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Thursday, March 30, 2006

India Shining??

Came upon this article on the web by MADHAVI TATA. India Shining??

Andhra's looms are again weaving a tale of suicides

The roar of powerlooms in a small shed at Baddam Yellareddy Nagar in Sircilla drowns out the muted mantras being read out at Bitla Ramu’s house at a funeral.
Ramu, 23, unemployed and newly married, hanged himself on February 28 when his wife had stepped out to borrow rice. The couple hadn’t eaten a proper meal in three days. The loom shed where Ramu worked had been ridden by power cuts and shortage of raw material. Consequently, he hadn’t drawn any wages for days.

The roar also stands out in contrast to the silence that prevails in Ratsa Narsaiah’s house. Plagued by poor eyesight and piling debts, 55-year-old Narsaiah, a weaver at the Bhadravathi Cooperative Society, also committed suicide, on March 8. His last act: checking his wage book.

Everywhere you go, the story is the same. In 2000-03, the then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s decision to hike power tariff led to 120 suicides in Sircilla. In 2004-05, there were 40 such deaths. It seems to be a continuing crisis. Locals say there have been 12 suicides in Sircilla this February and five already in March. Official figures cite only eight suicides for these months, and attribute most of them to "personal reasons".

Sircilla, with its 23,000 powerlooms, has about 25,000 families depending on weaving and allied activities. The majority comprises workers who are paid Rs 85-100 per day for 12 hours of work. Most weavers suffer from TB, asthma, poor eyesight by the time they are 40. Powerloom weaving is the major occupation in Sircilla division, but it continues to be an unorganised sector. The loom owners market the produce themselves. While the handloom sector is supported by the State Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society, the powerloom industry is not quite lucky. Chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s gift of free power doesn’t extend to powerlooms as they fall under the industrial sector. There’s been frequent power cuts since January-end. A four-hour power trims worker’s wages to Rs 35-50 a day.

Most cloth from Sircilla goes to the Katedan Industrial Estate near Hyderabad for further processing. But a recent Pollution Control Board order to shut the Katedan units has resulted in stocks piling up at Sircilla, leaving workers jobless.

Ironically, the Rs 10,000 spot compensation for each suicide-hit family from the National Family Benefit Fund has been cut to Rs 5,000. The government has announced Rs 1,50,000 for every such family. But the catch is it includes only those households where the suicides occurred after May 14, 2004—the day Rajasekhara Reddy came into power. Outraged widows, who have been subsisting on beedi-rolling, protest the unfairness of it all.

Joint collector Christiana Z. Chongthu refutes news of starvation. "Every household is covered by either BPL or Annapurna Antyodaya Yojana ration cards. So how’s it that they don’t get food," she asks. But then these families don’t even have the money to buy rice at subsidised prices. Labour minister G. Vinod says ‘livery’ cloth worth Rs 50 crore generated by Sircilla weavers is being bought on behalf of the government by Apco. "Also, pensions are now given at the age of 50, considering that the weavers age fast. Our job is to avoid backlog of payments and ensure greater liquidity," he notes.

But for the weaving families, liquidity is practically a non-existent term.


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