|08 August 2004|
|Women Beedi Workers||Labour & Employment|
‘TAJ MAHAL’ OF WOMEN BEEDI WORKERS – A SAGA OF SELF HELP
Ten thousand women beedi workers of Solapur in Maharashtra would be soon proud owners of their own houses. Fatima Bai, one of the beneficiaries, describes it as a dream coming true. Shantubhai Panibai of Swagat Nagar adds, "It is a ‘Mahal’ for us." Another beneficiary at Data Nagar calls her new house "Swarg Se Sunder (more beautiful than heaven) ".
No doubt, the small one-room-kitchen tenements would be their beautiful ‘palaces’ given the wretched conditions they live in at present. The beedi workers along with their families live in small 6’ by 8’ dark shanty shelters with no electricity or water supply. Living in miserable filthy conditions, most of them have to part away with a sizeable part of their hard-earned wages to pay for rent, which they can barely afford. Their miseries are compounded as their male members are out of job with several local textile mills having gone sick.
Each women beedi worker rolls daily around 1200 beedis and earns about Rs. 1500/- a month. Emerging as bread winners for their families during the last ten years, it is remarkable for these busy women workers to have spared time to wage a struggle for better living conditions. Credit goes to former MLA Shri Narsayya Adam who mobilised them under cooperative housing society called Godutai Parulekar mahila Beedi Kamgar Sahakari Grih Nirman Sanstha Maryadit. Their efforts bore fruit in 1998 as the project for construction of 10 thousand low cost houses began to shape. Soon the Centre and State Governments acted as facilitators for the project by arranging land and providng subsidies.
The notable feature of the projects is that a private construction company headed by a Solapur resident Shri Phande came forward to meet the challenge of constructing 10,000 low-cost houses. Within a short span of four years, the construction began on 450 acres of land at Khumbari on the Southern fringe of Solapur city. The layout has been designed for an average population of 70,000 with houses organised in groups of clusters. Each group consists of 100 houses located in 25 clusters.
More than half of the 51.36-sq. metres of land allotted for each house have been left as open space. Each house, which is approachable by a 3 metre wide road, has a living room, a kitchen, bathroom and latrine. The unique feature of the project is that design changes were made on the suggestions of the beneficiaries. Dome shaped shell roof was changed into a flat one to facilitate vertical expansion in future. Similarly, a huge shaft has been provided in kitchen to be used for sleeping purpose.
8,700 houses are ready. The remaining 1,300 houses are in various stages of completion.
The housing complex will have commercial and institutional areas besides amenity and service centres and playgrounds for which space has been appropriately provided. It includes a 150-bed hospital for which Labour Ministry will provide Rs. One crore for purchase of modern diagnostic equipment. The group clusters of houses are served by 4.5 m, 6 m., 7.5 m., 9 m., and 12 m. wide roads being constructed at a cost of Rs. 6 crore.
Zila Parishad, Solapur under Employment Guarantee Scheme, has constructed the main approach road from Khumbari to Neelam Nagar. Another approach road from Akkalkot road to Hotgi road is under construction.
The potable water supply Scheme has been sanctioned by the Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran. It consists of two elevated storages reservoirs, sump and distribution network to feed two tanks of 250 litres each installed at individual houses. The State Government has been approached for grant of Rs. 8 crore for drainage work on which work is expected to begin soon.
Maharashtra State Electricity Board has provided Rs. 3.75 crore for electricity supply infrastructure which consists of a sub-station, transformers, 33 KV /11 KV lines and 380 street lights.
The Central and Maharashtra Governments have provided Rs. 25.50 crore on 50:50 basis to meet subsidy component of Rs. 20,000 by each Government for individual house with remaining Rs. 20,000 contributed by the beneficiary.
The Labour and Employment Minister Shri Sis Ram Ola during his visit to the project announced increase in central subsidy for construction of houses to beedi workers from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 40,000. This is expected to help the remaining beedi workers at Solapur in having a house as they could not, for various reasons, be proud owners of houses in the present scheme. Another project consisting of 20 to 30 thousand low cost houses is envisaged for them. Solapur has about 75,000 beedi workers out of whom 60,000 are registered.
The increase in subsidy coupled with raise in the income eligibility criteria from Rs. 3500 per month to Rs. 6500 is also expected to stimulate coming up of such projects elsewhere in the country.
The Solapur low cost Housing Project, described as the biggest of its kind in Asia, is a wonderful experiment in public-private participation. It has been powered by the collective effort of extremely poor women. They have already started pouring in here in leisure time with their families. The man behind the movement Shri Narsayya Adam proudly says, "It is their Taj Mahal."
*PIB Features Unit