Of ‘Gita’ and Labour


Even as the mainstream media is busy debating whether or not the Gita should be declared as the national scripture as has been pushed for by the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on the occasion of "Gita Prerna Mahotsav", nobody is bothering to cover the ongoing agitation of the workers of Gita Press, Gorakhpur, which happens to be the world's largest publisher of Hindu religious texts. On 3rd December, the next day after "Gita Jayanti", the birth anniversary of Gita which was celebrated this year with much fanfare, around 500 workers of Gita Press held a symbolic demonstration to press for their longstanding demand of the implementation of labour laws. After the continued apathy of management towards these demands, the workers were left with no other option but to choose the path of agitation.

There are around 500 workers in Gita Press consisting of 185 permanent and around 315 contract/casual workers. The workers have to do strenuous work for long hours and they are paid very low wages. Not only this, they are even asked to work for one hour without any wages as a gesture of service to religion as part of what is termed as "seva bhaav". These workers have to work in an atmosphere full with dust. In absence of any safety provisions there are frequent accidents in which the workers suffer grievous injuries. The workers do not even get the stipulated 30 days of paid leave.

The condition of contract workers and casual workers are particularly harsh. They get Rs 4500 per month as wages while they are asked to sign on Rs 8000 per month, the minimum wages being fixed by the government, they are not even given a payslip. They do not get the facilities such as double rate overtime, PF, ESI, Gratuity as stipulated in the Contract Labour Act 1971.

The workers have been raising these issues at the management level for years, but of no avail. They even approached the district administration to ensure the implementation of the labour laws. The District Magistrate ordered the DLC to resolve the matter. When the talks between the workers and management began in the presence of DLC, the DLC stated that he was only responsible for ensuring a compromise and not for implementing any government directive. He asked the workers to approach the court. The truth, however, is that the workers had already approached the court and the High Court had given its verdict in favour of the workers as early as on 23 December 2010. Clearly the DLC is hand-in-glove with the management.

Below are the main demands of the agitating workers of Gita Press:
1)    The foremost demand of the workers at Gita Press is that they must get the same wages as that of the workers of another sister concern at Rishikesh in Uttarakhand who are paid more than the minimum wages fixed by the Uttarakhand government which includes Rs 1000 as housing allowance, 10 percent annual salary increment and special annual salary increment of Rs 100.
2)   Implementation of all the labour laws relating to PF, ESI, double rate overtime, Gratuity etc. for all the workers.
3)   All the employees must get 30 days of paid leave annually. Currently some of them get 21 days of paid leave while some others get 27 days of paid leave.
4)   Proper safety devices should be given to them and arrangement must be made so that they don't have to lose their hands and fingers or fall sick due to dust.
5)   Since the trustees are siphoning off the workers’ arrears to fund their private businesses, the government must dissolve the corrupt trust that manages Gita Press and take over the management by appointing its receiver and handing over the responsibility of the administration of the trust to the District administration.

The workers charge that even though the management of Gita Press claims that it runs on no profit-no loss model, in reality it is amassing huge wealth by exploiting them. Under the garb of spreading religion and morality, it is actually running a highly profitable commercial venture which has enriched the coffers of the trustees even as the workers continue to live miserable life.

Vol. 47, No. 26, Jan 4 - 10, 2015