Better pay, benefits on mind, Jharkhand labourers leave for Ladakh

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Written by Abhishek Angad | Ranchi | Published: June 14, 2020 2:56:00 am

Based on the “Hardness Index” of the area of work and skill, the payments will range from Rs 15,900-29,000 for the Ladakh area. (Representational Image)

Sitting at the Dumka railway station in Jharkhand, Seikh Shabbir is elated at the prospect of higher earnings. Working for the Border Roads Organisation in Ladakh, he once earned Rs 13,600 a month. Now, for the same work, he has been promised Rs 18,100. For him, this increase of Rs 4,500 means better spending on health and education, and more food security.

“Ab kuch paise bacha payenge (Will be able to save more),” says the 20-year-old.

Shabbir is among 1,648 labourers who set off Saturday—for Ladakh and other areas—from Dumka. This was after the Jharkhand government struck a deal with BRO to send labourers directly to it, effectively eliminating a group of middlemen known as ‘mates’ who are usually involved in coordinating the labour supply.

These ‘mates’, typically labourers themselves, are recognized by BRO, and are known to exploit and harass their fellow workers. Often, labourers would have to be dependent on such middlemen, even having to surrender their ATM cards to them.

Now, after the Jharkhand government’s intervention, BRO has assured labourers of direct pay, an MoU, and registration next year under the Interstate Workmen Act for more security. This has enthused the workers, 11,000 of whom are supposed to leave from Dumka in the first batch.

Based on the “Hardness Index” of the area of work and skill, the payments will range from Rs 15,900-29,000 for the Ladakh area.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who flagged off the train on Saturday, said: “I am just a medium, and my job is to provide these labourers security…The middlemen have exploited them for long and we are working to eliminate them…I am a son of farmer and a labourer, no more will labourers will be exploited.”

For long, Dumka and some of its adjoining districts have been a major source of BRO’s labour force. The border agency has described these workers as “honest, hardworking, tough, and well-suited for remote and rugged mountain”. And the numbers reflect this. Out of 1648 workers sent on Saturday, 1,329 are from Dumka; 127 are from Godda, 75 from Sahibganj, 45 from Deoghar and 72 from Pakur.

There was, however, a hitch. The initial response to the outreach, being carried out sans ‘mates’ for the first time, was rather lukewarm. Besides the absence of mates, sources in the government also pointed to the onset of the sowing season and rains as factors for the relatively low response.

A panchayat mukhiya, requesting anonymity, said: “From our panchayat area, around nine people have gone, compared to 150 labourers who usually go in one season.”

Sources said help has been sought from the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society to spread the word. Block Development Officers have been made the nodal officers for this project.

The train, meanwhile, left a day later than scheduled.

Asked for the reason, Dumka DC Rajeshwari B said: “The rescheduling was done by BRO and till Friday evening around 500 labourers were registered. Many labourers have called us and shown interest. I don’t think farming or incoming sowing season should be a problem.”

BRO ADG Anil Kumar said in Dumka: “The next train will leave on June 16 and every fourth day since the other trains will leave and the last being on July 4. I request the Jharkhand government to make available 11,000 labourers for nation building…There will be full transparency in terms of payments.”

Sources in the government said that the terms of reference include direct recruitment, payment of benefits, the appointment of ‘mates’ at the work sites only, and forming of a district-level committee to facilitate a Migration Facilitation Centre cordinating with the BRO and other companies willing to recruit labourers.

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