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Labourers do not exist for political parties

Lucknow, Wed, 21 Mar 2012 ANI
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Lucknow, Mar 21 (ANI): Poll period is the zenith of the political drama in the country and perhaps the best time to understand the capabilities of various political parties. Each one of them claims to work for the people, on one condition of course - If "voted to power".

 

The winning party Samajwadi Party (SP) promised in its manifesto released on January 20th to pay Rs 1000 a month to unemployed youths. Similarly, the BJP promised for Rs 2000 and one crore job opportunities (one crore!) while Congress made a decent promise of providing vocational training and employment to twenty lakh youth.

 

A week later the veranda of the employment exchange is teeming with people seeking registration. Over 25, 000 people turned up at the exchange in Lucknow - that is the impact of a mere promise!

 

Some people at least have promises made to them, wonder the labourers of the state, the unfortunate lot that was clearly missing from the manifestos of the contesting political parties. No one bothered to care for the cries of this marginalised section that constitutes one third of the country's population.

 

Of the total twenty crore population of Uttar Pradesh, fifteen crore people work as labourers out of which twelve crore form the "vote bank" for the political parties - yet no one cares for them. Their absence in the manifestos simply means that no one will represent them in the assembly.

 

They have been ignored repetitively. On the one hand there are manifestos promising impossible dreams; and on the other, we have this huge mass of humanity devoid of any attention. And, this does not happen only during elections; the rights of the labourers are violated throughout the year - so a shift in the government hardly matters.

 

The continuous changing trends in their work pattern have further put them in a more vulnerable situation. No more are they protected by labour unions and the Left parties are now outdated in Uttar Pradesh. Not only in UP, the labour class has become marginalized and leaderless in the country. India has the largest number of labourers in the world, but there is no one to look after their basic rights.

 

According to the findings of Dr. Arjun Sengupta Committee (Dr. Sengupta died two years ago), that was formed by UPA-1 to study the status of the labours of unorganized sector, the population of labours in this country is eighty six and their average income is between Rs.9-19 a day. This had created a ruckus in the Parliament and many political parties shed crocodile tears in favour of the labour class. Today, the same political parties are contesting elections in UP, and labourers don't feature in anyone's agenda.

 

Labourers of our country are surrounded by numerous issues, which are diverse and severely impact their quality of life. Their struggle for survival as individuals and as a social is incessant. As part of this struggle, they are on the move constantly - they do not have permanent jobs and are dependent on daily wage tasks to earn their meal.

 

After finishing their job at one place, they are forced to move to other places in search of work and in the process, losing any sense of roots. Most of the people belonging to labour class do not have that ubiquitous proof of existence: a voter card. And, if you are not a voter in today's India, no political party is ever going to visit you.

 

This is interesting to learn, that the always-on-the-move labour class is not eligible for any government help. They don't even have the facility of free drinking water (government hand pump). They don't have a ration or a voter ID card. It is very likely that they are not counted during census.

 

In 1996, NDA government introduced two laws to protect the right of labourers working in construction jobs. One was The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996; and the second was The Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act, 1996. However, they never implemented in any state. In 2009, the Supreme Court, while hearing a Public Interest Litigation, ordered all the states and Union Territories to implement these laws by May 2009. Unfortunately, no state has implemented it so far.

 

Last November, the Supreme Court once again lambasted the state governments and asked why no action has been taken against the responsible officials in this matter. The law was never implemented in its complete form; nevertheless some schemes for the betterment of labours, mentioned in the act were adopted by some states.

 

The few political parties fighting for the rights of labourers are on the verge of extinction. Last year, on February 23rd, more than one dozen labour organizations gathered at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, to demand the implementation of labour laws, but their voices couldn't wake the politicians from their slumber.

 

The problems faced by labourers are manifold. The stereotype image for a labour or 'mazdoor' for us is that of a male worker. However, the fact is there are equal numbers of women working as casual labour. Most of them inevitably move with their children and family. They carry with them their newborn children who require intense care and medical attention. The requirements of women workers are different from their male counterparts. There are no toilets around work sites, they keep their children near the construction site putting their health in danger.

 

On top of all this, these children are seen as hindrances by the contractors. As a result, they avoid providing such women work. If at all a woman is appointed for work, they are not paid the same wages as men. They work harder and longer but what they get in return is not concomitant with the sweat and toil.

 

A labourer's family usually camps in the proximity of the work site and the women of the family have to bathe in the open. This increases the chances of sexual abuse. The labour law provides them protection against advances by the contractor and benefits them with services of treatment, loan, future savings and primary education for children near the work place.

 

The prime responsibility of the winning political party should be to protect the rights of its people but after winning the election they get involved in the business of running the government and forget such "petty" issues.

 

The problem lies, among other factors, in our electoral system. Some groups, however large their numbers are deprived of enough representation in the political decision making system.

 

The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the labour class faces the similar problem as they are not based in any one state, but are scattered across the country.

 

Today, they don't have a representative in the Assembly and the Parliament. The brazenness of the state governments is such that even after they were criticised by the Supreme Court, they are unwilling to implement the labour laws. What gives them the immunity to get away with inaction? By Sunil Amar(ANI)

 

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