THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The stale functioning of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) depots in the district is no secret. Emulating last year’s state of affairs, FCI has again run into controversy. This time, it is the agitation of the labourers who are demanding an extra amount as ‘attimari kooli’ that is derailing the smooth functioning of the depots at Kazhakkoottam and Valiyathura. As a result, most of the ration shops in the district have run out of supply.
Owing to lack of cooperation by the labourers, as alleged by the wholesale ration dealers, movement of grains has nosedived this month. Of the total 1,600 loads allotted for the month of February, only less than 300 loads have been despatched.
All-India Ration Dealers’ Association national general secretary Babychan Mukkadan said the stalemate has been on since February 1. ”The workers at FCI are demanding an increase in their ‘attimari kooli’, which excludes the regular pay they receive. The practice of demanding ‘attimari kooli’ is prohibited by law and FCI headquarters has issued a circular banning it. But still it continues unabated,” he said. The FCI labourers are paid Rs 400 for a load as ‘attimari kooli’. Though illegal, the labourers have been enjoying this ‘perk’ for the last five years. Neither the FCI officials nor the ration dealers have made their complaints in this regard public. It is in this context that the labourers raised their voice for a revised ‘kooli.’ The ‘kooli’ was unanimously set as Rs 500. When the ration dealers declined to pay the amount, it was alleged that the labourers had reduced the lifting of grains.
”Usually, I take 205-210 sacks in a load. But since we declined their demand of a hike in ‘kooli’, they have curtailed the load to 190 sacks. This means we have to shell out extra money for transportation,” a wholesale dealer said.
Talks are on to solve the issue, but none of them have yielded results. The deliberations with Minister V S Sivakumar was the latest in the series. The labourers finally settled for Rs 450 as ‘kooli.’ But the retail dealers turned down the offer and said that they could afford only Rs 425. This led to the failure of the talks. Meanwhile, FCI officials are playing down the crisis as a duel between labourers and ration dealers. ”FCI is certainly not a part of the crisis. What we can do is to ask for a special extension to prolong the date of lifting which, otherwise, would end by February 20,” said Valiyathura Depot manager Santha Kumar.