Touted as the tallest in the world at a height of 182 feet, the Statue of Unity- the tribute to Sardar Patel- which was built post protests from the poorest districts in the state of Narmada and the alleged use of funds from the Public Sector Undertakings, is back in the spotlight over the non-payment of workers employed in its maintenance.
Over 100 employees at the site have reportedly not been paid for the past three months and are now resorting to a strike this week to draw the attention of the apathetic state government. The employees, who work for a company named Updater Services Ltd (UDS), including security guards, gardeners, sweepers, liftmen, ticket checkers, are dependent purely on their daily wages.
Speaking to NewsClick, Arun Mehta from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in Gujarat, said, “The workers are employed under a private company, which was to be given grants by the state government. The pending wages include about Rs. 8,000-10,000 per month and some supervisors whose salaries are amounting to Rs. 14,000 and perhaps more. These workers have not been paid for the past approximately four months. Currently, they are resorting to demonstrations and they even formed a human chain to draw the attention of the government. They cannot resort to any aggressive protests, given the fact they are contractual workers.”
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On one hand, the state government has been trying to project sky rocketing profits for the statue and on the other, it has been unable to provide minimum wages to the employees maintaining it. Union tourism minister KJ Alphons in a parliamentary reply had claimed that the “revenue generated from visitors to Statue of Unity from November 2018 to January 2019 is Rs.19.47 crore,” and “the number of tourists who visited the Statue of Unity at Kevadia in three months from November 2018 to January 2019 was 7,81,349 as against an yearly average of 8,22,009 tourists visiting Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in the last five years.”
Responding to this, Mehta added, “This is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the government. Meanwhile, the non-payment of salaries has left the workers with no alternative.”
The Rs 2,989 crore project inaugurated on October 31, 2018, has faced heavy criticism from the tribals in Narmada district. Previously, the villagers had shown black balloons and had protested ardently against Narendra Modi at the time of inauguration of the statue.
Read More: Tribal Protests, Black Balloons Cloud Modi’s Unveiling of ‘Statue of Unity’