People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 20 

May 24, 2009

 

HARYANA

 

Exploitation Of Brick Kiln Workers Continues Unabated

 

Ramashankar Chaurasia

 

 

YOU must have definitely heard about planes that fly without a pilot, but you may not have heard about a brick kiln running without workers. Yet, a piece of bitter truth is that in the Jhajjar district of Haryana, according to a report of the regional Provident Fund Commissioner, there are 320 brick kilns in the district and 71 out of them have not a single soul who could be called a worker. Moreover, there are 40 kilns having 40 workers and 11 kilns having two workers each.

This is the reported situation in the district, while the fact is that even a small kiln would need 70 to 100 workers for various operations.

The regional Provident Fund Commissioner has given these magical figures not only about the brick kilns in the district but also about the stone quarries of the area. His report says that only 50 workers are there in each of the Khori and Sirohi quarries in Faridabad district, owned by Amaan Sethi and Preet Sethi. However, the truth is that these quarries have been supplying stones for more than 150 stone-breaking crushers in Pali and Mohammadabad, and that thousands of trucks have been carrying stones from these quarries for the last six years.

This is the face of the Provident Fund Department whose job is to ensure that workers get the provident fund facility due to them, and that their money in this corpus remains safe. As we know, a worker as well as her or his employer has to make monthly contributions to this corpus, from where a worker can get some money in an exigency, and get the total accumulated amount on retirement. 

One may note that, according to the central Labour Commissioner, these quarries employed 700 workers. So, the question is: Out of the two responsible officers, who is telling a lie?

The labour department of the state government is mandated to look after the workers’ interests and get the various labour laws implemented, and a labour office has been established in every district for the purpose. But the labour office in Jhajjar appears to be more callous in this regard than the office of the regional Provident Fund Commissioner. It seems this office has no idea about how many brick kilns are operating in the district, or even that brick kilns need to be registered under the Factory Act of 1948. It was after much pestering that it, for the first time, put the number of brick kilns at 96, and added that not a single one of them was registered under the Factory Act, while many of these kilns have been running there for the last 50 years or more.

More than 90 per cent of the brick kiln workers are migrant workers, brought to the kilns by professional contractors who work like detestable touts and are invariably in league with the kiln owners for all kinds of dirty things. The labour department says 150 kilns were registered last year under the Inter-State Migrant Workers Act of 1979, but none of the contractors was issued a license under the Labour Contract act of 1970. It put the number of brick kilns in Jhajjar district at 96, then at 152 and finally at 395, which exposes the real character of the labour department. Also, the latter is totally silent on the issue of registration of these kilns under the Factory Act.

According to some new pieces of information made available recently, as many as 2,562 kilns are operating in the 21 districts of Haryana, with a total workers strength of more than 1,48,000. But, because of the department’s callousness, we still don’t have any information about how many of these kilns are registered under the Factory Act. It was because of the pressure from the labour commissioner that 1,180 kilns were registered under the Inter-State Migrant Workers Act. But the situation regarding the workers’ provident fund is still grim, with no hope of improvement in the near future. One cannot expect from most of the kilns, which are not registered under any of the above two acts, that they would fulfil the due requirements, like maintaining attendance and wage registers, issuing identity cards and job cards etc, or that they would be extending to their workers the facilities that are due to migrant workers. Nor does the labour department of the state has any care for the education and health of these workers’ children who remain with their parents from October to the next June, and do minor jobs in the absence of educational facilities for them. The reported number of such children is around 25,000 in any particular year. The state government is totally oblivious about safeguarding the future of these children; its central concern is to empower the marker forces and kiln owners at the cost of workers as well as consumers, and this it does even while causing a loss of the state’s revenue earnings.

Though the stated rate of raw brick moulding is Rs 218 per thousand and a worker couple can definitely earn Rs 200 a day at this rate, but their earning is much below this level. Whenever one talks to a kiln worker at the railway station after the brick-making season is over, one comes to know that either he has taken an advance from his employer to meet the ticket expenses or he has only a hundred rupees or two of his own for the purpose.

Bonded labour is quite common in brick kilns. Sometimes, at the instance of the National Human Rights Commission or of the SDM or deputy labour commissioner, raids are conducted to find out the bonded workers and get them released. But such efforts fail to ameliorate the lot of these workers only because the whole pond is full of dirt and filth. One of the reported reasons for this state of affairs is the state government’s announcement that there are no bonded workers in the state, as no official can dare go against this announcement.

It may be that some of the kiln owners are good-natured but most of them are known to be rogues. It so happens that workers and their families start work at 4 or 5 in the morning, continue till late in the evening, and at the end of the season they go home weeping and cursing their employers. The main reason for a dispute regarding the due payment is that the concerned contractor simply vanishes into thin air --- for the time being, of course. While, a worker says something in this connection, the owner says something else, and there is little chance of a justified settlement of the dispute. Needless to say, it is the brute organised force of the kiln owners class, fully backed by the state power, that wins at the end of any such dispute. Many of the workers take a vow that they would not come to the same kiln again, but it is certain that they cannot escape the net of exploitation. If not the same kiln, they do have to go to another, because they have no land for cultivation and no other work back in their villages.

Article 43 of the country’s constitution says: “The State shall endeavour to secure, through suitable power legislation or in any other way, to all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life, and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural …..” Yet, nobody really knows when noble assurance would be realised in practice. The ground situation is that 40 crore unorganised workers of this country are totally deprived of these basics of life --- even after six decades and two years of independence.