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Lockdown: Plea to pay wages to 90,000 sugarcane workers stranded in South Gujarat

By Our Representative
A division bench of the Gujarat High Court, comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice AJ Shastri, has taken up several public interest litigations (PILs) seeking assistance of the Gujarat government to urgently ask sugarcane factories and farmers to pay the wages to tens of thousands of workers, many of them from Maharashtra, stranded in the state, even as extend welfare facilities to lakhs of migrants stranded in South Gujarat cities.
Claiming to provide a “counter view” with respect to policies of the Government of Gujarat and Government of India towards providing assistance to disadvantaged and poor and needy section of the society, the petitions have been filed several civil rights groups, including Human Rights Law Network, Prayas and Bandhkam Majur Sangathan, through senior advocate Anand Yagnik.
The PILs stated that in South Gujarat region more than 22 sugarcane factories are in operation in five districts, where more than 2 lakh seasonal workers work in sugarcane fields of farmers, who are members of sugarcane cooperatives which run the factories.
It says, before the harvesting season could come to end in June, the lockdown was announced and harvesting has remained incomplete. However, more than 90,000 workers coming from Maharashtra with their families have been stranded and they are not permitted to leave Gujarat, nor are they allowed to stay in villages because of apprehension of the spread of coronavirus.
Known as koita, the migrant sugarcane workers have been stranded without assistance from contractors and mulazims, on one hand, and farmers and sugarcane cooperatives, on the other, the PILs said, adding, their earned wages are not paid by farmers and sugar cooperatives because harvesting has remained incomplete and lockdown has been announced to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Regretting that more than 90,000 workers are not on the record of the state because of the failure to implement labour welfare legislations and recognize their contribution towards sugar cooperatives, the PILs said, this a major reason why assistance from the state is not reaching the migrant workers, particularly those who are tribals and others from the lower strata.
According to the PILs, no assistance whatsoever in the form of cash, food, sanitation and other assistance is being extended, insisting, the state should take steps in extending all the assistance at the earliest. A report prepared by Ramesh Srivastava and Sudhir Katiyar detailing the sugarcane workers’ plight, was submitted to the court for perusal.
The PILs further noted the difficulties faced under the lockdown condition by migrant workers in Surat, who account for 58% of total migrants in South Gujarat. They citing national surveys and researches carried out by the Kiran Desai of Centre for Social Studies, Surat, Vipul Pandya of the Bandhkam Majur Sangathan and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) activist Krishnakant Chauhan to prove the migrants’ plight.
Migrant workers can't go to their hometown and quantity of food which is occasionally provided to them is quite less and abysmal
Mostly working in textile and diamond units and in the Hazira industrial area, the PILs claimed, of the total 10 to 12 lakh, about 7.5 lakh are from UP, Bihar and Odisha, adding, “No sooner the lockdown was announced their principal employers and owners abandoned them. No wages have been paid and no assistance of any sort has been provided except some exceptions.”
They added these workers “have been stranded without any assistance and are desperate for food security, financial security and other assistance necessary for their livelihood. Moreover they are not able to maintain social distance because of several workers residing in one unit.”
The PILs further said, “They cannot go to their hometown and the quantity of food which is occasionally provided is less and the quality is abysmal”, adding, “In the last week they have come on roads out of desperation and have been met with more restrictions and a FIR rather than providing assistance to them.”
“Same is the position of more than two lakh construction workers and more than 1.5 lakh workers working in the Hazira industrial area, including those working in units attached with the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC), Larsen and Tourbo, the Adani group”, the PILs said.
Appearing for the state, advocate-general Kamal Trivedi stated that empirical date is available with the State of Gujarat and it will look into it and do the needful, adding, the state government would reach out to all the NGOs and would appeal to all those who want to contribute.

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