The Karnataka State Beedi Workers Federation has called for a “Bangalore chalo” protest on July 25 against the Union Government’s proposal to rescind scholarships for children of workers.

The Beedi Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1976 allowed a yearly scholarship for children of beedi workers. However, with the Right To Education Act being implemented, the Labour Commissioner had stopped the scholarship for children studying between Class 1 and 8.

“The education in Government schools now may be free, and private education may have been subsidised, but how will we pay for other expenses, like travel to school, books, stationary and others?” asked G. Balakrishna Shetty, general secretary, Dakshina Kannada Beedi Works Federation.

With an annual sanctioned fund to the district amounting to Rs. 12 crore, the scholarship aided thousands of students here, he said. Between Class 1 and 4, the student was given Rs. 250 yearly, while the amount increased to Rs. 700 for boys and Rs. 900 for girls till Class 7.

Tax

He further argued that the scholarship was not paid by the government, but was in fact collected as tax from the beedi workers themselves. “The fund was built up by collecting a tax, amounting to Rs. 6 per 1,000 beedis. This tax, though collected by the State Government, was sent to the Central fund. Essentially, the Scholarship money comes from collecting tax from lakhs of beedi workers,” said Mr. Shetty.

Though this remains the main demand, a memorandum that would be submitted to the Welfare Commissioner on July 25 will also urge the Government to announce a uniform minimum wage, BPL cards and ID cards, Rs. 1.5 lakh as financial assistance for construction of houses, health facilities and creation of Provident Funds for the workers.

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