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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Drought drives Rajasthan job hunt
Woman in parched field in Rajasthan
This is the fourth year the monsoon has failed

In Jaipur, the capital of India's western state of Rajasthan, there is normally a shortage of manual labourers during the monsoon season.


I promised to my children that I would bring something for them to eat in the evening, but I am empty-handed

Rajasthan villager
Men and women leave the city in droves and return to their villages to help with the harvest.

But a failure of the monsoon for the fourth year in a row has changed all that as one of India's worst droughts in years ravages the region.

Instead of leaving the city, villagers have started pouring into Jaipur in search of work to feed their desperate families.

At the city's 35 chokaris - gathering points at crossroads where labourers assemble to get daily work - the numbers are becoming overwhelming.

'Alarming' figures

Harkesh Bugalia, the leader of the Nirman Mazdoor Union which represents daily labourers, says the increase in people looking for work is alarming.

Farmer in Rajasthan
Villagers are heading to the city in desperation

"Many of them do not have anything to eat as they are totally new to the city and no one will lend them money," he said.

According to Kavita Srivastva, a spokeswoman for the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), some 20,000 people showed up at the chokaris last month.

This month the figure has risen to 30,000.

"It is an indication that the next few months will be very crucial for us," she said.

The Rajasthan government has declared all 41,000 villages in the state's 32 districts "scarcity hit".

And rights groups like the PUCL, along with the unions, are calling for urgent action.

Desperation

The Nirman Mazdoor Union recently organised a meeting with social and rights groups to hear the stories of the villagers.

Dried out well
Large-scale relief is yet to get under way

Weeping inconsolably, migrant Sita Devi said she had begged a contractor to give her just one day's work.

"I pleaded before him that my four children were waiting for a meal," said the 50-year-old.

But the contractor told her she would not be as efficient as younger female workers.

"I promised to my children that I would bring something for them to eat in the evening, but I am empty-handed," she said, her voice cracking.

Under pressure from the unions and other NGOs, the state government has agreed to distribute 500kg of wheat each to all 9,000 village council offices in the state.

It has also distributed five kilograms of wheat each to a group of labourers who had come to the city from the villages.

Social activists have started a public kitchen for workers from affected areas.

But large-scale relief work is yet to begin.

See also:

31 Jul 02 | Business
26 Jul 02 | South Asia
26 Jul 02 | South Asia
17 Jul 02 | South Asia
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