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JAP dharna at PWD office Kalijhora for NH 10

JAP dharna at PWD office Kalijhora for NH 10
An association of workers allegiant to the Jana Andolan Party today began an indefinite dharna in front of the public works department office at Kalijhora, demanding contractual employment and an end to the hiring of labourers from outside the hills to maintain NH10, the main road link between Sikkim/Kalimpong and Siliguri.
The dharna by around 100 people was being held under the banner of the Highway Jan Mazdoor Sangathan.
"We did not allow the office to function and work on the highway to take place. Our protest will continue till our demands are met," said Bishal Rai, the spokesman for Yuva Prakasta, the youth wing of JAP. He was speaking on behalf of the sangathan.
Kalijhora in Kurseong subdivision is about 40km from here.
The main demand of the sangathan is employment to over 900 workers who were engaged by the Border Roads Organisation for various works on the highway when it used to maintain the road. The BRO handed over the responsibility of maintaining the highway to the Bengal PWD in July at the directive of the Union ministry of road transport and highways.
Unlike the BRO which used to execute all types of work on the highway on its own and directly employ workers, the PWD engages local contractors to do the work. "The local contractors have not hired a single worker previously engaged by the BRO. They instead hire workers from outside, mainly the plains. We want the PWD to engage our workers - some of whom have been working on the highway since 1969 - on the same terms that the BRO used to hire," said Rai.
The BRO used to pay a worker with no skill a minimum of Rs 7,150 per month. Workers were also given medical facilities, bonuses and arrears.
"We were forced to resort to agitation since our pleas to the PWD authorities and district administration have elicited no response. We will also stage a demonstration in front of the office of the subdivisional officer, Kalimpong, tomorrow," said Rai.
A senior PWD official confirmed that no work could take place in the highway office, but work to fill up potholes at few places on the highway could be carried out.
"Unlike the BRO, we award contracts to private agencies to carry out all work, including purchase of materials. We can't change our style of functioning. We can at best request the agencies to engage former BRO workers. Even if they were to heed our request, the terms of employment, however, are unlikely to be on the lines of the BRO," said the official.
He said if the protest continued, the PWD could face problems in clearing debris brought onto the road by landslides.(TT)

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