June 26, 2016

Himachal Pradesh: Workers Protest against Contractors-Govt Nexus

Raj Singh

CITU-affiliated workers at the under-construction 450-MW Shong Thong-Karchham hydroelectric project on Sutlej river have been on strike for the last three months over several demands, including payment of wages. Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. (HPPCL) is constructing this power project through Patel Engineering Ltd., which has further sublet works to more than 20 local contractors. Among those involved in this construction work on sublet basis are a brother of local MLA and Deputy Speaker of Himachal Pradesh Assembly Jagat Singh Negi and some local leaders of INTUC who are brazenly violating labour laws under the shelter of the Congress government in the state.

Workers are not getting even minimum wages; no wage has been released for last about four months; employee provident fund (EPF) accounts have not been opened; despite working for more than 12 hours, they are getting wages only for 8 hours; workers are being denied their legal rights such as leave, medical facility, insurance and other allowances. Demanding immediate resolution to these issues, the workers affiliated to CITU are on strike at the Shong Thong-Karchham power project.

Rallies, dharna and a statewide bandh were organised on June 9 on the call of Himachal Pradesh CITU and incredible response was noticed in all the districts of the state. In state capital Shimla, thousands of workers from hotel industry, Indira Gandhi Medical College, Kamla Nehru Hospital, Vishal Megha Mart, Dhobi Union, Railway porters, Himalayan International School, rehdi phadi union, sewerage treatment plant workers union and sanatan dharmsabha assembled at Panchayat Bhawan and took out a rally to the state secretariat in Chhota Shimla, where agitators blocked the road for three hours. During this chakka jam protest, a minor scuffle broke out between the workers and police, in which couple of the workers received minor injury.

The protesters demanded implementation of labour laws in the Shong Thong power project and threatened the Congress government in state and the NDA government at the Centre to be prepared to face the wrath of the workers if such exploitations are not checked on time.

The protest was led by CITU general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Tapan Sen. It was attended by CPI(M) state committee member Kashmir Singh Thakur, state vice-president Rakesh Singha, Kisan Sabha state president Kuldeep Singh Tanwar, Shimla mayor Sanjay Chauhan and CITU state secretary Vijender Mehra among others.

The call for strike was completely successful in Rohru and Rampur of the Shimla district and it was also successful in Shong Thong-Karchham power project where a rally of hundreds of labourers was held at district headquarters Recongpeo.

In Bilaspur district, about 350 workers engaged in four-laning work of Kiratpur-Manali road also observed strike and workers from Ambuja and Jaypee cement plants, Shulooni University, L R Institute, Baddi and Parwanoo industrial areas of Solan district also came out on the roads in support of the struggle of Shong Thong-Karchham workers. Apart from these districts, huge support for this agitation was noticed from Hamirpur, Chamba, Mandi, Kullu, Sirmour and Kangra districts of Himachal Pradesh.

Prior to this statewide strike call, CITU-affiliated workers observed strike in all the under construction power projects in the state on May 26. On the call of the CITU state unit, workers courted mass arrest in solidarity with their comrades at Shong Thong from April 25 to April 29. On the occasion of May Day, hundreds of CITU workers courted arrest at Shimla Scandal Point in the support of workers of Shong Thong-Karchham power project.

The administration of Kinnaur district imposed prohibitory orders under CrPC Section 144 to crush the genuine agitation of the workers. It seems that the state government and the administration are not in favour of resolving the workers’ issue but interested in protecting the interests of company and the contractors who are violating the labour laws and creating unrest.

These three months, workers have been bravely fighting this agitation in spite of state- sponsored repression to crush the agitation. At many work sites, prohibitory orders have been imposed by the local administration to help the company management and the contractors but the workers have given the befitting response to that illegally imposition of CrPC Section 144 by raising the slogan like ‘mazdoor ekta zindabad’, ‘mazdooron ke andolan ko dabane ke liye lagai gei dhara 144 ka virodh karo’ and violated this section in protest.

Thousands of workers and employees throughout the state have courted mass arrests many a times in the support of Shong Thong-Karchham power project workers in the tribal district of Kinnaur of Himachal Pradesh. The Congress government is filling false affidavits in the High Court of Himachal Pradesh that EPF accounts of the workers have been opened by the company. However, EPFO has denied for the same.

During this ongoing struggle at Shong Thong-Karchham power project, CITU workers has exposed the state government and local MLA in front of common public for their wrongdoing. The local MLA is helping his brother for illegally bagging the contracts from company. The bunch of contractors who are also the leaders of local INTUC under the leadership of the MLA’s brother are threatening the workers on strike and trying to crush the strike. But the workers are firm on their legitimate demands and giving befitting reply to these hooligans.

There is no rule of law in the state and nexus of corrupt politician, contractors and capitalist is dominating the Congress government in the state. Both ruling and opposition parties are sharpening their petty politics and are busy in exchanging the interests of two families in the state and on the other hand, public is suffering immensely. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is embroiled in cases of corruption and a jungle raj is prevailing in the state.

The Himachal Pradesh state committee of CITU has assured the 889 struggling workers of Shong Thong-Karchham power project of help and is fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against the anti-workers and authoritarian attitude of the Congress government.