Special Correspondent

They spruce up their homes and prepare "pongal"

CUDDALORE: It was a festive time for the families of 9,800 road workers across Tamil Nadu who celebrated Sunday when Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi assumed office as Chief Minister as a "Pongal day."

Salai N. Saravanan, president, Tamil Nadu Saali Paniyalargal Munnetra Sangham, told The Hindu that the road workers were too happy to greet the new government, expressing their gratitude in a "fitting manner."

It was after three-and-half years that the families of the road workers had got an occasion to celebrate. Ever since they were thrown out of job by the AIADMK regime on September 7, 2002, they had been wallowing in poverty. Hence, they did not have the means to celebrate festivals.

On Saturday, they whitewashed and decorated their houses and prepared "pongal" and distributed it to their neighbours.

During the previous DMK regime, 10,000 people were inducted as road workers in December 1997. But the AIADMK government dismissed them at one stroke. The workers staged protests all over the State and moved the court too. The government countered their moves to keep them out of job, leading to the suicide of 84 workers, Mr. Saravanan said.

Even after the court directed the Government to re-induct the workers and pay them three-month wages, it did not immediately oblige. Only three months before the elections did the Government relent, allowing the workers to rejoin duty. Mr. Saravanan said, however, the families of those road workers who committed suicide were leading a precarious existence even now as the Government had not offered them any compensation (other than three-month wages) and jobs. The workers were not paid April salary, even though the government employees got their pay on April 29. He was confident that the DMK rule would improve their lot.