Gujarat lockdown: Surat dyeing, printing mill owners told to pay salary to all labourers in 3 days

Kamal Saiyed
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During investigation, it was revealed that the labourers were not given salaries and they had no money for food or rent (Representational)

Owners of dyeing and printing mills in Surat have been told to pay the salaries of labourers within three days so that they can survive during the lockdown period. Passes will be issued by the District Collector and police department to the factory owners and their accountants, to enable them reach the factories and make arrangements to pay the salaries.

The decision was taken after a meeting held by Surat police commissioner RB Brahmabhatt and Surat District Collector Dr Dhaval Patel on Tuesday where members of South Gujarat Textile Processing Association (SGTPA) were also present.

Surat police commissioner RB Brahmabhatt said, "We have given three days to the mill owners, from March 31 to April 2 to deposit salaries of the labourers in their bank accounts. We have also intimated the police team to allow the textile workers to go to their factories for salaries."

On Sunday night, the situation took a violent turn in Surat when police tried to stop about 500 textile factory workers - mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

When police stopped them near Sachin area, about 2 km from Pandesara, some of the workers reportedly started pelting stones. While nobody was injured, some police vehicles were damaged. Later, police resorted to a lathicharge and fired 30 teargas shells, pushing them back to Pandesara. Ninety-six workers were arrested for rioting and were released on bail on Monday.

During investigation, it was revealed that the labourers were not given salaries and they had no money for food or rent. All the dyeing and printing mills owners were alerted about this at the meeting and around 600 passes were issued to the owners and accountants since Tuesday afternoon.

Talking to The Indian Express, member and former president of SGTPA, Pramod Chaudhary, who owns four dyeing and printing mills in Surat, said, "There are 4,000 workers working in our factory and after getting pass from the District Collector and police, we started depositing the salaries of labourers in their bank accounts. After demonetisation and GST, we opened bank accounts for all labourers working in our factories. For the few labourers who don't have bank accounts, we handed over cash to the contractors."

"After the arrest of 96 people, we came to know that these people didn't have money for food. We provided morning tea with snacks and afternoon food for them on Monday. We also requested some NGOs to supply food in the labour colonies," Brahmabhatt said.

Police also made the labourers aware about the lockdown and asked them not to believe in rumours, the commisisoner said. "We told them to contact police if they face any problems with food or ration. We also explained to them about COVID-19 and how it is spread. These 96 labourers will now convince other labourers to stay at home," he added.

KSG appeals to farmers to take care of farm labourers

The Khedut Samaj, Gujarat (KSG), a farmers' body, has appealed to the farmers and sarpanches of villages in South Gujarat to take care of the labourers working in their fields and provide them with food and ration.

Due to the nationwide lockdown, many farm labourers working in the agricultural fields in South Gujarat have started going back to their villages in Dang and Dahod districts as well as Nandurbar in Maharashtra, while those who are left behind should be taken care of, the Samaj said.

In a message via WhatsApp, KSG president Jayesh Patel requested the Samaj members, including sarpanches of various villages, to take care of the farm labourers and provide them with shelter and food in this crucial period.

"Once the farm labouers reach their native place, it would be difficult for them to come back and this would lead to shortage of farm labourers... Majority of the work in the agriculture field is done by farm labourers... If facilities are provided to them, they will not go back to their native place," Patel said.

“All the hard work is done by farm labourers... due to the lockdown, they may be facing financial crises, so the sarpanches have been requested to take care of them and treat them as family members... if proper care is given, they will remain loyal and work hard. We have also asked the farmers to provide medical facilities to these labourers if needed. These labourers are our assets... we earn through them.”