Man v mon­u­ment

Peo­ple pay with jobs as gov­ern­ment cracks down on petha- mak­ing units

Down to Earth - - THE FORTNIGHT -

Hon­ey­bees and tourists hov­er­ing in petha shops is a com­mon sight across the bazaars of Agra. Af­ter Taj Ma­hal,A gra is fa­mous for petha, can­died ash gourd, sold dry, in syrup and other forms.But th­ese juicy de­lights are now fac­ing a threat. When a re­cent study pointed to dust and car­bona­ceous par­ti­cles dis­colour­ing the mar­ble ve­neer of the Taj, the au­thor­i­ties had a knee-jerk re­ac­tion. They asked petha- mak­ing units within an area spread over 10,400 sq km around the Taj to ei­ther switch from us­ing coal to lpg (liq­ue­fied petroleum gas) or shut shop, with­out en­sur­ing proper al­ter­na­tives.

Nearly 1,000 petha- mak­ing units ex­ist in Taj Trapez­ium Zone, ac­cord­ing to the data with the Agra Devel­op­ment Author­ity (ada) for 2011-12, the last time it es­ti­mated the num­ber. Ac­cord­ing to a De­cem­ber 2013 re­port by ada, ti­tled The Com­pre­hen­sive En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Plan for Taj Trapez­ium Zone Area, the av­er­age wood con­sump­tion in each petha unit is five kg per day, where as coal used is about four kg per hour. Thus, the to­tal daily con­sump­tion of all the petha units is es­ti­mated to be 500 kg wood and 4.7 tonnes of coal, which emit nearly 7.5 tonnes of CO2 a day. This is equiv­a­lent to the CO2 emis­sion by three diesel-run suvs in a month.

The man­u­fac­tur­ers have ap­plied for an lpg line. “But we have been told that it will take eight months.How can we stop work for so long? We’ll lose all the trained work­ers, ”says Shanu Ya­dav of Noori Dar­waza Petha Union. “This will ad­versely af­fect the petha in­dus­try for a long pe­riod.”

Many work­ers have al­ready lost their jobs. Shankar Lal, 46, had worked in the in­dus­try for 22 years. “I was earn­ing ` 9,000 a month till two months ago, ”he says. Now Lal is work­ing as a daily wage labourer in the fields of Khanda vil­lage, earn­ing a max­i­mum of ` 2,000 a month. Over 800 peo­ple have been ren­dered job­less in the vil­lage, which is just 40 km from the Agra city.

Raju Ya­dav, 22, and his fa­ther Bachchu Singh, 52, were also ren­dered un­em­ployed by the state gov­ern­ment’s re­cent ac­tions. They were work­ing in a small petha unit at Noori Dar­waza, the hub of petha mak­ing in the city. “We own two to three bigha of land (less than half a hectare). That is not suf­fi­cient for a fam­ily of six, ”says Ya­dav. Singh had been mak­ing the popular sweet of Agra for three decades, hav­ing risen from be­ing a helper to a kaari­gar (chief ).He does not know where to look for a job now. Lal, Ya­dav and Singh worked in small units that pro­duced 400-500 kg pet has a day, usu­ally em­ploy­ing 15 work­ers. When asked about loss of liveli­hood caused by the crack­down, ada of­fi­cials de­nied it and said they were merely fol­low­ing the 1996 judge­ment of the Supreme Court which barred burning coal in a 50 km ra­dius of the 363-year-old build­ing.

Avail­abil­ity of lpg is not the only is­sue. “Mak­ing petha with lpg costs ` 5-6 more per kg. It is an in­ex­pen­sive sweet; a sim­ple prepa­ra­tion costs ` 40-50 per kg. Sales of those man­u­fac­tur­ers who in­creased the price dipped, ”says Ya­dav of the union.

Petha mak­ers say they will lose skilled work­ers be­cause of the eight-month wait­ing pe­riod for new LPG con­nec­tions

Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion sham

ada has a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion plan for the petha mak­ers but that hardly ad­dresses their prob­lems.The civic author­ity has set up a Petha Na­gari at Kalindi Vi­har, some 18 km from the Taj Ma­hal. It has 156 plots, of which 92 have been sold, and 20-odd units have shifted there. “Even if all plots are taken, what will hap­pen to the re­main­ing 850 units? ”asks Ya­dav.

Kalindi Vi­har does not even have a gas con­nec­tion, which was the pri­mary rea­son petha man­u­fac­tur­ers were asked to shift in the first place. “I shifted here five years ago af­ter the gov­ern­ment promised lpg pipe­line. That has still not hap­pened .I have to make petha at a high cost and pay ex­tra for trans­port,” com­plains Pradeep Ku­mar, owner of Om Sai Petha Udyog. Their union has sub­mit­ted mem­o­ran­dums to the state gov­ern­ment for cheap fuel.

The site does not ful­fil one pri­mary need of petha- mak­ing—sweet wa­ter. The wa­ter in the area is salty. Pet has made in the area are not con­sid­ered tasty. “We are work­ing to bring qual­ity wa­ter and lpg pipe­line to Petha Na­gari,” says an ada of­fi­cial, re­quest­ing not to be named. Ku­mar says, “The Taj Ma­hal should be re­moved from Agra and taken else­where, so that peo­ple can live nor­mal lives.”

His­tory of high-hand­ed­ness

Petha mak­ers are not the only ones suf­fer­ing. Ever since the Supreme Court passed an or­der in 1996 to re­duce pol­lu­tion in Agra and sur­round­ing ar­eas to pro­tect In­dia’s star tourist at­trac­tion, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse has been typ­i­cal. It has gone about shut­ting in­dus­tries in Agra with­out prop­erly plan­ning al­ter­na­tive means of liveli­hood and en­sur­ing that the tran­si­tion to bet­ter tech­nol­ogy and man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices causes least pain to the peo­ple.

This has led to a sharp in­crease in the un­em­ploy­ment rate in the city. Ac­cord­ing to the 66th round of Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice, Agra was one of the top three cities that saw max­i­mum in­crease in un­em­ploy­ment rate in the 2000s. The rate in­creased from 0.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 5.5 per cent in 2009-10.When the re­lo­ca­tion of in­dus­tries from Taj Trapez­ium Zone was in dis­cus­sion in the mid-1990s, the city wit­nessed ag­i­ta­tions. “Taj hatao, Agra bachao (re­move the Taj, save Agra), ”shouted work­ers who took to the streets.

Agra was an industrial hub un­til the Supreme Court asked 292 units, ma­jor­ity of them foundries, to shift to gas fuel or re­lo­cate. Act­ing on the court ver­dict, ada started shut­ting down pol­lut­ing foundries and tan­ner­ies in the city. While the big foundries re­lo­cated to Etah, Firoz­abad and Hathras, the small ones were forced to shut shop. While the gov­ern­ment did not as­sess the im­pact of the 2001 shut­down, foundry as­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers claim that over 300,000 peo­ple were di­rectly and in­di­rectly af­fected by it. Gov­ern­ment data, how­ever, shows only 58,000 work­ers were em­ployed in the city’s foundry units be­fore the court ver­dict.

Twenty years on, the Jeevni Mandi area, the city’s foundry hub, still has no lpg con­nec­tion. The area that had over 180 units be­fore the crack­down has only 80 units to­day. Bab­u­lal Verma had set up a small unit in a room in his house in Jeevni Mandi. “I could not shift any­where else,” says Verma. Af­ter his unit shut down, he started work­ing in some­one else’s fac­tory which has switched to gas as fuel. “But my sons, who were also in­volved with our foundry, could not find any job.Our fam­ily in­come re­duced by one-fifth in those days,” Verma says. “Work­ers in many foundries went back to their vil­lages .”Atul Gupta, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Cham­ber of In­dus­try and Com­merce (ncic), Agra ,says gas tech­nol­ogy came to the city in 2005-06.“That was be­cause of the ef­forts of the in­dus­try, ”he adds .ncic is de­mand­ing sub­sidy on lpg in Agra.

Sul­lied her­itage

The con­di­tion of the res­i­dents of Taj Ganj, right out­side the Taj Ma­hal, also shows the cal­lous at­ti­tude of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.In the orig­i­nal plan of Shah Ja­han, Taj Ganj was an in­te­gral part of the Taj Ma­hal com­plex. It housed ar­ti­sans, was a mar­ket­place and had inns for trav­ellers. To­day the area is re­duced to a slum.

The once thriv­ing econ­omy of Taj Ganj is dod­der­ing. Its res­i­dent San­jay Ku­mar worked at a shoe fac­tory till 20 years ago. His fa­ther also worked in a fac­tory, while his mother helped with shoe-mak­ing at home. “I worked for a com­pany which ex­ported shoes. The fac­to­ries in the area closed down and shifted to other cities. Work­ers were not given any com­pen­sa­tion or re­ha­bil­i­tated, ”says Ku­mar.He now makes shoes in a room in his house for lo­cal con­sump­tion.

Ear­lier, fac­tory used to pro­vide the raw ma­te­rial and give a com­mis­sion of ` 10-15 per pair. He would earn ` 2,000 a week on mak­ing 400 shoes. “Now I have to buy the raw ma­te­rial my­self. The de­mand is not for more than 250 pairs a week which I sell at Hing ki Mandi mar­ket. My earn­ing is the same as it was 20 years ago, ”says Ku­mar.His mother still helps by stitch­ing shoes.

Taj Ganj, which should have ben­e­fit­ted from its her­itage be­gin­nings, faces many civic prob­lems.In many parts, res­i­dents are de­pen­dent on hand pumps for drink­ing wa­ter, and ground­wa­ter in Agra is con­tam­i­nated and high on flu­o­ride. San­i­ta­tion is a big prob­lem. “We are work­ing on a project in which we will iden­tify houses with­out toi­lets. Then, with the help of the gov­ern­ment, we will fund con­struc­tion of toi­lets,” says Monu Khan of non-profit cure In­ter­na­tional, which has been work­ing in the area to im­prove health, san­i­ta­tion and ed­u­ca­tion. “But the fi­nal push has to come from the gov­ern­ment for the whole of Taj Ganj, ”Khan says.

( With in­puts from Shirin Bithal)

A worker un­loads ash gourds that are dried to make pethas

Taj Ganj, which was an in­te­gral part of the Taj Ma­hal com­plex dur­ing Shah Ja­han's reign, to­day suf­fers from

acute ne­glect

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