UP: Three-day Mahapadav Begins in Lucknow's Eco Garden Against Centre's 'Pro-Corporate Policies'
image credit Alim
Lucknow: As thousands of farmers and workers descended on the Eco Garden demanding legal guarantee of procurement of crops at minimum support price (MSP) on the basis of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, roll-back of four labour codes for workers, more work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and regularisation of scheme workers' service, the ground, which turned into "a sea of red", was a sight to witness.
Among the participants was 40-year-old Aarti, a midday meal (MDM) cook from Pakardiha, Siddharthnagar, whose central question was, "How do we run our families in Rs 2,500?"
Aarti, a sole breadwinner, burst into tears while narrating her ordeal. She said the situation had turned from bad to worse. They have not paid their monthly honorarium since August, says Aarti, adding that getting salaries four to five months late has become common in the state.
"With this pay, neither can we support our families nor do anything for ourselves. We are being treated worse than slaves. We have thus joined a three-day sit-in protest and want a wage hike from Rs 2,000 to Rs 25,000 a month for each cook. Apart from the issue of minimum wages, we also demand social security benefits for workers, like provident funds, gratuity, and ESI facilities."
Currently, the midday meal cook-cum-helpers are getting a meagre monthly salary of Rs 2,000 despite working for six to seven hours daily. Moreover, owing to the summer holidays in the schools, they get a salary for only 10 months a year.
"When teachers get a salary for twelve months, why can't we? We work till the end of May but do not get salaries for May and June. We cook and maintain the kitchen per regulations but are forced to do housekeeping work like cleaning the washroom, mopping, preparing tea and snacks for teachers, etc. and leave one hour after school ends. All this is not part of our job. When we refuse to do extra work, teachers threaten to fire us from our jobs," said another MDM cook, Rita Devi.
Both Aarti and Rita Devi have been working as midday meal cooks at government schools for the past 15 years, hoping they would receive decent salaries one day, but they believe the ruling government is shattering their dreams.
Asha Devi, another MDM cook from Chandauli district, accused the administration of pressuring them to "produce children" to save their jobs.
"Women who are widows and single breadwinners are preferred for jobs, but at old age, we are being asked to produce children and enrol them at school; otherwise, we might lose our job," she stated.
The three-day Mahapadav (mass sit-in) is being organised by Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and the Joint Committee of Trade Unions (JCTU) from November 26 in Lucknow's Eco Garden where farmers and workers from a vast cross-section joined hands to raise their demands.
Their demands include the regularisation of Anganwadi, Asha, and Midday Meal Scheme workers by giving them a minimum wage of Rs 26,000, implementation of MGNREGA; expansion in urban areas as well as providing 200 working days at a wage of Rs 600/day, implementation of Old Pension Scheme (OPS) for the employees of electricity board, municipal corporations, other boards and corporations.
The sit-in will conclude on November 28.
The other demands of the Mahapadav include a guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP) on all crops with the formula of C-2 plus 50% as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, farmers' crops should be protected from stray animals and the ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets should be withdrawn. The four labour codes and the fixed-term employment law should be withdrawn, and the government must ensure equality and safety at work.
The long charter demands further mention comprehensive loan waiver for all peasant households, withdrawal of the Electricity Bill 2022, withdrawal of the four labour codes, eradication of unemployment and enactment of employment as a fundamental right, halt in the privatisation of Public Sector Units, and dismissal and prosecution of Ajay Mishra Teni, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, the chief conspirator of the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre of farmers, among others.
Explaining the motive behind the Mahapadav, state general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Mukut Singh said, "It is to bring together a collective platform to raise the issues of the masses so that it can reflect in policy changes."
Carrying flags and placards of left-wing labour organisations, protesters raised slogans against the alleged negligent stance of the government towards their demands. Some had placards with slogans like "make fertilisers and seeds cheaper" and "implement recommendations of Swaminathan Commission," among others.
Demand For Permanent Employee Status
Vjay Devi, 55, an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) from Jaswant Nagar, Etawah, was almost in tears.
"After COVID-19, our workload has increased manifold, but our salary has not increased in these years. The government is continuously imposing new tasks on us, but giving sufficient salaries to the ASHA workers is still a distant dream,"
Most ASHA and Anganwadi workers at the site NewsCick spoke to said the government had turned a blind eye to their problems.
"Before coming to power, Yogi Adityanath had made a lot of promises to us, but despite coming to power for the second consecutive term, they have turned deaf ears," Kiran Bala, an Anganwadi worker from Gonda district, told NewsClick.
Bala has been working as an Anganwadi worker at a merger salary of Rs 5,500 per month, and it has not increased for the past 10 years.
For 39-year-old Sangeeta, an ASHA worker from Etawah, the rally is a "last hope".
"I have been working for 10 years on the same wage. We risked our lives during the pandemic and never took a day's break. The government has done nothing except praise our work and recognise the so-called corona warriors. We did not get leaves during the pandemic. The state government promised to increase wages on multiple platforms, but that is yet to happen. No one seems to listen," she said.
Commenting on the issue, Veena Gupta, secretary of All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), said, "We are demanding Rs 26,000 minimum wage for workers because it is a matter of their survival. This includes health and other resources."
When asked about the impact of Mahapadav, Gupta said, "Farmers and labourers came together at one platform for the first time, which was not the case before. The three-day Mahapadav will unite us and strengthen the unity."
Stray Cattle Menace, Sugarcane Dues
Many farmers NewsClick interacted with cited concerns about pending dues of sugarcane and how stray cattle are proving to be a nightmare for their crops and farmers as well.
"The problem of stray animals has become acute due to the ban on animal trade. Marginal farmers are being destroyed systematically due to the failure of the government."
Tara Chand, Vijay Pal and Om Prakash Pradhan, all farmers, travelled from Agra to join the Mahapadav. Their key concern was the menace of stray cattle and the timely payment of sugarcane.
Around Rs 4,000 crore for the previous crushing season (2022-23) are due to farmers in the state, NewsClick has reported earlier.
Meanwhile, addressing the gathering, the speakers described the Central and state governments as "anti-farmers and labourers" and described their policies "as pro-corporate and having communal nexus".
"The government went back on the promises made on the guarantee of MSP for all crops, refund of electricity bills, etc. Corporate interests are conspiring to snatch away the rights of the working class by imposing labour codes. The public sector is being sold to private hands," the speakers stated.
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