By: Sushant Kulkarni
The recent attack on a labour contractor in Kalyani Nagar has again highlighted the presence of criminals in several unions of Mathadi workers — manual labourers who load and unload trucks — and drawn attention to the alleged police inaction. Transporters claimed that several unions of Mathadi workers, which have support from political parties, hold them to ransom and extort money. Social activists said police hesitate to take action against them because of political pressure and other vested interests.
On March 11, Anwar Pathan, a Mathadi union member, was shot at in the basement of a mall in Kalyani Nagar. Police suspect the attack to be a fallout of rivalry between Mathadi unions over supremacy in the area.
Pune district has around 30,000 Mathadi workers, according to the estimates by NGOs and police. According to the Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal and other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act, 1969, these labourers need to be registered with welfare boards in all districts and should be given identity cards.
Several traders, building contractors, shopkeepers, small and medium scale industries in areas like Kalyani Nagar, Bhosari, Pimpri, Hinjewadi, Maldhakka, Market Yard and also those in Chakan and Ranjangaon said Mathadi workers’ unions — which have been taken over by politically connected goons — demand money from them and stall work if they don’t pay up.
Police, on the other hand, said Mathadi workers are not involved in extortion but local goons have infiltrated their ranks and call the shots in the unions.
Nitin Pawar of the Hamal Panchayat and Bandhkam Mazdoor Sangh said, “Extortion by Mathadi unions is a known fact and police never look into it. Hamal Panchayat has registered several complaints against such unions, but no action is taken. Most of these unions are not registered and have support from political parties. We believe police avoid taking action due to vested interests and pressure from local goons. Because of them, other unions who do genuine work are seen in the same light.” He added, “How many cops even know the Mathadi Act? There have been cases where fake receipt books of Mathadi unions have been used for cheating traders.”
A police officer said, “Several dreaded criminals on police records run many such unions. Baba Bodke has been active in this. Sandeep Mohol, who was recently murdered, was leading a Mathadi union. In what way are these people labourers?”
“These goons even approach the industries and building contractors demanding that their workers be taken on roll. But these workers are never given money; it is sent to the union leaders. Many of the so-called union leaders travel in luxury cars and have bought plush properties. Many unions have donation books and extort money in the name of welfare funds. Only the real workers suffer in such a scenario. Political parties support these unions as the goons have hold over certain areas and can get votes from the labourers,” said another police officer.
Several traders said the union goons stall work, damage goods and threaten workers and staffers.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone IV) Manoj Patil said, “We have registered some cases in the past and agree that they are not enough. But the real problem is that the traders don’t come forward with complaints. We assure traders that their identities will be protected if they approach us.”
‘There is industrial unrest, unprotected workers suffering’
Anant Sardeshmukh, Director General of Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, said: “We have been proposing an amendment to the Mathadi Act, which includes a new definition of Mathadi or manual workers. The goondaism by these so-called unions has been a menace for a long time and has been causing industrial unrest.” He added, “When the issue escalated in areas like Chakan and Talegaon, police had filed complaints and cops had taken some steps. But the action was not continued because of poor police strength.
Not just in industries, these unprotected workers are in railway dockyards, markets, construction sites and godowns. They never get any benefits and suffer. These gangs stand outside these establishments and demand money.
This has not changed for a long time.” A 35-year-old labourer, who migrated from a village in Jalna to Pune three years ago and works with a transporter of construction goods, said: “We know of the Act, but don’t know what it means. We don’t want to go against the goondas.”