Borra Caves, located at an elevation of 2,300 feet, draw tourists from different places across the country. They are also a good revenue earner for the AP Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC). Lakhs of tourists visit the caves and the rush peaks during the festival and winter season from October to January every year.
The caves drew about 5 lakh visitors on Sundays during November 2019. The rush fell to 2 lakh during weekends in November, this year in view of the pandemic threat, but it is fast picking up. However, the services of tourist guides, who were recruited by the APTDC on contract basis about 25 years have not been regularised till date.
“We were given training in Hyderabad and 20 of us have been posted at Borra Caves over two decades ago by the APTDC as contract staff. We have to work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are paid ₹16,000 a month without any additional benefits. Five of our colleagues had died due to various reasons over the years but no compensation was paid to their families by the corporation,” says Somesh Borra, a tourist guide.
“Many of us have completed our degree and PG but have not got promotion. We belong to the ST community but even the rule of reservation is not being implemented,” he says.
“When Ms. Chandana Khan was the Special Chief Secretary of AP Tourism and Culture, she had issued an order directing that tourist guides appointed on contract basis should be paid on par with regular employees. The order was said to have been withdrawn by those who had succeeded her,” says Somesh, who has done his PG from Andhra University.
“Before the APTDC took over the caves, they were under the control of the local tribal communities and guides. After APTDC came, Samata had a discussion with the then Sub Collector, Paderu, in 1992-93, and got proceedings that the 20 tribal guides would be paid 20% from the ticket income. This was continued till 1999 but later stopped,” says Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, who was instrumental in getting the historic Samata judgement from the Supreme Court that the basic process of recruitment and payment is unconstitutional.
“Since then we have been asking the government to give 20% of the revenue to the Borra Panchayat. Though the panchayat got a grant once or twice but the issue has not been settled,” adds Mr. Ravi.