By P. Sreekumaran
‘Nokkukooli’ – the practice of charging for no work and exorbitant charges for loading and unloading works – continues to have Kerala in its stranglehold despite assertions to the contrary by the Pinarayi Vijayan Government.
The LDF Government had declared that the infamous practice would be done away with from May 1 this year. And all the trade unions had pledged their support to end this unethical practice, followed by them for years in the state, at a meeting convened by the Chief Minister to discuss the issue.
Ironically, the victim in the latest instance of ‘Nokkukooli’ extortion has been none other than a panchayat ruled by the ruling CPI(M) itself! The Peruvembu gram panchayat in Palakkad district, at the receiving end, had to shell out double the normal amount to unload over 100 wooden cots to be distributed to the poor and senior citizens of the panchayat.
One should have thought that the CITU head load workers would show a lenient attitude in view of the fact that the panchayat is being ruled by the CPI(M). But that was not to be. The CITU workers simply refused to relent and insisted on the ‘Nokkukooli’ being paid. The workers reportedly demanded payment of Rs 5,500 for unloading 110 cots. The driver of the mini lorry who refused to make the payment was threatened by the workers.
The issue was resolved following the intervention of the gram panchayat president, and the workers unloaded the cots at Rs 40 per piece instead of the Rs 25.75 fixed by the Labour Department.
If this is the experience of a panchayat ruled by the CPI(M) one can imagine the hardships being faced by ordinary people on account of such unethical and illegal extortion in the name of ‘Nokkukooli’.
Incidentally, the State police chief had recently sought, through a circular, an explanation from district police chiefs for their failure to take action on a large number of complaints about the ‘nokkukooli’ menace. The circular was said to be part of a concerted effort to end the menace as also the practice of supplying labourers at work sites for a commission.
The abolition of ‘nokkukooli’ is also a part of the drive to ensure that Kerala is an investor-friendly state and enhance its position in the ease of doing business ranking. The continuing practice of ‘nokkukooli’ also goes against the freedom given by the industrial policy to organisations and entrepreneurs to engage workers of their choice.
Conviction rate is poor in view of the fact that most complainants refuse to register their complaints for fear of reprisals from the head load workers. All that they do at present is to call up the police or the labour officers. This fear psychosis is being exploited to persist with the nefarious practice of ‘nokkukooli’ and extraction of commission for supplying workers.
Will the practice come to an end from May 1 this year as promised by the Government? That is the big question uppermost in the minds of the people, who have suffered a lot due to the prevalence of ‘nokkukooli’. Meanwhile, the Government is considering a proposal to help labourers who lose their jobs because of the introduction of latest technology. (IPA Service)