In 1993, about 20 adivasis were recruited by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department as guides for the Archean age (4000 to 2500 million years) Borra Caves, located in the Anantagiri hills of Araku Valley in Visakhapatnam agency.
It has been over 23 years - six of the guides are no more - but the wages and facilities promised to them by the department have not been delivered so far. They are an unhappy lot today as despite running from pillar to post and a couple of sub-collectors and ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Agency) Project Officers recommending their claim, the government has turned a blind eye to their demands.
When the adivasis were taken as guides, they were promised 20 per cent of revenue accrued from sale of tickets as commission. The system continued till 1999-2000 and then it was suddenly withdrawn, said Borra Somesh, guide who has been working since 1993.
In those days, the traffic to the caves during the peak season was about 6 to 8 lakh per month and today it is around one lakh per day. The entry ticket was then Rs. 10 for adults and Rs. 8 for children. Today, it is Rs. 60 for adults and Rs. 45 for children. The ticket rates were hiked after increase in the tourist flow. However, the payment of commission to guides was stopped, said S. Rambabu, adivasi lawyer who has been taking up their cause. Instead ofthe commission, they are paid consolidated wages varying from Rs. 7,500 to Rs. 12,000.
“At the time of recruitment, we were told that we would be regularised. Nothing has happened even after 23 years,” Mr. Rambabu said.
According to Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, who has been instrumental in getting the historic Samata judgment from Supreme Court, the basic process of recruitment and payment of commission was unconstitutional.
As per the Samata judgment, in all business ventures in Schedule V areas, 20 per cent of the returns has to be ploughed back into the development of the area, which includes human resources. So withdrawing the 20 per cent commission component was not legally correct, said Mr. Ravi.
Moreover, the government has not spent any money on development of the neighbouring areas. It has been years since the road from Borra Caves to Kataki waterfalls, another tourist attraction, has been identified but the road has not been laid even today. The cab drivers charge about Rs. 1,500 per person for a trip from Borra to Kataki, he said.
According to Mr. Rambabu, their main demands are either restore the 20 per cent commission component or regularise their services.
“If our demands are not met, we will resort to agitation and close the Borra Caves after Sivaratri. We will be supported by all the adivasi employees in the Tourism Department in the agency areas,” Mr. Somesh said.