Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Salty tears show hopeless situation in TN

N Ravikumar

CHENNAI, March 23: A large number of people involved in salt production are vulnerable, marginalised and survive in an extremely harsh working and living conditions, a situation analysis by the United Nations Development Programme has revealed.The report of the UNDP study on the socio-economic conditions of salt workers in Tamil Nadu said: “The annual income per household is in the range of Rs 10,000 with both husband and wife working. The ground realities reflect a high level of human and labour rights violation of the marginalised sections of the salt industry. Especially, the conditions of the women and children are serious areas of concern.”The approximate number of salt workers in Tamil Nadu was in the range of 60,000 people, the report said. Out of this, around 40,000 people worked directly in salt pans and the rest were involved in loading, packaging and transport of salt, it said.“The most marginalised and vulnerable segments in the salt value chain is salt workers engaged as labourers in salt pans and salt producers making salt in areas less than one acre of land, obtained through lease or sub-lease,” it noted.Another aspect revealed in the study was that most of them were from the socially disadvantaged groups like scheduled castes. The report also noted the salt work is seasonal, with limited off-season livelihood.“Indebtedness is very high. Credit system is taken from informal sources with high interest rates around 60 per cent per annum, in many cases,” it said.Child labour is reported, at a few locations, in the packaging and transportation of salt, the report said. Difference in wages paid to women and men for similar works was also found by the study. Access to formal education of children who accompanied their parents to the salt pans was limited.“The dwelling places of salt workers usually have poor access to sanitation and drinking water. Most workers have problems related to eye sight due to reflections of sunlight from the salt crystals.”“There are also many reported cases of skin diseases and urinary tract infections. In women gynaecological problems are common. Abortion is reported in many cases due to tremendous heat and continuously standing in salt water.”It also noted the salt industry was disaster-prone and experienced frequent threats of cyclones and high tidal waves. Even during tsunami rehabilitation work, most of the relief was availed by lease holders and large producers and very little or no benefit reached the workers, the report added.While these workers toil under the scorching sunlight to add salt and make our food delicious, salty tears fill their eyes everyday, without any hope of a better tomorrow.

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