Allahabad, 25 June: The "Rozgar Adhikar Yatra" launched from Delhi on 13 May, reached Allahabad today after a hectic journey of more than 4,000 kms through ten states. In a remarkable display of solidarity for the right to work, more than 100 organizations have already participated in the series of events that have been organized on the Yatra’s route – public meetings, state conventions, street plays, puppet shows, rallies and other activities.
The aim of the Yatra is to affirm the right to work as an aspect of the fundamental right to live with dignity. In particular, the Yatra demands the immediate adoption of a full-fledged, universal and irreversible Employment Guarantee Act. The Yatris come from different states, different walks of life and different organizations; students’ organizations, women’s organizations, Dalit/Adivasi organizations and workers’ organizations, among others.
Today (25 June), the Yatris reached Shankargarh Block by jeep. In Shankargarh, two public meetings were held in some of the most deprived villages in the area – Kapari and Nimbi-Logara. In both places, the Yatris heard heart-rending testimonies on the conditions in which Kol labourers live in that area. In both villages, people bitterly complained about the lack of basic amenities such as drinking water, primary schools and basic health care. Many of them did not have ration cards, and even those who did have been deprived of their grain rations for years on end.
Most of the labourers in these villages survive from breaking stones, but the Forest Department has started interfering with this activity. Many have been threatened and even beaten for daring to break stones on "forest land" – even though the land is bare of any trees. "Patthar todkar kaam chalate the ab to woh bhee naheen kar sakte hai – todte hai to banduk chalate hai" (We used to live by breaking stones but now even that is not possible – if we break stones they train their guns at us), said Vimala Devi of Nimbi-Logara.
In Kapari, Sursati Devi complained that she had worked for 60 days on a drought relief programme, but she had been paid only for one week. Even for that week she had received as little as 35 kgs of wheat, equivalent to Rs 30 per day or so. The minimun wage in Uttar Pradesh is Rs 58 per day.
Earlier on, the Yatra heard many similar testimonies about the dismal state of public employment programmes as it traveled through the country’s poorest districts. Some of the Yatris, students at Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, have also been associated with a survey of the Food-For-Work programme undertaken at the same time as the Yatra. The survey has uncovered widespread irregularities in the implementation of the programme. For instance, contractors are routinely used, in violation of the official Guidelines. Labourers never earn the statutory minimum, and many of them have worked for as little as Rs 20 or 25 a day. The muster rolls, which are supposed to be available for public scrutiny, are almost always withheld. And basic worksite facilities such as drinking water, shade for children and first-aid material are rarely available.
The Yatra will be in Allahabad on 26 June for a series of activities including a "Mazdoor Sabha" in Jasra Block (starting at 10.30 am) and public meetings in the city. On 27 June the Yatra will resume its journey towards Delhi via Rae Bareli (27 June), Lucknow (28 June), Hardoi (29 June), Lakhimpur Kheri (30 June) and Moradabad (1 July).
The Yatra will conclude in Delhi on 2 July with a "Jan Manch" (people’s platform), where leaders of political parties and citizens’ organizations will be invited to hear reports from the Yatra. This will also be an opportunity for them to present their views on the Employment Guarantee Act in anticipation of the monsoon session of Parliament.
From the Yatra’s communication team