inside the drainage tank of the person, that person is equally responsible and cannot escape liability. She referred to a government resolution passed on December 12, 2019, which states that the government would only help overseeing compensation by the private party and not dispense with compensation itself.

The Bench observed that the 2013 Act was meant to acknowledge the rights of persons engaged in sewage cleaning and cleaning tanks as well as persons cleaning human excreta on railway tracks under Articles 17 (Abolition of Untouchability) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India. However, the Act has failed to achieve this goal.

“The existing laws are not stringent enough to eliminate these evil practices. In view of above, there is a need to make comprehensive and stringent provisions for the prohibition of insanitary latrines and employment of persons as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families and to discontinue the hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks by the use of technology and for matters connected therewith,” read the order.

In addition to the compensation to the three women, the court was informed by the government that they will rehabilitate them in accordance with Section 13 of the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers Act, 2013 by providing their children scholarships. She highlighted how the petitioners would be included in the list of manual scavengers.

The court has also directed the Maharashtra government to give information to the Court with respect to the persons who died in the State as manual scavengers since the year 1993. They have also been directed to inform the court as to how many scavengers have been identified in the state and whether any compensation has been given to their families.

No deaths due to manual scavenging?

On July 28, 2021, Ramdas Athawale, the Social Justice and Empowerment Minister had informed Rajya Sabha that no deaths pertaining to manual scavenging has been reported in the last five years. Interestingly, this answer by Ramesh Athawale contradicts his own written reply dated February 2, 2021, where he had stated that the reported number of deaths stood at 340 across 19 States, with Uttar Pradesh topping the list at 52 deaths.

The central government has also claimed no deaths, despite the Karnataka high court's observations on similar petitions related to the practice of manual scavenging, taking note of some deaths in the state. The court had also held that the practice of manual scavenging is inhuman and that it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21.

On February 2, 2021, the high court perused the memo filed by the State and other documents and remarked that it was “crystal clear that there is absolutely no compliance with the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.”

Hollow promises

Last year, SabrangIndia, on World Toilet Day (November 19), had reported that the government had announced that their aim is to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021. The Senior Minister ensured that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, “unless absolutely unavoidable in the interest of greater public hygiene.”

At a webinar in New Delhi, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State, Independent Charge, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, said, “We are today setting another milestone by launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge which aims to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of hazardous cleaning.”

The Bombay HC order may be read here:

 

Related:

Centre claims that nobody died due to manual scavenging reported in the last 5 years!

Manual Scavengers: 340 deaths, yet Centre has no intention to make stricter laws!

Govt aims to eliminate manual scavenging by August 2021

Death of manual scavengers: Karnataka HC takes note of the grim situation

Manual Scavengers Act: Karnataka HC issues directions over implementation

Widows of three manual scavengers get compensation and rehabilitation from Bombay HC

In a year where the government refused to accept any deaths due to manual scavenging, the court stepped in to recognise their rights

Bombay HC
Image: Live Law

 “This case should be an eye opener to all of us,” said the Bombay High Court while directing the concerned District Collector to compensate and rehabilitate widows of three manual scavengers, who lost their lives cleaning septic tanks in December 2019. Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar directed compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to be paid to Vimla Govind Chorotiya, Neeta Santosh Kalshekar and Bani Vishwajit Debnath, within a period of four weeks.

Their counsel, Isha Singh, referred to the supreme court ruling in Safai Karmachari Andolan (2014), to argue that in the case of death of manual scavengers while carrying out manual scavenging even in the private sector, there is strict liability on the State to pay compensation. That apart, she said, “The State must also take effective steps for rehabilitation of the family members of the deceased persons in terms of section 13 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.”

The government opposed this argument, allegedly in an effort to evade paying compensation. The government pleader, Ms. P.H Kantharia, argued that since the death happened in the private sector, the head of the private sector is liable to pay compensation. She also argued that since the death happened inside the drainage tank of the person, that person is equally responsible and cannot escape liability. She referred to a government resolution passed on December 12, 2019, which states that the government would only help overseeing compensation by the private party and not dispense with compensation itself.

The Bench observed that the 2013 Act was meant to acknowledge the rights of persons engaged in sewage cleaning and cleaning tanks as well as persons cleaning human excreta on railway tracks under Articles 17 (Abolition of Untouchability) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India. However, the Act has failed to achieve this goal.

“The existing laws are not stringent enough to eliminate these evil practices. In view of above, there is a need to make comprehensive and stringent provisions for the prohibition of insanitary latrines and employment of persons as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families and to discontinue the hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks by the use of technology and for matters connected therewith,” read the order.

In addition to the compensation to the three women, the court was informed by the government that they will rehabilitate them in accordance with Section 13 of the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers Act, 2013 by providing their children scholarships. She highlighted how the petitioners would be included in the list of manual scavengers.

The court has also directed the Maharashtra government to give information to the Court with respect to the persons who died in the State as manual scavengers since the year 1993. They have also been directed to inform the court as to how many scavengers have been identified in the state and whether any compensation has been given to their families.

No deaths due to manual scavenging?

On July 28, 2021, Ramdas Athawale, the Social Justice and Empowerment Minister had informed Rajya Sabha that no deaths pertaining to manual scavenging has been reported in the last five years. Interestingly, this answer by Ramesh Athawale contradicts his own written reply dated February 2, 2021, where he had stated that the reported number of deaths stood at 340 across 19 States, with Uttar Pradesh topping the list at 52 deaths.

The central government has also claimed no deaths, despite the Karnataka high court's observations on similar petitions related to the practice of manual scavenging, taking note of some deaths in the state. The court had also held that the practice of manual scavenging is inhuman and that it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21.

On February 2, 2021, the high court perused the memo filed by the State and other documents and remarked that it was “crystal clear that there is absolutely no compliance with the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.”

Hollow promises

Last year, SabrangIndia, on World Toilet Day (November 19), had reported that the government had announced that their aim is to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021. The Senior Minister ensured that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, “unless absolutely unavoidable in the interest of greater public hygiene.”

At a webinar in New Delhi, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State, Independent Charge, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, said, “We are today setting another milestone by launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge which aims to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of hazardous cleaning.”

The Bombay HC order may be read here:

 

Related:

Centre claims that nobody died due to manual scavenging reported in the last 5 years!

Manual Scavengers: 340 deaths, yet Centre has no intention to make stricter laws!

Govt aims to eliminate manual scavenging by August 2021

Death of manual scavengers: Karnataka HC takes note of the grim situation

Manual Scavengers Act: Karnataka HC issues directions over implementation

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Over 1 crore people register for jobs on eSHRAM portal!

Within a span of one month, the portal has received a flux of registrations, especially from the agriculture sector.

20 Sep 2021

PortalImage Courtesy:zeebiz.com

Over 1.15 crore people registered for jobs on September 20, 2021 at the e-SHRAM portal created by the central government to provide social security and employment-based benefits.

Launched on August 26, eSHRAM was developed to create a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW), seeded using people’s Aadhaar cards. As many as 1,15,18,143 unorganised workers out of 38 crore workers estimated in the Economic Survey 2019-20 signed up on the portal in less than a month.

Of those who registered, around 57 percent – 65,35,956 people – are men and around 43 percent – 49,81,922 people – are women. However, it did not have a transgender category, a community that suffered greatly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 47 percent (5470831 registrations) belong to the 25-40 age group. Moreover, a whopping 18 percent (2123430 registrations) of the registrations included individuals from the 16-25 age group.

Earlier, the ‘State of Working India 2021’ report by Azim Premji University said that only three out of 10 students in rural India were attending online classes while four out of 10 students availed online classes in urban areas by October-November 2020. As many as 43 percent of children interviewed for the report said they could not attend functional classes due to lack of internet connection or a smartphone. Another 24 percent of interviewed children said their parents could no longer afford to send them to schools.

As per the Ministry of Labour and Employment, eSHRAM is the first national database that details worker’s name, occupation, address, educational qualification, skill types and family details etc. for optimum realization of their employability and related benefits. It may be mentioned that as per the portal’s data, 20 percent (23,29,876 people) of the registered people do not have Aadhar-linked bank accounts.

The report spoke about how women often suffer due to such linking difficulties, especially because women are not informed about the need to link their documents with their bank accounts. Surveys found that 26 percent of poor women live more than 5 km away from the nearest bank or ATM.

The portal said that the four states with the highest registrations, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal registered over 11 lakh people each. Further, over 20 states and Delhi city recorded over 10 thousand registrations.

Regarding occupations, the portal stated that the highest registrations came from the agriculture sector followed by construction sector and domestic and household sector. Agriculture accounted for over half the registrations. The former two occupations were called ‘fallback sectors’ in the University report.

Following the Covid-crisis, education, health and professional service sectors saw the highest outflow of workers. Around 18 percent of the education workforce switched to agriculture.

However, NSO data from 2019 stated that even before the pandemic started the income from farming, including livestock, was not significantly higher than income for an agricultural household from other sources like wages and non-farm business.

Related:

India’s workforce demands fiscal support following the second wave of Covid-19!
92 percent of India’s workforce faces historic and unprecedented crisis: SWAN report
India’s dairy farmers face another harsh summer – but not because of the heat
Provide ration, transport, community kitchens for migrant workers: SC

Over 1 crore people register for jobs on eSHRAM portal!

Within a span of one month, the portal has received a flux of registrations, especially from the agriculture sector.

PortalImage Courtesy:zeebiz.com

Over 1.15 crore people registered for jobs on September 20, 2021 at the e-SHRAM portal created by the central government to provide social security and employment-based benefits.

Launched on August 26, eSHRAM was developed to create a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW), seeded using people’s Aadhaar cards. As many as 1,15,18,143 unorganised workers out of 38 crore workers estimated in the Economic Survey 2019-20 signed up on the portal in less than a month.

Of those who registered, around 57 percent – 65,35,956 people – are men and around 43 percent – 49,81,922 people – are women. However, it did not have a transgender category, a community that suffered greatly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 47 percent (5470831 registrations) belong to the 25-40 age group. Moreover, a whopping 18 percent (2123430 registrations) of the registrations included individuals from the 16-25 age group.

Earlier, the ‘State of Working India 2021’ report by Azim Premji University said that only three out of 10 students in rural India were attending online classes while four out of 10 students availed online classes in urban areas by October-November 2020. As many as 43 percent of children interviewed for the report said they could not attend functional classes due to lack of internet connection or a smartphone. Another 24 percent of interviewed children said their parents could no longer afford to send them to schools.

As per the Ministry of Labour and Employment, eSHRAM is the first national database that details worker’s name, occupation, address, educational qualification, skill types and family details etc. for optimum realization of their employability and related benefits. It may be mentioned that as per the portal’s data, 20 percent (23,29,876 people) of the registered people do not have Aadhar-linked bank accounts.

The report spoke about how women often suffer due to such linking difficulties, especially because women are not informed about the need to link their documents with their bank accounts. Surveys found that 26 percent of poor women live more than 5 km away from the nearest bank or ATM.

The portal said that the four states with the highest registrations, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal registered over 11 lakh people each. Further, over 20 states and Delhi city recorded over 10 thousand registrations.

Regarding occupations, the portal stated that the highest registrations came from the agriculture sector followed by construction sector and domestic and household sector. Agriculture accounted for over half the registrations. The former two occupations were called ‘fallback sectors’ in the University report.

Following the Covid-crisis, education, health and professional service sectors saw the highest outflow of workers. Around 18 percent of the education workforce switched to agriculture.

However, NSO data from 2019 stated that even before the pandemic started the income from farming, including livestock, was not significantly higher than income for an agricultural household from other sources like wages and non-farm business.

Related:

India’s workforce demands fiscal support following the second wave of Covid-19!
92 percent of India’s workforce faces historic and unprecedented crisis: SWAN report
India’s dairy farmers face another harsh summer – but not because of the heat
Provide ration, transport, community kitchens for migrant workers: SC

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Is India exploiting its ASHA workers?

Successive governments have ignored these baseline health workers who receive low remunerations that are often delayed; they aren’t even given proper Covid kits

17 Sep 2021

Asha WorkersImage from MOHFW Twitter

As part of the government’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), a new group of baseline health workers called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA workers) was formed in 2005 to address health related demands of the rural population, especially women and children, who find it arduous to access basic health services.

The government guidelines laid down several responsibilities of ASHA workers which include creating awareness about health and its social determinants, mobilising the community towards local health planning, and increased utilisation and accountability of existing health services. This 2005 design recruited women as volunteers on honorariums to engage in tasks central to the functioning of the public health infrastructure, and promote good health practices.

Their role became even more critical in the Covid-19 pandemic era as they have been deployed to undertake additional work, like conducting door to door tests, monitoring the migrant workers, ensuring the adherence to Covid-19 protocols, as well as collecting data and reporting to the primary health centres across various states.

But the workload of ASHA workers is not directly proportional to the remuneration they receive, and they continue to be seen merely as volunteer service providers. The enormity of injustice does not end here, as they don’t fall under the ambit of the Minimum Wage Act, and don’t enjoy the maternity benefits and other schemes offered to regular government employees.
 

Meagre wage

In a written answer provided by Bharati Pravin Pawar, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, on July 23 this year to the Lok Sabha, it was revealed that ASHA workers receive a fixed monthly incentive of Rs. 2,000 for undertaking routine and recurring activities. Further to incentivise Covid-19 duty, the government decided to add an additional Rs. 1,000 per month under India’s Covid-19 Health System Preparedness and Emergency Response Package.

Different states have different incentives for ASHA workers, but there have been several strikes since the onset of the pandemic demanding sufficient and timely remuneration. For instance, Uttar Pradesh sanctioned Rs. 750 per month from the state budget and the average ASHA payment in the State is Rs. 4,270 per month. CJP’s interaction with hundreds of these women across the state reveals backlogs in payment of wages and often, withholding of payment, too. Bihar provides Rs. 1,000 per month apart from the fixed price fixed by the centre, so ASHAs in Bihar get Rs. 3,000 per month, Himachal Pradesh ASHAs get Rs. 2,000 per month, Uttarakhand ASHAs get Rs. 5,000 per annum and Rs. 1,000 per month.

Besides the range of monetary incentives to the ASHAs, on June 25, 2020, thousands of ASHA workers united, at the call of the All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers (CITU), and held a protest at various states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala for regularisation as government workers, for adequate Covid kits (gloves, masks, sanitisers), additional incentive of Rs.25,000 per month for all contract and scheme workers, Rs. 50 lakhs insurance cover to all frontline workers, etc.

The same answer provided to the Lok Sabha in July this year also revealed that out of 10,47,324 ASHAs, a total of 109 have died due to Covid-19 till April of this year, across the nation, but the numbers could be arguably higher.

Going by the government records, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Andamans, Arunachal Pradesh, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Assam have not recorded a single death of the health activists.  
 

Covid-19 duty risks

In May this year, lakhs of Accredited Social Health Activists across the country reportedly protested and demanded their pending payments and protective gears like PPE kits and masks for themselves. The workers who have efficiently assisted the government in controlling the spread of the virus have raised their voices against inadequate facilities. Some workers have complained that they hadn’t been provided uniforms for the last three years and they are expected to travel door to door to check on home isolated patients but have not been provided for transport, food or water while attending duties and most were yet to be tested for Covid-19. 

According to a NewsClick report, in Karnataka, D. Nagalakshmi, state secretary of the All-India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) backed ASHA Workers’ Union said that the 42,000 workers have been waiting for their “honorarium” – Rs 4,000 – for the past two months.


Justice from the Courts?

The Bombay High Court was one of the first courts to recognise the importance of ASHA workers especially in the fight to combat Covid-19 and had directed the government to pay Rs. 200 per day instead of the fixed Rs. 1,000 per month. The application was filed on behalf of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation Employees Union in Subhash Jainarayan Zanwar Vs. Union of India and others, PIL No.10 of 2020), wherein they brought to the notice of the court the pathetic condition of the Accredited Social Health Activists.

They complained that appropriate remuneration was not being paid to the ASHA workers and the basic equipment for protection/security were not provided and further, even refreshments and tea, as also water from time to time, was not available to them. The insensitive Nagpur Municipal Corporation had gone a step ahead and filed an affidavit in the matter stating that there was no legal provision to provide food and refreshments to the ASHAs!

Justice Manish Pitale had said, “This Court finds that the ASHA workers, who are at the forefront of the war against COVID-19 and who are performing special duties, including door to door survey of houses during such crisis, are being treated in a most unfortunate manner by the Corporation. Even if the amounts of 1000/- per month and 1500/- ₹ 1000/- per month and that ₹ 1000/- per month and that per month i.e. total of 2500/- per month is being paid to ₹ 1000/- per month and that the ASHA workers, it is hardly sufficient for survival of such workers… It is distressing that those at the forefront of the war against COVID-19 are meted out with such treatment by the public authorities including the Corporation.”
 

How far have our courts helped?

Negligent efforts have been taken by the judiciary and the government to recognise the status of ASHAs as workers under the Industrial Act to avail the benefits of the Minimum Wages Act. The Minimum Wage Act that prescribes a minimum amount must be paid to an employee by the employer, as mentioned above, does not apply to ASHA or Anganwadi workers.

A big blow to Anganwadi workers was in 2006, when the Supreme Court Bench of Justices SB Sinha and Markandey Katju had held that Anganwadi workers engaged under the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) Programme are not entitled to minimum wages as the Minimum Wages Act is applicable only to ‘workmen’ in the industries. The Bench said the ICDS programme would not constitute an “industry” within the meaning of the Act and Anganwadi workers were not industrial workmen. (State Of Karnataka & Ors vs Ameerbi & Ors, Appeal Civ. No. 4953-4957 of 1998). 

However, in State of Punjab and Others versus Jagjit Singh, Civ. Appeal No. 203 of 2013, the Supreme Court offered some relief for scheme workers where it ruled that all types of temporary workers and daily wagers are entitled to wage parity with the regular workers provided, if they perform similar work. Another important aspect of this judgment was that it had opined that a mere difference in nomenclature should not deprive an employee from being paid a similar wage that a permanent employee gets for the “same amount of work”.

Calling it “exploitative enslavement”, the court had said, “it is fallacious to determine artificial parameters to deny fruits of labour. An employee engaged for the same work, cannot be paid less than another, who performs the same duties and responsibilities. Certainly not, in a welfare state. Such an action besides being demeaning, strikes at the very foundation of human dignity. Any one, who is compelled to work at a lesser wage, does not do so voluntarily. He does so, to provide food and shelter to his family, at the cost of his self-respect and dignity, at the cost of his self-worth, and at the cost of his integrity. For he knows that his dependents would suffer immensely, if he does not accept the lesser wage.” 

Almost 5 years after this judgment, ASHA workers continue to fight for their identity, demanding for a permanent worker status and surely, the pandemic has exacerbated their needs. The 45th session of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC), had also recommended that all scheme workers should be recognised as ‘workers’ and not as ‘volunteers’ or ‘honorary workers’. It was also suggested that the Anganwadi workers and ASHAs be covered under life and health insurance and all necessary amenities should be extended to the women. But the action taken report presented by the government at the 46th meeting of the Standing Labour Committee rejected each and every one of these demands except the demand for insurance scheme coverage.  

In Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality Report 2020, India ranked 154 in health spending, (fifth from the bottom). This infrastructurally reflects on the lack of enough amenities for the health workers that have been fighting tooth and nail to contain the pandemic. Despite being hailed as frontline workers and Covid-19 warriors, essential ASHA workers continue to work under unfortunate conditions.

According to ThePrint, a survey was conducted by Oxfam India and its partner organisation in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, interviewing a total of 306 ASHA workers. The startling facts that emerged were that just 23 percent workers had received hazmat or bodysuits. 64 percent of them claimed to have received no incentives for the Covid-related responsibilities undertaken by them. Only 43 percent ASHAs had received their monthly honorariums on a regular basis, as of September last year.

Central government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana that was meant to provide an insurance cover of Rs. 50 lakh per person to frontline healthcare workers, sanitation staff, paramedics and nurses, ASHA workers and doctors was known to only 38 percent ASHA workers across the 4 states.

Besides verbal applause and showering petals over hospitals through helicopters to motivate healthcare workers, the government should start with recognising the ASHA workers who have proved to be more than just volunteers, and to not look for interim measures to shore up the crumbling public healthcare system. Subsequently, inhumane working conditions, inadequate staffing, low compensation, unacceptable working, lack of basic amenities should be next on the agenda!

As India begins to recover from 15 months of a social and political crisis unleashed by mis-governance over the handling of the health emergency, will Indians learn lessons and join hands to campaign for better wage security and health conditions for our ASHA workers?
 

Related:

ASHA Workers on Covid-19 duty demand safety gear, healthcare, insurance and better wages
Reports of glaring vacancies of ASHA workers in Covid-19 hotspots, no pay emerge
ASHA activist Ranjana Nirula succumbs to Covid-19

Is India exploiting its ASHA workers?

Successive governments have ignored these baseline health workers who receive low remunerations that are often delayed; they aren’t even given proper Covid kits

Asha WorkersImage from MOHFW Twitter

As part of the government’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), a new group of baseline health workers called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA workers) was formed in 2005 to address health related demands of the rural population, especially women and children, who find it arduous to access basic health services.

The government guidelines laid down several responsibilities of ASHA workers which include creating awareness about health and its social determinants, mobilising the community towards local health planning, and increased utilisation and accountability of existing health services. This 2005 design recruited women as volunteers on honorariums to engage in tasks central to the functioning of the public health infrastructure, and promote good health practices.

Their role became even more critical in the Covid-19 pandemic era as they have been deployed to undertake additional work, like conducting door to door tests, monitoring the migrant workers, ensuring the adherence to Covid-19 protocols, as well as collecting data and reporting to the primary health centres across various states.

But the workload of ASHA workers is not directly proportional to the remuneration they receive, and they continue to be seen merely as volunteer service providers. The enormity of injustice does not end here, as they don’t fall under the ambit of the Minimum Wage Act, and don’t enjoy the maternity benefits and other schemes offered to regular government employees.
 

Meagre wage

In a written answer provided by Bharati Pravin Pawar, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, on July 23 this year to the Lok Sabha, it was revealed that ASHA workers receive a fixed monthly incentive of Rs. 2,000 for undertaking routine and recurring activities. Further to incentivise Covid-19 duty, the government decided to add an additional Rs. 1,000 per month under India’s Covid-19 Health System Preparedness and Emergency Response Package.

Different states have different incentives for ASHA workers, but there have been several strikes since the onset of the pandemic demanding sufficient and timely remuneration. For instance, Uttar Pradesh sanctioned Rs. 750 per month from the state budget and the average ASHA payment in the State is Rs. 4,270 per month. CJP’s interaction with hundreds of these women across the state reveals backlogs in payment of wages and often, withholding of payment, too. Bihar provides Rs. 1,000 per month apart from the fixed price fixed by the centre, so ASHAs in Bihar get Rs. 3,000 per month, Himachal Pradesh ASHAs get Rs. 2,000 per month, Uttarakhand ASHAs get Rs. 5,000 per annum and Rs. 1,000 per month.

Besides the range of monetary incentives to the ASHAs, on June 25, 2020, thousands of ASHA workers united, at the call of the All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers (CITU), and held a protest at various states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala for regularisation as government workers, for adequate Covid kits (gloves, masks, sanitisers), additional incentive of Rs.25,000 per month for all contract and scheme workers, Rs. 50 lakhs insurance cover to all frontline workers, etc.

The same answer provided to the Lok Sabha in July this year also revealed that out of 10,47,324 ASHAs, a total of 109 have died due to Covid-19 till April of this year, across the nation, but the numbers could be arguably higher.

Going by the government records, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Andamans, Arunachal Pradesh, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Assam have not recorded a single death of the health activists.  
 

Covid-19 duty risks

In May this year, lakhs of Accredited Social Health Activists across the country reportedly protested and demanded their pending payments and protective gears like PPE kits and masks for themselves. The workers who have efficiently assisted the government in controlling the spread of the virus have raised their voices against inadequate facilities. Some workers have complained that they hadn’t been provided uniforms for the last three years and they are expected to travel door to door to check on home isolated patients but have not been provided for transport, food or water while attending duties and most were yet to be tested for Covid-19. 

According to a NewsClick report, in Karnataka, D. Nagalakshmi, state secretary of the All-India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) backed ASHA Workers’ Union said that the 42,000 workers have been waiting for their “honorarium” – Rs 4,000 – for the past two months.


Justice from the Courts?

The Bombay High Court was one of the first courts to recognise the importance of ASHA workers especially in the fight to combat Covid-19 and had directed the government to pay Rs. 200 per day instead of the fixed Rs. 1,000 per month. The application was filed on behalf of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation Employees Union in Subhash Jainarayan Zanwar Vs. Union of India and others, PIL No.10 of 2020), wherein they brought to the notice of the court the pathetic condition of the Accredited Social Health Activists.

They complained that appropriate remuneration was not being paid to the ASHA workers and the basic equipment for protection/security were not provided and further, even refreshments and tea, as also water from time to time, was not available to them. The insensitive Nagpur Municipal Corporation had gone a step ahead and filed an affidavit in the matter stating that there was no legal provision to provide food and refreshments to the ASHAs!

Justice Manish Pitale had said, “This Court finds that the ASHA workers, who are at the forefront of the war against COVID-19 and who are performing special duties, including door to door survey of houses during such crisis, are being treated in a most unfortunate manner by the Corporation. Even if the amounts of 1000/- per month and 1500/- ₹ 1000/- per month and that ₹ 1000/- per month and that per month i.e. total of 2500/- per month is being paid to ₹ 1000/- per month and that the ASHA workers, it is hardly sufficient for survival of such workers… It is distressing that those at the forefront of the war against COVID-19 are meted out with such treatment by the public authorities including the Corporation.”
 

How far have our courts helped?

Negligent efforts have been taken by the judiciary and the government to recognise the status of ASHAs as workers under the Industrial Act to avail the benefits of the Minimum Wages Act. The Minimum Wage Act that prescribes a minimum amount must be paid to an employee by the employer, as mentioned above, does not apply to ASHA or Anganwadi workers.

A big blow to Anganwadi workers was in 2006, when the Supreme Court Bench of Justices SB Sinha and Markandey Katju had held that Anganwadi workers engaged under the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) Programme are not entitled to minimum wages as the Minimum Wages Act is applicable only to ‘workmen’ in the industries. The Bench said the ICDS programme would not constitute an “industry” within the meaning of the Act and Anganwadi workers were not industrial workmen. (State Of Karnataka & Ors vs Ameerbi & Ors, Appeal Civ. No. 4953-4957 of 1998). 

However, in State of Punjab and Others versus Jagjit Singh, Civ. Appeal No. 203 of 2013, the Supreme Court offered some relief for scheme workers where it ruled that all types of temporary workers and daily wagers are entitled to wage parity with the regular workers provided, if they perform similar work. Another important aspect of this judgment was that it had opined that a mere difference in nomenclature should not deprive an employee from being paid a similar wage that a permanent employee gets for the “same amount of work”.

Calling it “exploitative enslavement”, the court had said, “it is fallacious to determine artificial parameters to deny fruits of labour. An employee engaged for the same work, cannot be paid less than another, who performs the same duties and responsibilities. Certainly not, in a welfare state. Such an action besides being demeaning, strikes at the very foundation of human dignity. Any one, who is compelled to work at a lesser wage, does not do so voluntarily. He does so, to provide food and shelter to his family, at the cost of his self-respect and dignity, at the cost of his self-worth, and at the cost of his integrity. For he knows that his dependents would suffer immensely, if he does not accept the lesser wage.” 

Almost 5 years after this judgment, ASHA workers continue to fight for their identity, demanding for a permanent worker status and surely, the pandemic has exacerbated their needs. The 45th session of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC), had also recommended that all scheme workers should be recognised as ‘workers’ and not as ‘volunteers’ or ‘honorary workers’. It was also suggested that the Anganwadi workers and ASHAs be covered under life and health insurance and all necessary amenities should be extended to the women. But the action taken report presented by the government at the 46th meeting of the Standing Labour Committee rejected each and every one of these demands except the demand for insurance scheme coverage.  

In Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality Report 2020, India ranked 154 in health spending, (fifth from the bottom). This infrastructurally reflects on the lack of enough amenities for the health workers that have been fighting tooth and nail to contain the pandemic. Despite being hailed as frontline workers and Covid-19 warriors, essential ASHA workers continue to work under unfortunate conditions.

According to ThePrint, a survey was conducted by Oxfam India and its partner organisation in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, interviewing a total of 306 ASHA workers. The startling facts that emerged were that just 23 percent workers had received hazmat or bodysuits. 64 percent of them claimed to have received no incentives for the Covid-related responsibilities undertaken by them. Only 43 percent ASHAs had received their monthly honorariums on a regular basis, as of September last year.

Central government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana that was meant to provide an insurance cover of Rs. 50 lakh per person to frontline healthcare workers, sanitation staff, paramedics and nurses, ASHA workers and doctors was known to only 38 percent ASHA workers across the 4 states.

Besides verbal applause and showering petals over hospitals through helicopters to motivate healthcare workers, the government should start with recognising the ASHA workers who have proved to be more than just volunteers, and to not look for interim measures to shore up the crumbling public healthcare system. Subsequently, inhumane working conditions, inadequate staffing, low compensation, unacceptable working, lack of basic amenities should be next on the agenda!

As India begins to recover from 15 months of a social and political crisis unleashed by mis-governance over the handling of the health emergency, will Indians learn lessons and join hands to campaign for better wage security and health conditions for our ASHA workers?
 

Related:

ASHA Workers on Covid-19 duty demand safety gear, healthcare, insurance and better wages
Reports of glaring vacancies of ASHA workers in Covid-19 hotspots, no pay emerge
ASHA activist Ranjana Nirula succumbs to Covid-19

Related Articles


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Anganwadi agitation: 20 villages in Punjab burn effigies of the government!

Anganwadi workers declare a series of protests until September 30 to show dissent against the state government

14 Sep 2021

Farmer Protest

As many as 20 villages of Muktsar Sahib district, Punjab burnt effigies of the state government on the call of anganwadi workers and helpers on September 14, 2021.

Punjab Anganwadi Employees Union President Hargobind Kaur thanked the 20 villages for participating in the workers’ struggle that will go on till September 30. A state-wide protest will also take place on October 2.

The demonstrations began on September 13 during which villages of Lakhewali, Khokhar, Chautra, Fattanwala, Ramgarh Chunghan, Sirwali, Barkandi, Haraj, Fatui Khera, Dhulkot, Doda, Kotli Ablu, Dabra, Lakkarwala, Ward No. 11 Malout, Kaulianwali, Fatta, Ramnagar, Sheikhu and Chhapianwali showed solidarity.

Anganwadi

Anganwadi workers

Through these protests, employees reiterated their demand to reinstate children between 3 and 6 years, who were transferred from anganwadi centres to primary schools by the state government in 2017.

Further, women demanded that their job designation be promoted to nursery teachers. Earlier, the government promoted EGS volunteers to the same status. Along with this change in status, they demanded that the government offer them honorarium as per the Haryana pattern.

Hargobind Kaur also demanded that workers receive the pending money from Pradhan Mantri Matri Vandana Yojana (PMVY) 2017 – a maternity benefit programme.

Related:

Punjab creche workers announce dharna if state gov’t fails to pay dues
Punjab: Anganwadi workers continue working without food or funds
All-Punjab Anganwadi Workers’ Union to hold a protest march on March 4
Will Anganwadi workers ever get their due?

Anganwadi agitation: 20 villages in Punjab burn effigies of the government!

Anganwadi workers declare a series of protests until September 30 to show dissent against the state government

Farmer Protest

As many as 20 villages of Muktsar Sahib district, Punjab burnt effigies of the state government on the call of anganwadi workers and helpers on September 14, 2021.

Punjab Anganwadi Employees Union President Hargobind Kaur thanked the 20 villages for participating in the workers’ struggle that will go on till September 30. A state-wide protest will also take place on October 2.

The demonstrations began on September 13 during which villages of Lakhewali, Khokhar, Chautra, Fattanwala, Ramgarh Chunghan, Sirwali, Barkandi, Haraj, Fatui Khera, Dhulkot, Doda, Kotli Ablu, Dabra, Lakkarwala, Ward No. 11 Malout, Kaulianwali, Fatta, Ramnagar, Sheikhu and Chhapianwali showed solidarity.

Anganwadi

Anganwadi workers

Through these protests, employees reiterated their demand to reinstate children between 3 and 6 years, who were transferred from anganwadi centres to primary schools by the state government in 2017.

Further, women demanded that their job designation be promoted to nursery teachers. Earlier, the government promoted EGS volunteers to the same status. Along with this change in status, they demanded that the government offer them honorarium as per the Haryana pattern.

Hargobind Kaur also demanded that workers receive the pending money from Pradhan Mantri Matri Vandana Yojana (PMVY) 2017 – a maternity benefit programme.

Related:

Punjab creche workers announce dharna if state gov’t fails to pay dues
Punjab: Anganwadi workers continue working without food or funds
All-Punjab Anganwadi Workers’ Union to hold a protest march on March 4
Will Anganwadi workers ever get their due?

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Eviction notices served to Hindustan Paper Mills units in Assam

Notices were served to officers, workers and employees at the Cachar and Nagaon facilities

07 Sep 2021

Eviction NoticeImage Courtesy:thewire.in

The authority undertaking the auction of the two paper mills belonging to Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd. (HPCL) in Nagaon and Cachar, has now served an evacuation notice to the mill’s employees in connection with the impending liquidation. The notices addressed to all erstwhile officers, workers and employees, ask them to vacate residential quarters allocated to them.

This heartless act has sent shockwaves across Assam given how it comes amidst a raging Covid-19 pandemic, and also successive floods! As many as 900 people stand to lose their safe havens due to these eviction notices.

SabrangIndia had previously reported on how the workers’ unions had demanded the revival of the paper mills that have been defunct for five years.  Production stopped at the Cachar mill on October 20, 2015 and at the Nagaon mill from March 13, 2017. However, this was done allegedly, without even a proper closure notice! These mills were huge public sector undertakings and when they shut down, it was the end of a stable source of livelihood for hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, the wages of about 1,200 employees of the mill have been suspended for more than 50 months. The factory workers have failed to get their dues despite many protests. According to the mill workers’ union, at least 87 employees have died since the mills stopped functioning; some from anxiety due to the sudden shut down, and some because they were unable to afford medical assistance when they fell ill.

The failure to revive the mills felt like a huge betrayal given how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself assured that the mills would be revived. While campaigning for the 2021 Assam assembly elections, Union Minister Amit Shah also promised that the paper mills would be revived.

The liquidation process was initiated under directions from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). This is because HPCL owes Alloys and Metals India about Rs 98 crores that the latter wants to recover. HPCL was also unable to continue operations due to shortage of working capital. However, though the auction was initially set for June 2021, there were delays as no private entity deposited the requisite earnest money of Rs 55 crores by June 15, reported The Hindu. The reserve price was set at Rs 1,139 crores.

Meanwhile associations of officers and employees had moved court challenging the liquidation. At the hearing on June 16, when the court was informed that earnest money had not been received, the court observed that e-auction was not going to take place. 

Manabendra Chakrabarty, president of the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions, had told SabrangIndia at the time the liquidation was initiated, that it was not beyond the government’s ability to find a humane solution, saying, “If Kerala government was able to revive the mills in their state, then why not the Assam government? If the state government wants, they can. Let the Chief Minister of the state revive the two mills. He can.”

After the e-auction was cancelled, he told The Hindu, “Now that the e-auctioning is not happening, the government should live up to its promise and revive its wholly-owned mills to end the trauma and torture of the employees who have not been paid their dues for 54 months.”

But it has been almost three months, and far from paying dues to families struggling doubly hard in wake of not just the loss of their steady source of livelihood, but also the Covid-19 pandemic, the liquidator now wants them to vacate their homes!

The eviction notices may be read here:

Related:

Assam paper mill auction: Employees’ unions demand revival

Eviction notices served to Hindustan Paper Mills units in Assam

Notices were served to officers, workers and employees at the Cachar and Nagaon facilities

Eviction NoticeImage Courtesy:thewire.in

The authority undertaking the auction of the two paper mills belonging to Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd. (HPCL) in Nagaon and Cachar, has now served an evacuation notice to the mill’s employees in connection with the impending liquidation. The notices addressed to all erstwhile officers, workers and employees, ask them to vacate residential quarters allocated to them.

This heartless act has sent shockwaves across Assam given how it comes amidst a raging Covid-19 pandemic, and also successive floods! As many as 900 people stand to lose their safe havens due to these eviction notices.

SabrangIndia had previously reported on how the workers’ unions had demanded the revival of the paper mills that have been defunct for five years.  Production stopped at the Cachar mill on October 20, 2015 and at the Nagaon mill from March 13, 2017. However, this was done allegedly, without even a proper closure notice! These mills were huge public sector undertakings and when they shut down, it was the end of a stable source of livelihood for hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, the wages of about 1,200 employees of the mill have been suspended for more than 50 months. The factory workers have failed to get their dues despite many protests. According to the mill workers’ union, at least 87 employees have died since the mills stopped functioning; some from anxiety due to the sudden shut down, and some because they were unable to afford medical assistance when they fell ill.

The failure to revive the mills felt like a huge betrayal given how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself assured that the mills would be revived. While campaigning for the 2021 Assam assembly elections, Union Minister Amit Shah also promised that the paper mills would be revived.

The liquidation process was initiated under directions from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). This is because HPCL owes Alloys and Metals India about Rs 98 crores that the latter wants to recover. HPCL was also unable to continue operations due to shortage of working capital. However, though the auction was initially set for June 2021, there were delays as no private entity deposited the requisite earnest money of Rs 55 crores by June 15, reported The Hindu. The reserve price was set at Rs 1,139 crores.

Meanwhile associations of officers and employees had moved court challenging the liquidation. At the hearing on June 16, when the court was informed that earnest money had not been received, the court observed that e-auction was not going to take place. 

Manabendra Chakrabarty, president of the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions, had told SabrangIndia at the time the liquidation was initiated, that it was not beyond the government’s ability to find a humane solution, saying, “If Kerala government was able to revive the mills in their state, then why not the Assam government? If the state government wants, they can. Let the Chief Minister of the state revive the two mills. He can.”

After the e-auction was cancelled, he told The Hindu, “Now that the e-auctioning is not happening, the government should live up to its promise and revive its wholly-owned mills to end the trauma and torture of the employees who have not been paid their dues for 54 months.”

But it has been almost three months, and far from paying dues to families struggling doubly hard in wake of not just the loss of their steady source of livelihood, but also the Covid-19 pandemic, the liquidator now wants them to vacate their homes!

The eviction notices may be read here:

Related:

Assam paper mill auction: Employees’ unions demand revival

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Punjab: Contract employees to march to Vidhan Sabha demanding regularisation

Rejecting the recommendation of the Committee for Regularisation of Contract Employees, employees said they will rally towards the Vidhan Sabha in September

25 Aug 2021

Employee struggle

Members of the Punjab Contract Employees Struggle (PCES) and their families resolved to march to the Vidhan Sabha during sessions on September 7, 2021 to demand regularisation of workers.

Leaders Varinder Singh Momi, Jagroop Singh Lehra, Jagsir Bhangu and others gathered for a meeting on August 25 at the Teacher Home in Bathinda. Members discussed and ultimately rejected the recommendations issued by the Ministerial Committee for Regularisation of Contract Employees in response to their decade-long demands.

“It was decided to intensify the ongoing struggle against these recommendations by burning copies of the document across Punjab on August 26,” said Momi.

Accordingly, members and their families resolved to stage a massive protest march towards the Vidhan Sabha to demand unconditional regularisation of all contract employees including those enlisted, outsourced, contracted and those working under central schemes, companies, etc.

Protesters will hoist black flags to protest the corporatisation, privatisation of the service sector as well. Further, leaders said that zonal conventions would be organised all over Punjab to prepare the workers for the vigorous preparation of this struggle program.

“We asked the Punjab government to give up the service of corporators and regularise contract employees without any delay or face the wrath of the employees. It is up to the government to decide,” said Lehra.

Related:

Punjab: Contract workers put 'No Entry' signs for Ministers who failed employment promises
Contract employees flood Patiala streets, demand regularisation of workers
Labour Codes Issues: Spelling out the ABCs

 

Punjab: Contract employees to march to Vidhan Sabha demanding regularisation

Rejecting the recommendation of the Committee for Regularisation of Contract Employees, employees said they will rally towards the Vidhan Sabha in September

Employee struggle

Members of the Punjab Contract Employees Struggle (PCES) and their families resolved to march to the Vidhan Sabha during sessions on September 7, 2021 to demand regularisation of workers.

Leaders Varinder Singh Momi, Jagroop Singh Lehra, Jagsir Bhangu and others gathered for a meeting on August 25 at the Teacher Home in Bathinda. Members discussed and ultimately rejected the recommendations issued by the Ministerial Committee for Regularisation of Contract Employees in response to their decade-long demands.

“It was decided to intensify the ongoing struggle against these recommendations by burning copies of the document across Punjab on August 26,” said Momi.

Accordingly, members and their families resolved to stage a massive protest march towards the Vidhan Sabha to demand unconditional regularisation of all contract employees including those enlisted, outsourced, contracted and those working under central schemes, companies, etc.

Protesters will hoist black flags to protest the corporatisation, privatisation of the service sector as well. Further, leaders said that zonal conventions would be organised all over Punjab to prepare the workers for the vigorous preparation of this struggle program.

“We asked the Punjab government to give up the service of corporators and regularise contract employees without any delay or face the wrath of the employees. It is up to the government to decide,” said Lehra.

Related:

Punjab: Contract workers put 'No Entry' signs for Ministers who failed employment promises
Contract employees flood Patiala streets, demand regularisation of workers
Labour Codes Issues: Spelling out the ABCs

 

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Livelihood a bigger issue than rations for migrant labourers: MRC

Experts appeal to governments to look into job security and better wages for migrant labourers along with food security

20 Aug 2021

LockdownImage Courtesy:thehindu.com

Following the horrifying events of the second wave of Covid-19 in India, state and concerned authorities are gearing up for a possible third wave of the virus. Even the Supreme Court on June 29, 2021 instructed states to enact an appropriate scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant labourers using allocation of additional food grains from the central government.

Directing states to ensure the implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card scheme in the suo moto plea regarding the problems and miseries of migrant labourers, judges said, “The State shall consider and bring an appropriate scheme, which may be implemented on or before July 31. Such scheme may be continued and operated till the current pandemic (Covid-19) continues.”

Additionally, they also directed states and union territories to register all establishments and license all contractors under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. This is to ensure that statutory duty is imposed on contractors to give particulars of migrant workers.

However, grassroot-level initiatives by SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) showed that people were more concerned about their livelihood and health rather than rations. During the second wave, the virus seeped into rural areas calling for better medical and economic support for below poverty line families.

Specifically, in the Purvanchal region, CJP volunteers visited the villages of Mau, Jaunpur, Banaras and other districts to distribute mohallah and family kits to people. Members spoke to many people in the weaver and artisan communities, who said their source of livelihood had halted due to the spread of the virus. The lack of awareness about masks, social distancing also added to the chaos.

Migrant Resilience Collaborative (MRC), a not-for-profit collective,has now raised the need for government investment in livelihood opportunities as the first recommendation to address labour migration in the last two years. In its Voices of the Invisible Citizens II report, it said, “Reportage from the beginning of the 2020 lockdown highlighted that reverse migration was a consequence of the sudden disruption in livelihood, the absolute lack of economic security and sense of community at destination locations.”

To address this, the report called for considerable investment in creating livelihood opportunities in cities and villages i.e., the source and destination of the reverse labour migration. The report emphasised that opportunities must focus on women for immediate income generation and to revive the participation of women in the labour force. Further, it called for relaxation in accessibility norms of one-nation-one-ration policies and other crucial schemes. 

Research shows that while digitisation and stringent ID requirements reduce corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS), it also risks the exclusion of target beneficiaries and increase in transaction costs. “It is hence advisable to stall the digitisation process and relax the ID requirements, particularly related to Aadhar linkage, to prevent any forms of exclusion,” said the report.

Similarly, to ensure coverage of benefits under the Building and Construction Workers (BOCW) Act and other insurance schemes introduced in 2020, the report called for intense registration drives at block or district levels. In this regard, the Supreme Court’s latter direction to establishments and licensed contractors is appreciated. In the same vein, it argued that government stakeholders should combine efforts to monitor incidences of bonded labour and exploitation. “Relevant stakeholders must undertake strategic engagement with contractors and recruiting agencies at destination and source locations to prevent exploitation of migrant workers… This must include registration of contractors across source and destination, awareness generation and orientation of contractors on responsible recruitment,” said the report.

Further, rising unemployment has severely affected migrant workers’ monthly income levels. Experts called upon the government to implement the NITI Aayog recommendation of increasing minimum wage rates and implementing stronger provisions for workers’ grievance redressal in case of wage theft or non-payment of wages.

Moreover, local governing bodies should use the most accessible mediums to disseminate critical information about the pandemic, state responses and social security measures.

Dynamic lockdown regulations at the state and district level also call for the provision of quarantine facilities for labourers. Such facilities will also protect inter-state and inter-district migrant labourers from bearing exorbitant charges for travelling back to their native places.

With regard to vaccinations, the report said employers should work in partnership with local government bodies at worksites to provide marginalised communities with vaccinations. This reduces the risk of contracting the virus and prevents a major exodus like in 2020.

Earlier, the Pune Metro CREDAI President Anil Pharande took several measures to reassure migrant workers about their job security. They provided full wages, accommodation, groceries, medical and sanitation facilities and isolation rooms wherever possible. 

Further, the CREDAI petitioned the government for vaccines for all construction labourers above 21 years, even before the government ordered vaccination for people above 18 years. From May 1 onwards, the company intended to facilitate free mass vaccination across all their construction sites with the help of local governance bodies.

Related:

COVID awareness and Medical Relief for Purvanchal continues
India’s workforce demands fiscal support following the second wave of Covid-19!
92 percent of India’s workforce faces historic and unprecedented crisis: SWAN report

Livelihood a bigger issue than rations for migrant labourers: MRC

Experts appeal to governments to look into job security and better wages for migrant labourers along with food security

LockdownImage Courtesy:thehindu.com

Following the horrifying events of the second wave of Covid-19 in India, state and concerned authorities are gearing up for a possible third wave of the virus. Even the Supreme Court on June 29, 2021 instructed states to enact an appropriate scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant labourers using allocation of additional food grains from the central government.

Directing states to ensure the implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card scheme in the suo moto plea regarding the problems and miseries of migrant labourers, judges said, “The State shall consider and bring an appropriate scheme, which may be implemented on or before July 31. Such scheme may be continued and operated till the current pandemic (Covid-19) continues.”

Additionally, they also directed states and union territories to register all establishments and license all contractors under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. This is to ensure that statutory duty is imposed on contractors to give particulars of migrant workers.

However, grassroot-level initiatives by SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) showed that people were more concerned about their livelihood and health rather than rations. During the second wave, the virus seeped into rural areas calling for better medical and economic support for below poverty line families.

Specifically, in the Purvanchal region, CJP volunteers visited the villages of Mau, Jaunpur, Banaras and other districts to distribute mohallah and family kits to people. Members spoke to many people in the weaver and artisan communities, who said their source of livelihood had halted due to the spread of the virus. The lack of awareness about masks, social distancing also added to the chaos.

Migrant Resilience Collaborative (MRC), a not-for-profit collective,has now raised the need for government investment in livelihood opportunities as the first recommendation to address labour migration in the last two years. In its Voices of the Invisible Citizens II report, it said, “Reportage from the beginning of the 2020 lockdown highlighted that reverse migration was a consequence of the sudden disruption in livelihood, the absolute lack of economic security and sense of community at destination locations.”

To address this, the report called for considerable investment in creating livelihood opportunities in cities and villages i.e., the source and destination of the reverse labour migration. The report emphasised that opportunities must focus on women for immediate income generation and to revive the participation of women in the labour force. Further, it called for relaxation in accessibility norms of one-nation-one-ration policies and other crucial schemes. 

Research shows that while digitisation and stringent ID requirements reduce corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS), it also risks the exclusion of target beneficiaries and increase in transaction costs. “It is hence advisable to stall the digitisation process and relax the ID requirements, particularly related to Aadhar linkage, to prevent any forms of exclusion,” said the report.

Similarly, to ensure coverage of benefits under the Building and Construction Workers (BOCW) Act and other insurance schemes introduced in 2020, the report called for intense registration drives at block or district levels. In this regard, the Supreme Court’s latter direction to establishments and licensed contractors is appreciated. In the same vein, it argued that government stakeholders should combine efforts to monitor incidences of bonded labour and exploitation. “Relevant stakeholders must undertake strategic engagement with contractors and recruiting agencies at destination and source locations to prevent exploitation of migrant workers… This must include registration of contractors across source and destination, awareness generation and orientation of contractors on responsible recruitment,” said the report.

Further, rising unemployment has severely affected migrant workers’ monthly income levels. Experts called upon the government to implement the NITI Aayog recommendation of increasing minimum wage rates and implementing stronger provisions for workers’ grievance redressal in case of wage theft or non-payment of wages.

Moreover, local governing bodies should use the most accessible mediums to disseminate critical information about the pandemic, state responses and social security measures.

Dynamic lockdown regulations at the state and district level also call for the provision of quarantine facilities for labourers. Such facilities will also protect inter-state and inter-district migrant labourers from bearing exorbitant charges for travelling back to their native places.

With regard to vaccinations, the report said employers should work in partnership with local government bodies at worksites to provide marginalised communities with vaccinations. This reduces the risk of contracting the virus and prevents a major exodus like in 2020.

Earlier, the Pune Metro CREDAI President Anil Pharande took several measures to reassure migrant workers about their job security. They provided full wages, accommodation, groceries, medical and sanitation facilities and isolation rooms wherever possible. 

Further, the CREDAI petitioned the government for vaccines for all construction labourers above 21 years, even before the government ordered vaccination for people above 18 years. From May 1 onwards, the company intended to facilitate free mass vaccination across all their construction sites with the help of local governance bodies.

Related:

COVID awareness and Medical Relief for Purvanchal continues
India’s workforce demands fiscal support following the second wave of Covid-19!
92 percent of India’s workforce faces historic and unprecedented crisis: SWAN report

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MP: Century Mill workers condemn police brutality on VRS protesters

For the last two days, Century Mill workers have been demanding re-employment; four women workers were injured allegedly due to police action, and one is still in the ICU

05 Aug 2021

VRS protest

Mill workers in Madhya Pradesh’s Magarkhedi, Khargone district have witnessed undue violence in the last two days since August 3, 2021. Protesters have reported manhandling, forced eviction and destruction of tents at protest sites... steps allegedly taken to break the workers’ morale.

On Tuesday alone, more than 400 mill workers, including activist Medha Patkar, were arrested for resisting the take-over of the Centuries Mill owned by the Aditya Birla group. The activist informed SabrangIndia that one woman reportedly ended up in the ICU, allegedly due to violent intervention by the police.

Later on Wednesday, workers formed a human chain as they silently watched JCB machines destroy the protest site outside the company, while the Additional Superintendent of Police allegedly sat inside the premises.

As rationale for their actions, the police said they had earlier sent a notice to protesters warning that any demonstration will be viewed as “an encroachment on public land.” Interestingly, Patkar said that the official notice only cited Section 144 that barred social, political or similar gatherings.

What are mill workers protesting?

August 5 marks Day 1,389 of the Century Mill employment struggle. In this, around 873 mill staff and workers are protesting the forced voluntary retirement imposed on them by the Birla Group at the Century Yarn and Denim company.

Speaking to SabrangIndia, Patkar said that this is the company’s second attempt to sell the Manjit Global and Manjit Cotton mills. However, more devastatingly, this time the new party buying the mills has refused to re-employ people, who were previously working there.

Patkar observed, “The fact that they don’t want to rehire employees indicates that they don’t want to run the mills. Otherwise, why would they dismiss trained people?” She suspects the mills will be used to store cotton using contract labourers.

Trained repression of workers’ dissent

The Tuesday protest was the culmination of a four-year long struggle of over 1,000 workers fighting the forced VRS policy imposition. The human chain on Wednesday protested the administrative oppression.

Those arrested earlier were charged with a personal bond of Rs. 20,000. This included the Shramik Janata Sangh women who condemned the police for pulling women’s sarees, severely scratching and bruising protesters.

Patkar said that four women were sent to the hospital, of whom one woman, Gulab Prajapati, still remains in the ICU ward. Further, her husband said police verbally threatened him at the hospital when he asked, “Will you give us any compensation?”

“Many women were injured after getting inside the police car because of the reckless manner in which the vehicle was driven,” said Patkar.

Further, on Wednesday, protesters and activists witnessed JCB machines digging holes at the protest site and destroying tents. These tents also served as housing for the workers and staff who were forced out of company quarters.

“Some workers and employees are still inside the staff quarters. Even despite the forced VRS, their second instalment payment is pending. Officials say they will give the same once they vacate the premises. This is because they can’t evict workers without an eviction order,” said Patkar.

Workers are to be paid in two instalments as per the VRS. The first instalment paid Rs. 2 lakh to each of the personnel, all of whom have rejected the money. Members questioned the logic in calculating the amount. But more than anything, workers stand firm on their demand for “VRS nahi rojgaar do!” (Give employment, not VRS).

Mill workers’ long battle for employment

Earlier, the Birla Group had tried to sell the same company for Rs. 62 crore. However, the Bombay Court called the deed a fake sale that claimed the property as ‘agricultural land.’ Plots near highways like the mills in question sell at a different rate. The court declared the mills to be a Rs. 426 crore property.

According to Patkar, the Birla Group then offered to sell the mills to the workers. Other unions supported this move. However, when the proposal was submitted, Birlas rescinded their offer. Nowadays, they are once again trying to sell the property.

Meanwhile the High Court on Wednesday declared that the current case requires intervention from the state government. From October 17, 2017 till now, the workers’ protest has continued.

Mill Worker Protest

Related:

Farmers observe special meeting to honour martyrs of the movement
Who is Corrupt: Unravelling the Corruption Bogey

MP: Century Mill workers condemn police brutality on VRS protesters

For the last two days, Century Mill workers have been demanding re-employment; four women workers were injured allegedly due to police action, and one is still in the ICU

VRS protest

Mill workers in Madhya Pradesh’s Magarkhedi, Khargone district have witnessed undue violence in the last two days since August 3, 2021. Protesters have reported manhandling, forced eviction and destruction of tents at protest sites... steps allegedly taken to break the workers’ morale.

On Tuesday alone, more than 400 mill workers, including activist Medha Patkar, were arrested for resisting the take-over of the Centuries Mill owned by the Aditya Birla group. The activist informed SabrangIndia that one woman reportedly ended up in the ICU, allegedly due to violent intervention by the police.

Later on Wednesday, workers formed a human chain as they silently watched JCB machines destroy the protest site outside the company, while the Additional Superintendent of Police allegedly sat inside the premises.

As rationale for their actions, the police said they had earlier sent a notice to protesters warning that any demonstration will be viewed as “an encroachment on public land.” Interestingly, Patkar said that the official notice only cited Section 144 that barred social, political or similar gatherings.

What are mill workers protesting?

August 5 marks Day 1,389 of the Century Mill employment struggle. In this, around 873 mill staff and workers are protesting the forced voluntary retirement imposed on them by the Birla Group at the Century Yarn and Denim company.

Speaking to SabrangIndia, Patkar said that this is the company’s second attempt to sell the Manjit Global and Manjit Cotton mills. However, more devastatingly, this time the new party buying the mills has refused to re-employ people, who were previously working there.

Patkar observed, “The fact that they don’t want to rehire employees indicates that they don’t want to run the mills. Otherwise, why would they dismiss trained people?” She suspects the mills will be used to store cotton using contract labourers.

Trained repression of workers’ dissent

The Tuesday protest was the culmination of a four-year long struggle of over 1,000 workers fighting the forced VRS policy imposition. The human chain on Wednesday protested the administrative oppression.

Those arrested earlier were charged with a personal bond of Rs. 20,000. This included the Shramik Janata Sangh women who condemned the police for pulling women’s sarees, severely scratching and bruising protesters.

Patkar said that four women were sent to the hospital, of whom one woman, Gulab Prajapati, still remains in the ICU ward. Further, her husband said police verbally threatened him at the hospital when he asked, “Will you give us any compensation?”

“Many women were injured after getting inside the police car because of the reckless manner in which the vehicle was driven,” said Patkar.

Further, on Wednesday, protesters and activists witnessed JCB machines digging holes at the protest site and destroying tents. These tents also served as housing for the workers and staff who were forced out of company quarters.

“Some workers and employees are still inside the staff quarters. Even despite the forced VRS, their second instalment payment is pending. Officials say they will give the same once they vacate the premises. This is because they can’t evict workers without an eviction order,” said Patkar.

Workers are to be paid in two instalments as per the VRS. The first instalment paid Rs. 2 lakh to each of the personnel, all of whom have rejected the money. Members questioned the logic in calculating the amount. But more than anything, workers stand firm on their demand for “VRS nahi rojgaar do!” (Give employment, not VRS).

Mill workers’ long battle for employment

Earlier, the Birla Group had tried to sell the same company for Rs. 62 crore. However, the Bombay Court called the deed a fake sale that claimed the property as ‘agricultural land.’ Plots near highways like the mills in question sell at a different rate. The court declared the mills to be a Rs. 426 crore property.

According to Patkar, the Birla Group then offered to sell the mills to the workers. Other unions supported this move. However, when the proposal was submitted, Birlas rescinded their offer. Nowadays, they are once again trying to sell the property.

Meanwhile the High Court on Wednesday declared that the current case requires intervention from the state government. From October 17, 2017 till now, the workers’ protest has continued.

Mill Worker Protest

Related:

Farmers observe special meeting to honour martyrs of the movement
Who is Corrupt: Unravelling the Corruption Bogey

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