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Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar* 

In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).
A closer look at the situation reveals a distressing state of affairs, with over 10,000 labourers engaged in strenuous manual work under the harsh sun, residing in temporary shelters, and facing serious challenges such as the absence of basic amenities as well as acute shortages of potable water.
To mark the World Day of Social Justice, Nguvu Change leader Nishita Patel amplified the urgent need for state intervention in this matter. She says, "India’s salt pan workers do heavy manual labour in the harsh sun without sufficient drinking water. They don’t even get sufficient water for their daily needs. This is the dark side of our white salt.We expect the people who make the most essential part of our meal - salt - to get by without water to drink?” Nishita asks.
The sole water source for salt pan workers at the Little Rann of Kutch happens to be an irregular tanker supply.
The potable water reaching the salt pan workers is nowhere close to the National Rural Drinking Water Programme's national goal to provide India’s rural population with a daily water supply of 40 litres of water per person. They say that they receive less than 5 litres of water per person per day.
“They can bathe only once a month in the scorching desert. Isn't this a clear violation of human and social justice laws?” asks Nishita.
She has already initiated an online campaign urging the Gujarat government to guarantee that LRK’s salt pan workers receive a minimum of 40 litres of water per person per day.
She mentions also that the unhealthy living conditions and the absence of potable water have resulted in severe health problems for the workers, including skin lesions, eye issues, tuberculosis, and physical deformities.
“The World Day of Social Justice is an opportunity to discuss the health crisis of salt pan workers and to work towards ensuring that these workers are provided with decent and safe living conditions. Their right to water, good health and basic human dignity must be honoured. I hope the Gujarat Government, especially the Water Supply Ministry and Salt Industry Ministry, will soon intervene in this issue,” she concludes.
*Studio Talk