The State government’s ambitious Anna Bhagya scheme that aims to provide rice at Re. 1 a kg may have brought smiles to 98.35 lakh Antyodaya Anna Yojana and below the poverty line cardholders. But, the thousands of loaders of foodgrains at the Karnataka Food and Civil Supplies Corporation (KFCSC) godowns are toiling without any social security or employment benefits. It is from these godowns that the subsidised rice reaches the 20,450 fair price shops across the State.
Ramakrishnappa (41),who has been working at Magadi for over 15 years, explains that their work involves a lot of physical labour and long work hours that sometimes stretch over 13 hours a day for as little as Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 6,000 a month.
“We are the ones who deliver rice to the people by loading them from the godowns to the Public Distribution System (PDS) shops. Each grain of rice has our sweat in it. But the authorities have failed to respond to our plight. With the launch of the Anna Bhagya scheme, our work has increased but our pay scales remain the same,” he said.
Workers like Ramakrishnappa are paid Rs. 6 for loading and unloading one quintal of foodgrains. However, most of them do not have work on a daily basis.
Another worker, Puttaswamy (52) from Mandya, who has been working for 25 years, says, “Everyday, irrespective of whether there is work on not, we have to wait at the godown. In recent times, we have been having work only for around 20 days a month and on the remaining days we sit idle at the godown.”
Pulling out painkillers from his pocket, Puttaswamy says, “These painkillers are always with me as they come in handy. Even if our joints ache, we have to continue to work as we are the breadwinners of our families.”
Even though officials seek to shirk responsibility, Vasu H.V., convenor of Karnataka Janashakti, refers to the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970, that says the government, which is the principal employer, must provide social security.
Members of the Karnataka State Loading and Unloading Workers’ Union said that there are nearly 10,000 workers across the State who have been pressing the government seeking social security schemes.
Responding to this, Minister of State for Food and Civil Supplies Dinesh Gundu Rao acknowledged that the wages paid to them was very little. “We are looking at them in a sympathetic manner. We will review their situation once the Assembly session is over,” he said.