Even as workers across the globe celebrate May Day, for eight community organisers (CO) of the Kudumbasree’s Urban Poverty Alleviation (UPA) programme under the Kozhikode Corporation, the day will mark the fourteenth year of their unsuccessful fight for justice.

The State government appointed the community organisers in 1999. In the second year, their salary was increased from Rs.750 to Rs.1,500.

For the past 11 years, there has been no increase in salary in spite of letters to the Mayor and Ministers concerned. Also, they are yet to be confirmed as permanent employees.

M. Lathika, one of the COs, says that the income is not even enough to cover the expenses of daily travel to office. Not to mention the expenses for the many trips to Thiruvananthapuram to meet Ministers and bureaucrats.

“Each of us has the responsibility of seven electoral wards each. Our work requires us to be active both in office and in the field. But the salary that we get does not match with the workload. No other government employee gets such a low salary. We just manage to survive. All of us belong to Below Poverty Line families,” says Ms. Lathika, who is also finding it hard to bear the expenses of her medical treatment and her children’s fees.

Main link

As per the Operational Guidelines for Programme Administration & Monitoring under the Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY), Community Organiser “is the main link between the urban poor community represented through the Community Development Society (CDS) and the implementation machinery, the Urban Poverty Alleviation Cell.”

Their work ranges from ground work in setting up neighbourhood groups, co-ordinating the activities regarding the implementation of various schemes, facilitating skill development schemes, securing loans for the groups and any other function “as may be assigned for furtherance of the target of alleviating urban poverty.”

“We have even gone around houses to find women who could drive the autorickshaws to collect waste from the city households,” says M.P. Sheena, one of the COs.

All of them are graduates and as per the old guidelines they should be paid a salary of Rs.5,000. A group of COs under the Kochi Corporation were made permanent by a Government Order in 2010. They also point to a 2010 decision of the government by which honorarium workers having 10 years of experience were made permanent. However, nothing of the sort happened in the case of these eight.

The Kozhikode Corporation Council had in 2010, written to the State government requesting permanent status for the COs.

Nothing happened in this regard too.

When contacted, Kudumbasree Executive Director K.B. Valsalakumari told The Hindu that any decision in this regard was to be taken by the local body.

In Kochi

“A decision regarding this does not come under the ambit of the Kudumbasree. In the case of Kochi Corporation, the State government took that decision since there was a new poverty alleviation programme funded by the British government.”

The Project Officer of the CDS in Kozhikode, M.V. Ramsy Ismail, also concurs to this fact. “The COs were appointed much before the Kudumbasree came into existence. When the new administrative set up came in, they were sidelined. Now, 75 elected governing committee members of the CDS are doing the work that eight of them used to do. But still they are being allocated work both by the CDS and the Corporation. Their salary is being paid from the Corporation’s fund. It is the Corporation’s responsibility to make them permanent,” says Mr. Ramsy.

However, the City Corporation Mayor A.K. Premajam says that the Corporation does not have powers of its own when it comes to financial decisions.

“The State government has to give us permission to raise their salary or to make them permanent,” says Ms. Premajam.