Jathas in Bengal Prep the Ground for April 5 Workers-Farmers Rally in Delhi
kolkata: Dilip Das, 56, owns two autorickshaws in Kolkata. He gets about Rs 350 per day from the driver, and the auto's maintenance is the owner’s responsibility. After maintenance costs, Das monthly earns Rs 6000 per vehicle, which plies on the Garia -Gariahaat route in South Kolkata. The single route has more than 600 autorickshaws operating on it. However, the scope of employment in the autorickshaw sector is getting more squeezed each month, Das said to NewsClick.
Dilip Das will be going to New Delhi next month to voice his demand for a social security network for transport workers of the country. More than 300 transport and allied sector workers will also go to New Delhi along with him to participate in the protest on April 5.
Das is also the secretary of the West Bengal Autorickshaw Operators Union. The union’s president Indrajit Samnata, also an autorickshaw operator, will be part of the protest at the national capital. Both were in the Jatha programme from Kakdweep to Coochbihar (South to North Bengal) held on March 28, 29 and 30.
The Jathas taken out through the state covered more than 5,000-kilometre stretches of roads, said CITU state secretary Anadi Sahoo while taking part in a rally on the Jatha route at Garia crossing on Wednesday. He also took a potshot at the Union government for trying to scrap the old labour laws and impose the four new labour codes, which he said are based on the hire and fire rule.
Addressing transport workers at the rally, Sahu said ensuring minimum wages across all sectors, Rs 26,000 as minimum wages, and a pension of Rs 10,000 are their demands. Most of the current staffing is contractual in the government-run bus services, and they get paid less than Rs 9,000 for more than eight hours of work, Sahu said. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) will build a strong movement on these issues, he added.
Speaking to the Jatha participants, prominent activist and advocate Sayan Banerjee said that the condition of the working class is particularly pathetic under the Modi government and new tactics to exploit them are continuously being introduced. Meanwhile, the prices of essential items and fuel are skyrocketing, and neither central nor state government is paying heed to common people’s interests, he said.
Banerjee slammed the Trinamool Congress-led state government, saying that massive scams have taken place with people’s money and those from the TMC government are directly accused. On the other hand, the economic policy of PM Narendra Modi only helps the top 10% of the population and the rest 90% are biting the dust, he claimed.
Prominent trade union leader, Gautam Dutta, spoke at the rally, stating that the transport sector is no exception when it comes to low daily wages. For instance, cleaners in the transport industry earn as low as Rs 100-200 per day. Given these circumstances, the only way out for the marginalised population is to strike back. He emphasised that it is crucial for the working class, small farmers, and agricultural labourers to air their grievances to the power corridors in New Delhi, the country's capital.
Autos and RTVs ferry passengers in the state, but there are no exact numbers of how many are plying in Kolkata; even the state transport department does not have the data. Rough estimates put the number at over 20,000-30,000 owner-operators and drivers, with about a lakh of total employment.
“We have to work daily to earn our ration. Social security is long due, but who will give it to us now? On paper, everything might exist, but to get one’s dues, one has to wear off one’s shoes here,” said Abesh Raut, an autorickshaw driver operating on the Jorabagan route.
According to Hafiz Ali, an auto driver on the Garia-Baruipur route, on which nearly 1,500 autos ply daily, the earnings have come down drastically from pre-COVID days, which stood at Rs 700-1,000 per day; now, it is around Rs 150-350 per day. He said he has to pay Rs 350 to the owner at the end of the day, while he has to also bear petrol expenses or repair costs, if any.
Hafez Ali, a worker living in rental accommodation in the slums of Bapujinagar in South Kolkata, is one of many workers heading to New Delhi to protest. Unfortunately, the slum atmosphere is not suitable for his family. His daughter, who is in second grade, is growing up in an unhealthy environment with loud hooch parties held in the evenings by the followers of the local TMC councillor, he alleged. These parties disrupt her studies while Hafez's wife, an Anganwadi worker, no longer feels safe in the slum environment. He pointed out that it was different during the Left Front era when the slum committee used to take care of such situations.
Hafez believes that schemes such as housing for all and education for the children of transport workers are critical at the moment. Currently, they only receive 5 kgs of rice and wheat from the PDS system, with no additional benefits, he rued.
CITU leaders simultaneously inaugurated transport worker Jathas in Maldah, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, Purulia, and Bankura districts. Additionally, CITU leader Nepaldeb Bhattacharya also inaugurated the Jatha in North 24 Parganas district. During a conversation with NewsClick, Bhattacharya reported a significant positive response to the Jathas in the North 24 Parganas district.
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