Ravi Kumar, a resident of Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh (UP), missed casting his vote back home on April 29 due to wheat harvesting season being at its peak in Punjab. Ravi, who has been working as a labourer at Jalandhar’s grain market for the past two decades, said:”My vote and my wife’s vote went waste despite our wish of casting our vote but we were helpless because this is the season when we get regular work and we can earn some money.”
He added that like for security forces, government should help labourers in casting their vote from the place where are working.
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Just like Ravi, Kanhaiya, a resident of Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh (UP), failed to vote for the fear of losing 10 work days. The election in his constituency was on May 6. “Barring four months of wheat, paddy harvesting and paddy planting season, rest of the year we just pull rikshaw or do some other irregular labour work,” he said.
Both Ravi and Kanhaiya earn around Rs 25000 each in a span of 40 days during the harvesting season that starts from April first week and continues till second week of May and involves loading-unloading of grain, cleaning, filling and stitching of grain bags.
With Punjab being the highest contributor of wheat to the central pool, there are many like these two who have missed exercising their right to vote.
There are 152 main mandies, over 1800 purchase centres across the state where around 170-180 lakh tonnes of wheat would be procured in this season out of which over 100 lakh tonnes has already been procured till date. There are around three lakhs labourers engaged in these mandies, and 99 per cent of them are migrants.
Sanjay Chaudhary of Samstipur in Bihar too could not cast his vote this time on April 29. “At first I thought of not coming to Punjab this year due to elections but my family condition forced me to come here and work,” he said, adding that “issi season hum chaar paise kama lete hain (this is the time when we earn some money).”
Sadashiv Jha and his brother, Gopal, too missed election day in Samatipur. Mihir Dass, a resident of Katihar in Bihar state and president of a labour union in Jalandhar grain market, said that he was supposed to reach in Jalandhar on April 1, but he came on April 19 after casting his vote a day earlier. “I lost over half month’s labour in this peak season just to cast my vote but not everyone cannot afford this.”
“We earn minimum Rs 500 a day during the harvest season and this amount helps us a lot back home,” said Durgesh, who has been working at Alawalpur grain market for the past five years and hails from from Murshidabad in West Bengal. Murshidabad voted on April 23.
“Thekedar (contractor) was even ready to pay us in advance because he was apprehending that due to election, large number of labourers would not come this time but there are only few who came little late after casting their vote in first phase otherwise all have come on time as our work will give us food,” said another labour Hira Lal from Asansol (West Bengal).
Another labourer Banwari Lal of Jaunpur in UP said that he will too miss his date with voting on May 12 because he had already taken advance from his contrcator.
Varanasi’s Ajay Kumar too has decided against going back to vote on May 19.
President of the Arhtiya Association Punjab, Vijay Kalra, said that due to delay in harvesting in Punjab some migrant labourers got the chance to cast their vote in the first phase of elections, but majority did not get this chance in the later phases.