Govt seeks report after migrants line up in Kodagu

Karnataka govt seeks report after migrants line up in Kodagu

Migrant workers waiting for document verification in Madikeri. DH photo

A day after the Kodagu police made thousands of migrant labourers, most of them from Assam and West Bengal, stand in line to get their documents verified, the Department of Labour has sought a report into the incident over alleged violation of labour rights, even as activists lashed out at the exercise.

Anti-immigrant sentiments have been on the rise in the district over the last few months, and they hit a new high following media frenzy over the presence of “extremists” at Gonikoppa in south Kodagu.

Amid the paranoia, Kodagu Superintendent of Police Suman D Pennekar initiated a document verification process. However, unlike previous years, the police did not go to the spot to verify the documents but summoned migrant workers to a verification centre, made them stand in line to get their documents verified online.

Asked about the violation of labour rights, Labour Department Principal Secretary P Manivannan said, “The department has sought a report from the Kodagu SP. Any corrective measures required will be taken after looking into the report.” 

“Over 5,000 workers lined up at verification centres in Kushalnagar, Gonikoppa and Madikeri. However, it is not anything related to Citizenship (Amendment) Act or the National Register of Citizens (NRC). This is a routine exercise taken up by the department,” a senior police officer said.

Senior police officials also said they had made arrangements for workers to get it verified online. “From transportation to food, all facilities were arranged by the plantation owners and the police,” said a police officer.

Activists, however, alleged that the migrant labourers were harassed because they belonged to a particular community. P R Bharat, a labour leader, questioned the method adopted for the verification process. 

“Plantation owners should have taken up the responsibility of verification,” Bharat said. “Why force poor labourers to stand in queue for the entire day? In Gonikoppa and Siddapura, I saw some labourers coming out at 9 pm. I want to ask whether they would be subjected to such verification had they not belonged to a minority community.” 

Bharat noted that the government had failed to ensure minimum wage for the workers. “We do not see such a hurry by any department in ensuring the welfare-related rules are enforced. Some miscreants spread fear and we have an entire machinery ready to do things in a day,” he said.

Former minister and senior politician M C Nanaiah said, “Police verification was needed. But it is the responsibility of plantation owners to check the antecedents of labourers.”

DH could not reach the SP despite several attempts.