A job that pays less than a rupee a day - nothing short of exploitation, you would say. But before comrades can rant at blood-sucking capitalists, here's a fact: it's the Marxist government in Bengal that has, for 30 years now, been paying around 150 contract workers the ridiculous sum of Rs 350 a year.
Their work: serving as many as 30 notices of water tax to households across four revenue divisions in Burdwan.
According to a letter written by Asim Chandra Mukhopadhyay, superintendent engineer of the Damodar Irrigation Circle, to the director of personnel & ex-officio chief engineer, irrigation and waterways department — a copy of which is with the Hindustan Times — the irrigation department engages the workers "every year on contract at the rate of 10 paisa for serving each notice." Their work doesn't end there. "Their services are utilised to assist the tehsildar for safe custody of government money and for other official work for a period of 5 to 6 months every year following Kharif, Rabi and Boro irrigation. They play an important role in the collection of water rates."
Mukhopadhyay, in the letter, has recommended that the workers be paid a fixed remuneration of Rs 2,000 per month".
According to Manoj Chakraborty, president of the State Government Employees' Federation, the practice dates back to the days of the Raj. "They travel miles every day to deliver the demand notices or collect water rates. And they get a pittance. The only reason they have stuck to the job is the hope of getting a permanent government job," he said.
Even though there are 1,200 Group-D posts lying vacant, the government hasn't obliged.
Irrigation minister Subhas Naskar promises to remedy the state of affairs soon. "We are trying to increase the price of water we provide to farmers to Rs 250 per bigha from the present Rs 12 to 15 per bigha. The finance department has approved our proposal. Once we increase the water rates, we'll also increase the salaries of the notice-servers. We have plans to pay them around Rs 1,500 per month," he said.