Monday, 26 March 2007

Ugadi and Telugu Muslim poets

By Syed Akbar
Ugadi, the Telugu new year, is synonymous with "Kavi Sammelan" or poetic
gatherings. Telugu writers and poets, both famous and budding, gather
together and

recite their poetry with verses that touch upon the various phases of life
in a human being. The concept of holding Kavi Sammelan on the auspicious
day of Ugadi is as

old as the Telugu language and culture. The art got its perfection during
the regime of Emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya of the famous Vijayanagara
kingdom. And since

then there's no looking back for the Telugu poetry.
Though a majority of Muslims in Andhra Pradesh are Urdu-speaking, there
has been no major Ugadi Sammelan without the participation of Telugu
Muslim poets.

Telugu Muslim poets have always been the part of Ugadi Kavi Sammelans
right from the days of the Vijayanagara empire. With more and more Muslims
learning

Telugu and penning verse in the language, the modern day Ugadi Kavi
Sammelans have undergone a seachange both in the outlook and the content.
Before

Independence and for a couple of decades thereafter, Ugadi Sammelans were
dominated by poets from a particular caste. Of late, there have been poets
even from

the Dalit communities rubbing shoulders with upper caste poets. Muslim
poets have made a mark of their own in Ugadi Sammelans with their unique
flavour of

national integration and communal harmony interspersed with the demand for
the rights of the principal minority community. There are over 80 Telugu
Muslim poets

and scores of poetry books have been published.
"We all celebrate our birthdays. Time too has its birthday. And the
birthday of Time falls on Ugadi. Ugadi is not just a new year. It is the
beginning of an era, the era

that heralds a new phase in our life. It is a wrong notion that Ugadi is a
festival of Hindus. It is not the new year of Hindus. It is the new year
of Telugus, all those born

in the Telugu land - Andhra Pradesh. Ugadi is as much an occasion for
celebrations for Telugu Hindus as much for Telugu Muslims. Visit any
village and you will find

both Muslims and Hindus celebrating the new year," observes eminent poet
and author Khadar Mohiuddin.
Kavi Sammelans too have undergone a change with the change in time.
Earlier, Ugadi Sammelans were limited to reciting verses on Ugadi and
related subjects. Now

the Sammelans have attained a broader outlook with "feminism", "Dalitism"
and "Muslimism" dominating such gatherings. "Our ancestors started
organising Kavi

Sammelans on Ugadi as part of their programme to encourage various arts.
Like the Ugadi pacchadi (pickle made of jaggery, raw mangoes and neem
fruits and

flowers), life is full of happiness (sweetness), troubles (bitterness) and
comfort (sourness). Krishnadevaraya encouraged various forms of art like
dance, poetry,

paintings and singing and the artistes got the opportunity to express
their expertise on the Ugadi. Now this festival has given Muslims, Dalits
and women an

opportunity to express their views and problems and share them with the
rest of society," points our writer-journalist Syed Naseer Ahmed.
The Muslim pioneers of Ugadi Sammelans were Devi Priya (Khaja Hussain),
Afsar, Kaumudi, MK Sugam Babu (Mahboob Khan), Umar Ali Shah, Dilawar,
Ismail,

Yakoob, Khadar Mohiuddin, Ghulam Ghouse, SA Rawoob, SM Mallick, Qadeer
Babu and Khadar Khan. The torch is now being carried forward by the likes
of

Khwaja, Sky Baba (Shaik Yusuf Baba), Wahed, Soujanya (Muhammad
Naseeruddin) and Iqbal Chand. There are Telugu Muslim poetess too, of the
likes of

Mahjabeen and Shahjahana. The State government has honoured Mahjabeen with
the Ugadi Puraskar (award) for Telugu literature. These Muslim poets have
carved

out a niche for themselves with their unique style and rendition of the
Telugu poetry.
"Ugadi enlivens our spirits," says Yakoob, a veteran of Kavi Sammelans.
"Now there has been Muslimisation of Ugadi to some extent. Ugadi stands as
the best

example of the joint cultural heritage of Hindus and Muslims. If there is
any festival, other than Ugadi, which brings Muslims and Hindus together,
it is Muharram.

During Muharram Hindu poets recite poetry in praise of the Islamic martyrs
Hazrat Imam Hassan and Hazrat Imam Hussain. Many do not know that our
festivals

bond people together and occasions like Ugadi and Muharram further
strengthen those bonds," adds Yakoob.
There are occasions when Telugu Muslim poets stood apart from the rest of
the poets at Kavi Sammelans. "It is the love of the language that makes
our hearts speak

out. And what occasion is more appropriate than Ugadi to share our views
to the heart content, remembering the hoary past of Andhra and paving the
way for a

Swarna (golden) Andhra Pradesh," says Yusuf Baba, more popular as Sky Baba.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Srirama Navami: Bhadrachalam shrine symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity


March 25, 2007
By Syed Akbar

The famous Bhadrachalam shrine dedicated to Sri Rama stands as the best symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. Perhaps, no other temple in the country has such a long tradition of religious unity and cultural integration as Sri Rama temple in the sleepy town of Bhadrachalam on the banks of the river Godavari in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Right from its construction in the 17th century CE, Bhadrachalam Sri Rama temple has witnessed several unparalleled incidents of communal harmony. After the temple was constructed by Kancharla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhakta Ramdas, then Muslim ruler Abul Hasan Tanesha became an ardent devotee of Sri Rama. He started the tradition of sending pearls as royal offerings to the temple. The tradition continued till the last Muslim ruled over Hyderabad State. After Independence, the State government has taken up the responsibility of sending the offerings.
Even now the temple gates open early in the morning only after a Muslim musician plays the "Nadaswaram" (a musical instrument akin to Shehnai). The temple has three Muslim Nadaswaram artistes and the head artiste Shaik Hussain leads all the special pooja programmes. His presence is a must on important occasions like Mokkoti Ekadasi and Sriramanavami.
Shaik Hussain has the rare honour of participating in "Samrajya Pattabhishekam" which is held once in 60 years. The other two Muslim Nadaswaram artistes Shaik Moula Saheb and Shaik Khasim Babu join Hussain in all the religious ceremonies at the temple.
"Hussain is a great Nadaswaram musician and hails from a traditional family of Nadaswaram artistes. He wakes up the Lord in Bhadrachalam as Ustad Bismillah Khan did in Kasiviswanath temple in Varanasi," says C Raghupathi, joint commissioner of Endowments Department.
Hussain and other Muslim Nadaswaram artistes of Bhadrachalam follow the "Chilakaluripet gharana" or tradition which consists exclusively of Muslim pipers. Like the Shehnai which is popular in the north, the Nadaswaram is a famous classical instrument down the Vindhyas. Playing Nadaswaram needs special expertise. Incidentally, it is the world's loudest non-brass acoustic instrument.
Hussain is the fifth generation Nadaswaram Vidwan. He learnt the nuances of playing the instrument from his father Saida Saheb and guru Lal Saheb. He is the last artiste in his family tradition as his two sons have chosen to be engineers rather than Nadaswaram Vidwans.
None of the Muslim artistes do not find any problem playing Nadaswaram as an offering to Sri Rama even while discharging their religious obligations as Muslims.
"We offer Namaz regularly and fast during the month of Ramadhan. Soon after taking Saher during the holy month we proceed to the temple to play Nadaswaram to wake up the presiding deity. We break the fast and continue our service in the temple," says Hussain.
The State government has honoured Hussain with Ugadi Puraskar on the occasion of Telugu new year on March 19.
Muslim Nadaswaram artistes are also employed at Kodanda Ramalayam and Shivalayam in Guntur district. The Nadaswaram tradition runs primarily among "Dudekula" Muslim community, which is classified as a "backward class" in Andhra Pradesh. A notable feature of this Muslim group is that they speak Telugu, unlike a majority of Muslims in the State whose mother tongue is Urdu.
The Nadaswaram art was taken to its perfection by late Shaik Chinna Moulana, quite popular in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Moulana also hailed from the "Dudekula" Muslim community.
"As dedicated artistes we pay our obeisance to the presiding deity in temples and as devout Muslims we pray to Allah. We believe that there's only one Lord Almighty, though the approach routes to Him are different. No religion teaches hatred," observes Shaik Moula Saheb.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Medasani Mohan: The Avadhani par excellence

March 25, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Every language has its unique literary excellence and scholars vie with one another to reach it. The literary summit for Telugu, the second most spoken language of India, is "Avadhanam". Though the history of Telugu language is as old as the Christian era, only a handful of Telugu scholars have made a mark in this unique literary feat.
"Avadhanam" is a great art of remembrance. It tests the memory and retention power of a scholar. "Avadhanam" is unique to Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit but during the last 50 years this literary feat has been limited to Telugu.
Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Annamacharya Project director Medasani Mohan the other day became the first Telugu scholar to complete the feat of "Pancha Sahasra Avadhanam", when he successfully encountered over 1000 scholars and experts (Pruchchakas), answering instantaneously a whopping 5000 (pancha sahasra) questions in metered verse.
All through he strictly followed the "Chandassu" (syntax for poems), which is mandatory. Mohan by answering the questions of 5009 typical pundits in poetic form has left everyone in Andhra Pradesh in wonder. The programme was organised by Rasamayi Cultural Organisation and the Department of Culture, Government of Andhra Pradesh from February 18 to March 20.
This is also the first time that an Avadhanam was performed with 1000 scholars, each posing five questions or problems. Just imagine. Hundreds of people sitting around and posing questions ranging from dirty politics to noble philanthropy and from crazy cricket to jet-age space technology.
Medasani Mohan answered all the 5009 questions posed to him by people drawn from various walks of life. Not in prose form. But in verse and that too in metered verse.
A person who encounters eight Pruchchakas is an "Ashta" (eight) Avadhani and 1000 Pruchchakas is a "Sahasra Avadhani". Mohan has surpassed this and achieved the rare title of "Pancha Sahasra Avadhani". The task before Medasani Mohan, the "Pancha Sahasra Avadhani" (the scholar who has performed Avadhanam with 5000 scholars each posing one question or 1000 scholars each posing five questions) was not easy.
Mohan had to answer the questions in poetic form in the manner and style suggested by the scholars who came up with the queries or literary problems.
For instance if the person posing the question wants the answer using or deleting certain words, the Avadhani must oblige. If the Avadhani fails to reply in poetry using the words offered to him, he does not qualify for the literary feat.
The literary questions consisted of a description given in prose and the Avadhani expressed them as a poem. He was also asked to construct only a particular type of poem/s. Mohan had succeeded in this gigantic task.
"Avadhanam is not an easy job. It is not just the art of remembrance. The Avadhani has to be a great scholar, a master in Telugu language, its culture, traditions, besides being well-versed in day-to-day affairs. Even while the questions are posed to and issues brought before the Avadhani, a person goes on ringing a bell to distract the attention. At times, 10 people pose questions one after another and the Avadhani has to answer the questions in the serial order, all the 10 at a time. If the persons posing questions want the Avadhani to answer the question No. 2 first and No. 8 last, the Avadhani has to oblige," says Dr Yelluri Siva Reddy, who co-ordinated Mohan's Avadhanam.
Mohan completed the Avadhanam in a record 30 days. At the end of the programme, he recited some of the select padhyams (poems) which he composed instantaneously in the past 30 days. And here lies the test for the memory power of the Avadhani.
"It is an oral tradition. Nothing is recorded or written down. The Avadhani has to remember whatever he had said during the course of the programme so that he could recite it during the "Dharana" or retention test conducted at the end of the Avadhanam. Mohan recited 5009 Telugu padhyams instantaneously for the questions posed to him. He composed a padhyam in a record time of 17 seconds," points out senior scholar Dr T Srinivasacharyulu.
The major challenge before the Avadhani was that he should not recite the entire poem in a single go. After listening to a question, he has to construct the first line of the poem, recite it and move on to the next question. After the questions session is over, the Avadhani has to recite one line of poem each and return to the first question in a round-Robin fashion before continuing with the second line of the poem. Since each poem has four lines, Mohan returned to each of the questioners or Pruchchakas four times, one line of the poem each time.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Bio-fuels to light up cities

By Syed Akbar
Municipal waste could be utilised to generate power to light up small
cities with half a million population.
Power from municipal wastes and other waste bio-products, if utilised
properly, will solve the problem of power shortage and save a lot for small municipalities in terms of electricity bills.
Hyderabad-based Administrative Staff College of India advisor Dr P
Radhakrishna says bio-fuels programme like that of bio-diesel should be centred around decentralised power generation to meet the energy requirements of the local community for agricultural operations. It could also be used to light up
cities, particularly for streetlights.
He also suggests village-based small power plants to over come shortage of
power. "This will not only solve the power problem but also solve the problem of disposal of municipal and bio-wastes. Our cities, towns and villages will be clean and get power from clean sources. There will be no pollution," he points
out.
Dr Radhakrishna is of the view that a technical task force should be
formed for orderly and time-bound promotion of vegetable oils as a source of energy for decentralised applications and a nationally-acceptable and well-coordinated production programme for bio-fuels.
The concept of bio-fuels was first designed in the country five years ago
and yet it is in a nascent stage, requiring governmental and public support to push India into a health power generation regime. Brazil and the USA as also China have taken a lead in this area and India is still at the planning stage. There's a
tremendous potential for bio-fuel energy in the county.
According to Dr Radhakrishna, bio-fuels have many advantages over conventional fuels. The bio-fuels can be produced locally and it creates a large employment potential even at the village level. They have a lower impact on environment.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Swami Ayyappa: Hyderabad boy plays the lead role in tele serial

By Syed Akbar
The popular TV serial on Swami Ayyappa will be extended by another 70 episodes with the Hyderabadi boy Kaushik Babu, who plays the lead role, creating a wave of sensation with his acting skills. The serial is being telecast in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
It took nearly one year for the makers of the teleserial to zero in on the boy to play the lead role of Swami Ayyappa. The directors were searching for a right boy who bore a close resemblance to an old painting of Swami Ayyappa. And the search ended on the Hyderabad boy.
"We went through hundreds of photographs but we were not satisfied. We came across the photograph of a boy from Hyderabad in a magazine. We decided that the boy would be Ayyappa we had been searching for. Kaushik's big eyes and his body features resembled the old photograph of Swami Ayyappa we had with us," observes Dr DV Nageswara Rao, producer of the Telugu version.
A child prodigy from movie land, a graceful actor, anchor, model and dancer, Kaushik took up the challenge seriously and the result was a masterpiece. Though Kaushik initially had problems with Malayalam, he successfully managed with his movements and emotions. The teleserial has talented actors including Gopalaswamy and Devan.
At the age of four, while his friends were humming nursery rhymes, Kaushik Babu went a step ahead to carve out a niche for himself in the glitzy and glamour world.
"I love acting and enjoy donning different roles. I have acted as Swami Vivekananda, Alluri Sitarama Raju, Duryodhana, Sri Ganesha and Karna. He has also acted in Hindi (Jai Sri Ganesh TV serial) and Julius Caesar (English).
With his pleasant looks and captivating voice, Kaushik became the favourite of the masses. With an increasing popularity of the television soaps, Kaushik saw himself on some of the popular shows aired on the various channels.
At a tender age, Kaushik has to his credit, the prestigious Nandi award as best child artiste for his outstanding performance in the film Takkari Donga.
Kaushik is recognised for creating a record for the highest number of episodes of his being telecast on the small screen.

Monday, 12 March 2007

`Marriage Pill' to reduce incidence of central nervous system defects in children

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: City doctors have come out with what they call "marriage pill" to reduce the high incidence of central nervous system defects in children born in Andhra Pradesh.
The "marriage pill" is nothing but a simple combination of folic acid and vitamins which, if taken by pregnant women, will result in the birth of healthy babies. Andhra Pradesh, particularly Hyderabad has been witnessing high incidence of child births with central nervous system and spine defects.
This is linked to lack of awareness and care during pregnancy.
"The foetus with central nervous system defects have open skull. Such babies die. In foetus with spine defects the back is open with nerves being exposed. The nerves are destroyed leading to poor or lack of bladder and bowel moments. We always thought a healthy mother will give birth to a healthy baby. Which is not true, a healthy mother can still have a foetus with defects," says Dr Evita Fernandez.
The marriage pill will help solve the problem to a large extent, she pointed out. Folic acid when combined with a dose of vitamins particularly B vitamin, prevents birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. The marriage pill has to be taken very early in pregnancy.
Research studies suggest that folic acid may also protect women and men from stroke and cancers of colon and breast.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Uranium traces in Hyderabad drinking water

2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 9: How potable is the "safe" drinking water drawn from Osmansagar and Himayatsagar which quench the thirst of 12 per cent of Hyderabadis?
Water in these two historic lakes is contaminated with the highly poisonous uranium, if recent studies are any indication. The uranium content in Himayatsagar is 7.8 micrograms per litre while it is 5.8 micrograms per litre in the case of Osmansagar. Even Nagarjunasagar, which meets the drinking water needs of a majority of areas in twin cities, is contaminated with two mgpl of uranium. This is as against the permissible limit of 2 mgpl of uranium in drinking water sources.
The highly polluted Hussainsagar, once a major drinking water source, contains 20 mgpl. The danger lurking at twin cities came into sharp focus during the Question Hour in the State Assembly when Mines and Geology Minister P Sabita Indra Reddy revealed these figures quoting a survey by the Atomic Energy Commission.
The Minister read out the statistics to support the decision of the Central government which granted permission to Uranium Corporation of India Limited to take up mining near Nagarjunasagar in Nalgonda district. "Even the drinking water sources in Hyderabad are contaminated with uranium. In fact, they contain more uranium traces than that of Nagarjunasagar. Most of the city lakes also have uranium content.
It is not surprising that Osmansagar and Himayatsagar contain uranium content more than the permissible limits since their catchment area is scattered with agricultural fields where phosphate fertilisers are used indiscriminately. Phosphate fertilisers often contain high amounts of natural uranium, because the mineral material from which they are made is typically high in uranium.
The average daily intake of uranium from food or water ranges from 0.07 to 1.1 micrograms per day. But Hyderabadis, who drink water from Himayatsagar take uranium 700 per cent in excess. It is about 500 per cent excess in case of Osmansagar.
Explaining the reasons for little effect of uranium on Hyderabadis, medical experts say that about 99 per cent of the uranium ingested in food or water is flushed out through faeces. Only one per cent enters the blood but even this absorbed uranium is removed by kidneys and excreted through urine within a few days. A small amount of uranium in the bloodstream will deposit in a person's bones, where it will remain for years.
The CPI and the BJP staged a walkout in the State Assembly in protest against the grant of mining permission to UCIL. Other opposition parties like the Telugu Desam, CPM, TRS and MIM also lodged their protest and demanded that the project with withdrawn.
Sabita Indra Reddy, however, allayed the fears of Opposition parties saying that though mining had been going on in Jaduguda for the past 48 years no cases of uranium poisoning were reported. Even Supreme Court dismissed a petition after it found that there was no case in it.
"We have the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad. It is there since 1965. But there have been no cases of uranium poisoning. The country has to generate more atomic power. It is only three per cent at present," she pointed out.
The State government sent a study team of Jaduguda and it found that the radiation was of the order of 1.72 to 3.5 milli rad which is quite safe for human beings.
The Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board had felt that the Uranium Project at Nagarjunasagar would not be able to implement the provisions of the Environment Management Plan submitted by it. The APPCB also reported that monitoring of environment pollution on day to day basis would be very difficult in view of sensitive location of the project and since the entire mining activity will be taking place in the catchment area of Nagarjunasagar.
The APPCB did not issue its consent to the project and referred the matter to the State government, which forwarded the proposal to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Central government has fixed 38 stringent conditions for UCIL to start the project.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Bt cotton is a failure in Andhra Pradesh

2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 4: The cat is out of the bag finally. It's is now officially proved that Bt cotton crop is a failure, at least in Andhra Pradesh.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest has finally accepted the contention of farmers and farm organisations that Bt cotton seeds supplied by Mahyco Monsanto India Limited failed to deliver the promised results.
"The fact of yield losses varying from 30 to 60 per cent on an average and even 80 per cent in a few cases, is clearly borne out from the verification reports submitted by the joint teams constituted for the purpose. It is also evident that, whatever may be the other contributing factors, the Bt cotton varieties in question have failed to perform up to the standards that were promised and expected. The poor performance is reflected not only in their vulnerability to diseases, but also in take square/flower dropping that was observed in several fields", the GEAC report pointed out.
The Greenpeace and Warangal-based Sarvodaya Youth Organisation released portions of the GEAC report in Delhi on Friday. Sarvodaya convener Damodar told Deccan Chronicle over telephone that their stand on the Bt had been vindicated. "We have been fighting against the ill-effects of Bt cotton. We have finally won the battle to some extent. We still have to secure compensation to the affected farmers", he observed.
Thousands of farmers in Warangal, Guntur and Mahbubnagar districts have lost heavily after they changed to the Bt version of cotton from conventional hybrid varieties three years ago. While farmers, farm organisations and NGOs blame the successive crop failures on the bad quality of the seeds supplied by GM companies, economists and farm experts prefer to tread a cautious path.
According to eminent economist Jayati Ghosh, an integrated pest management system is the best solution to the problems being faced by farmers. "During my visits to Guntur, Mahbubnagar and Warangal districts, many farmers brought to my notice that Bt cotton seed was resistant to only one particular type of pest. Pesticide usage has not come down. Some farmers said the crop was bad other reported it was not better", she pointed out.
She, however, feels that many farmers have gone in for Bt cotton without adequate knowledge of the varieties they are using. Farmers should look at the alternative varieties available in the market. They should also prefer alternative pest management methods to overcome their problems.
Farmers grow Bt cotton in over 80,000 hectares in the State. Bt Cotton seed varieties are sold at Rs 1600 per packet of 450 grams. This is in contrast to Rs 400 per packet of non Bt varieties. A Bt cotton farmer spends around Rs 16,000 per hectare against Rs 10,000 by conventional cotton growers. The returns, however, are almost the same.
Genetically modified cotton varieties were first introduced in the State during 2001-2002 amidst stiff resistance by environmentalists and social activists. In fact, the State government had banned field trials of Bt cotton. Only a handful of farmers could really make profit.
As in the past, this year too many Bt cotton growers have knocked at the door of the State government seeking compensation for the losses they had incurred. The State has MoU committees to monitor the crop and decide the quantum of compensation to be paid to the affected farmers.
Environmentalists argue that field trials on Bt cotton varieties were not conducted properly and the results evaluated scientifically. While many countries have fixed a mandatory field trial for six years before granting approval for commercial production, the Central government gave its approval after four years of field trials.
Says State Farmers' Welfare Commission member YV Malla Reddy, "the cost of cultivation of Bt cotton is higher but the yields are not commensurate with the expenditure incurred. Bt cotton has both advantages and disadvantages. What many overlook are the unintended benefits. Traders and seed companies deliberately hide the negative side of the products they market".
He points out that Bt cotton trials were not open for independent scrutiny. Trials done on very small plots of land were sought to be extrapolated into the farmers situation and growing conditions.
Genetically modified varieties including cotton, however, find a supporter in internationally renowned biologist Dr MS Swaminathan. "We have a lot of things to look into. Before coming to conclusion, we should look into other factors involved as well. There are a number of reasons for crop failure. You cannot specify one particular reason", he pointed out.
Farmers reported that there was an increase of 300 per cent in non-target pests like jassids, aphids and thrips. Bt cotton has been attacked by wilt and root rot in the State. Many complain that higher yields of up to 15 quintals per acre were promised, whereas the average yields of Bt Cotton were two to three quintals per acre. Nowhere did Bt Cotton yields cross more than four quintals per acre at the end of the harvest.
Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based agricultural policy think tank, in its Bt cotton evaluation study reported complete failure of the crop. The study showed that 60 per cent of the farmers did not recover costs and that most of them incurred a loss of Rs 80 an acre. The seed cost per acre is four times that of quality non-Bt varieties. The savings on pesticides is a mere Rs 217 an acre, while the seed cost, including the licence fee for using the patented Bt seeds, is Rs 1,200 higher.
State agriculture officials do not find fault with Bt technology per se. "Bt technology is OK. The fault lies with the so-called Bt seed varieties. Certain varieties of Mahyco have failed in the State while those of Rasi are performing wonderfully well", clarifies T Peddi Reddy, additional director of agriculture.
On the production side, Bt varieties are as good as any hybrid variety. The only advantage of Bt cotton is that it is resistant to boll worm and consumes less quantity of pesticide. He said the State government had sent samples of Mahyco seeds to the Cotton Research Centre in Nagpur to verify if they contained the Bt gene.
The Regional Agricultural Research Station of Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University, in Mahbubnagar, collected data on Bt cotton performance from 100 farmers from Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Rangareddy and Medak districts. It noted that the expenditure on growing Bt Cotton did not decrease as the projections seemed to indicate but rather increased. The net income from Bt Cotton was almost negligible compared to other hybrids. In fact, in Rangareddy district, the survey found that farmers have negative incomes from growing Bt Cotton.
The study revealed that the average number of pesticide sprays with the use of Bt cotton was only one spray lesser than non-Bt hybrids. While 61 per cent of the farmers surveyed found that Bt cotton was effective against boll worm up to three months, 39 per cent found no difference in this aspect between Bt and non-Bt cotton varieties. Only in Medak district, Bt cotton generated more income to farmers than non-Bt hybrids.
The university team found that Bt cotton was unable to withstand water or moisture stress unlike the conventional varieties. GM giant Monsanto
does not sell its seeds directly in the country. It markets the varieties through its Indian agent Mahyco. Monsanto's gene technology is utilised by Mahyco to produce Bt cotton seeds. The high protein content in the Bt varieties make them consume more water upsetting the delicate ecological balance.
Bt Cotton is a genetically engineered form of natural cotton. It contains the property of insect-specific resistance through the transfer of a gene from Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt for short). The Bt variety produces a protein, which when ingested in adequate quantities is toxic to lepidopteron insects.

Friday, 2 March 2007

IMPACT: UAE Govt. Wakes Up To Labour Problem


March 31, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 30: The UAE Ministry of Labour has announced a number of measures to improve the living conditions and protect the interests of lakhs of migrant workers living in Dubai and other Emirates.
The UAE government's move follows a series of reports published in Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age between March 9 and 14 on the inhuman living standards of migrant workers in Dubai's infamous labour camps.
According to a statement released by the UAE Labour Ministry earlier this week, as many as 107 labour accommodation facilities (camps) have been ordered to be closed unless they meet the standards stipulated by UAE law. Some of these facilities have already been closed.
Overseas Recruiting Agents' Association president Mohammed Abdur Razzak, who returned from Dubai on Thursday, told this correspondent that a new labour court had been set up in Dubai to handle cases locally and ensure speedy and effective resolution of disputes. The Union Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, has also taken up the issue of Indian labour, particularly Telugu workers, with Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, who was in New Delhi earlier this week.
A labour relations office will be established at the court in Dubai to provide assistance to labourers and ensure employers adhere to the court decisions. If employers do not comply, their records will be blocked at the Ministry. The Ministry will also have the power to pay workers' entitlements from the employer's bank deposits, following the court's approval.
The UAE release pointed out that the number of inspectors dedicated to labour inspections will be increased from 2,000 by December-end. The UAE government will encourage landlords to exceed the statutory requirements for labour accommodation through an industry award scheme sponsored by government.
Razzak said the UAE has signed a new labour agreement with the Indian government to prevent exploitation of labourers by recruiting agents and middle men. the Dubai Civil Defence Department has also announced that it would suspend the licence applications and renewals of all companies that fail to obtain safety compliance certificates for all labour camps. The government has also prohibited labour camps within industrial, workshop and warehouse premises.
The UAE authorities have suspended licences of 350 institutions which are found guilty of not paying wages on time. Moreover the licences of about 1,300 institutions have been suspended for not paying wages.
In order to ensure that the labour camps are well maintained, the UAE government has decided not to issue work permit if the employers failed to come up with proper proof of accommodation. The government has also worked with labour department to establish model labour villages.

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - VI


Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 14, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 13: The illegal migrant workers recruitment racket in Andhra Pradesh and UAE has wider security ramifications and senior officials in the Indian Consulate here fear massive security breach if the menace was not curbed forthwith.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that a major "passport circulation" racket, involving Indian recruitment agents, local Arabs and UAE immigration officials, has been operational for quite some time in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Officials fear that there would be major security risk to India, if the passports fall into wrong hands.
The modus operandi is quite simple. Once a person recruited as construction labour lands in UAE, his passport is confiscated by the local Arab agent. Another person is sent on the same passport to ensure that the immigration records are straight.
Since UAE government does not issue "Tourist Visa", any person intending to visit Dubai or other Emirates has to look for a local sponsor. Based on the local sponsor's recommendation, the UAE government issues "Visit Visa", valid for 59 days. Visit Visas are also issued to Indians without the sponsorship of locals provided the
applicant is an income tax payee and his or her annual income is at least Rs 2 lakh.
Since most of the illegal migrant construction workers are economically poor, they invariably need a local sponsor for the visit visa. The visit visa has to be "exited" within the stipulated period or otherwise the local sponsor will be held responsible for the overstay of the person. To ensure that the visa is "exited", the local agents send someone else on the same passport.
The argument generally put forward by illegal migrant workers and recruiting agents is that the Arabs manning the immigration and passport control desks do not distinguish between two Andhra faces.
"For them all Andhras look alike, just like Chinese or Japanese nationals look similar to us Indians. The agents also ensure that slight facial changes are made for a smooth sail through the passport control desk," an official of Indian Consulate in Dubai points out.
But what baffles authorities is how these people with fake passports manage to pass through the immigration officials back home in Hyderabad. "Do not those manning the immigration desks in Hyderabad make a distinction between two Andhra faces? This shows there is a clear nexus between immigration officials and recruiting
agents. But what these officials fail to recognise is that circulation of
passport is a national crime and pose security threat to India," says
social activist Gundaram Prasad, who has been fighting for the cause of
"Kalli Valli" (illegal) workers.
When the racket was brought to the notice of Indian Consul-General in Dubai Venu Rajamony, he said the menace had to be put to an end immediately. "It is a major crime and those involved in the racket should be exposed and punished," he added.
UAE laws prohibit employers from impounding the passports of workers, but this Rule is routinely breached. The moment a worker comes out of the immigration desk in Dubai international airport, the construction company or the recruiting agent takes away the passport.
In case of workers entering Dubai on valid employment visa, the passport is returned after the expiry of the contract period, which is generally two years.
But in the case of workers on a visit visa, the passport is never returned and they continue to work as illegal immigrants. Almost all the illegal immigrants from Andhra Pradesh do not have their passports and they complain that their agent had taken travel document away on arrival in Dubai. Ironically, the agent disappears once he dumps the workers at a labour camp, never to meet them again.
Enquiries revealed that the recruiting agents work hand-in-glove with immigration and security officials at airports both in UAE and back in India. They adopt two "foolproof" systems to circulate the passports and ensure that the emigration records are straight and clear.
In the first system, which involves no security threat to India, those in
the emigration section in the UAE simply mark "kharij" or exit in the official records against the visit visa concerned, though the person actually continues to stay in UAE.
This is done to ensure a fair record for the recruiting agent who sponsors visit visa. The agent has to ensure that the person he sponsors on a "visit" visa returns before the expiry of the visa period, which normally is 59 days. Money changes hands and the Emigration officer gets a handsome amount for each visit visa he marks "exit".
The second method, most commonly followed by agents in the UAE and which involves a grave security threat to India, is circulation of passports. The agent, who takes away the passport of illegal immigrant workers, sends someone else on the same document in connivance of UAE Emigration officials.
Whenever an illegal worker without a passport wants to return to India, he has two options before him. Approach the Indian Consulate in Dubai or the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi to obtain "Out Pass" or "Emergency Certificate" or simply pay money to unscrupulous travel agent and return to India on a fake passport. The second option seems to be easier as Indian officials take a long time to verify the antecedents
of the applicant before issuing the Out Pass.
UAE authorities have deliberately turned a blind eye to the problem because it suits their interests. Two general amnesty schemes were announced in the recent past and yet no mass drive has been taken up to flush out illegal labour or contain the problem. The reason? Illegal immigrants are a cheap source of labour for the mushrooming construction industry in the Emirates.

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - V



Published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 13, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 12: Just imagine. Twelve to 15 people living in a 10 feet by 15 feet poorly lit room with bad air-conditioning facility. About a hundred people using a single toilet. And two dozen people using one small LPG stove to cook their food.
This is the other side of Dubai, which boasts of being the fastest growing city on the earth. Dubai, with all its construction boom, might present a picture of high-rise buildings with spacious rooms and wide aisles. But the people, whose hands made the modern Dubai look beautiful, languish in narrow rooms with bad sanitation and inhuman living standards.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant construction workers or "Kalli Valli" live in tin-roofed structures called "labour camps". A visitor to any labour camp is welcomed by a rows of narrow rooms with broken doors and stinking toilets. There's no proper drainage facility and even the drinking water is not safe. Since the rooms are narrow, the workers are forced to cook outside and the troubles begin when it rains or the climate is inclement.
The middlemen, mostly from Kerala, take advantage of the illegal status of Andhra migrant workers and collect exorbitant rents from them. UAE Rules stipulate that there should be a rate contract for renting a premises. The person executing the contract should hold valid employment or resident visa. Since Kalli Valli workers are illegal, they cannot enter into rent contract directly with the owner.
Middlemen hire the premises on nominal rents and sublet them for higher rents. As much as 3500 Dirhams (Rs 42,000) is collected as rent for a 10 ft by 15 ft room. More number of Kalli Valli workers are accommodated in a room so that they could save on rent. For instance, if 14 people rent the room, each one of them pays 250 Dirhams and in case only 10 people are accommodated, the individual contribution
goes up to 350 Dirhams.
Those who cannot afford even 50 Dirhams as rent "hire" roof tops on a monthly "rental" of 35 Dirhams. Their essentials are kept in the room but they have to sleep on roof, rain or shine, winter or summer. Thirty-five-year-old Ravi Ramachandran, who lost his voice after an accident,is one among hundreds of such "roof top" dwellers in Dubai and Sharjah.
Lean-built Ponnuri Gangadhar of Chandurthi mandal in Karimnagar thought that he would lead a happier life in Dubai. Now after undergoing all the turmoil and troubles for over two years, he wants to return home.
"I will never visit Dubai again. Dubai looks beautiful in pictures. But when it comes to reality, it is the ugliest city, at least for us, the so-called illegal migrants," he says.
Gangadhar's daughter-in-law committed suicide on February 9 and his son was taken into custody on the charge of abetting suicide. His wife is bed-ridden. Now Gangadhar has no passport. He does not have even money to return home and stand beside his wife in this hour of crisis.
He has applied for "emergency certificate" or "out pass" from the Consulate to leave the Emirates.
Every day dozens of Andhra workers queue up outside the Indian Consulate in Dubai to obtain such certificates, which are mandatory for those who do not possess passports. After obtaining the EC or OP, they have to surrender before UAE immigration authorities and undergo mandatory imprisonment and pay fine before being allowed to leave for India. The Indian Consulate issued about 4000 ECs in 2006, which is more than double the number of certificates issued in 2005. This sums up how fed up the Andhra workers are over bad facilities and inhuman working conditions.
Poor sanitation and impure drinking water are responsible for premature deaths in labour camps. Enquiries revealed that on an average 20 people die due to illness and infectious diseases. On an average over 10,000 people report sick every month at various labour camps. A day's bed rest means 60 Dirham cut in the income.
Migrant worker Sivaratri Hanumanthu wakes up at 3.00 am and queues up outside the toilet to finish his daily chores by 5.00 am before waiting for the bus to go to the construction site. He shares his room with 25 people.
Kalli Valli workers will have no option but to bear the bad sanitary conditions. Still they prefer the labour camps because there's a bus pick-up facility from there. Moreover, no one allows illegal workers to stay on their premises for fear of police trouble.
But a few people like J Narasaiah do not find any problem being a Kalli Valli. "As illegal migrant workers, we can work anywhere we like. We can stay off work whenever we want," he argues. Narasaiah, despite his "freedom" is unable to visit India. His father died two months ago and he is now making rounds of Indian Consulate for an emergency certificate to visit home.
Father of two P Gangadhar resigned from SS Mills in Nizamabad two months ago and he is now currently on a visit visa to Dubai. His visit visa is due to expire shortly. "The conditions here are bad and unimaginable of a big city like Dubai. I feel like returning home. But I had spent Rs 1 lakh to visit Dubai. If I return now, I will be in a debt trap. I have now no option but to become a Kalli Valli till my debts are cleared," he says.
Gangadhar's daughter is in degree and his son is doing electrical engineering. He preferred Dubai after he learnt that he could earn Rs 20,000 there as against Rs 2,000 in Nizamabad. Now Gangadhar like many others have realised that living in Dubai is a costly affair and not a comfortable one.
One major doubt that continues to rack the brains of illegal migrant workers is, "why are the police not arresting us when they know we are overstaying?"
"Only the UAE authorities have the answer. And they will not come out with the solution till the construction boom is over. Till then we poor migrant workers will have to bear the troubles," bemoans Gowlika Raju, a graduate-turned-construction labour from Adilabad. Raju dreamt big of Dubai before boarding the light at Hyderabad. His parents have fixed his marriage and Raju cannot return home because
he does not have a passport.

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - IV

Published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 12, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 11: Thirty-year-old charming Chakali Siddaramulu boarded the flight to Dubai two years ago with the fond hope of making it big in the city of gold and fortune. He had seen his father toiling all through to make both ends meet and Siddaramulu wanted to give a happy retired life to his parents by earning the magical Dirhams.
But the Dame Luck willed otherwise. Today Siddaramulu lies in coma, with no attendant beside, in a Dubai hospital. His dreams are shattered and so are the hopes of his poverty-hit family back home in Nizamabad. An illegal migrant worker, Siddararamulu, met with an accident at a construction site on February 27, 2006. Since then he has been battling for life in comatose at Rashidiya Hospital in Dubai.
Unlike hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers or Kalli Valli, Siddaramulu had his passport with him when he met with the accident. The problem is that Siddaramulu had been sub-contracted four times and none of the companies is willing to bear the medical bill, which now runs into many thousand Dirhams.

"His condition is turning worse by the day. Excepting responding to external
stimuli, Siddaramulu has been a living-dead for over 12 months. His family is
poor and is unable to bear the medical expenses. We are looking for donors to clear the medical bills and send him to India," observes Joseph Bobby of Valley of Love, which has been taking care of Indian migrant workers in hospitals.
"The hi-fi life of this fastest growing city on earth masks the sorrows and
sufferings of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant construction workers who make up 30 per cent of the total population. And with no protection under UAE labour laws, death and injury always stare at the illegal construction labour, particularly those from the backward districts of Andhra Pradesh. Siddaramulu is just the tip of the iceberg ," says Joseph, who is being looked as a messiah by the injured workers.
Though death and injury at construction sites is one of most troubling factors,
UAE officials conveniently overlook it. They just limit their exercise to legal
migrants and do not bother to think of illegal construction workers, who constitute the majority among the non-nationals in the Emirates.
A visit to Rashidiya Hospital tells the sorrowful tales of Telugu migrant workers who need urgent medical attention, but has no money to pay for the surgery. Even those who managed to undergo emergency medicare are not in a position to leave the hospital, pending clearance of medical bills.
Lying on one of the beds in Rashidiya Hospital in Dubai is a Telugu-speaking person who calls himself "Shankaraiah". Except this name, he cannot remember or recall any name, not even his wife's name. He lost memory after he met with an accident and now stands as a personification of suffering of Telugu migrants in UAE. Like "Shankaraiah", there are hundreds of construction workers, who have either lost their limbs or mental balance and memory in accidents while on duty.
Worse, UAE officials do not seem to bother to maintain records of the death, injury or suicide cases of illegal migrant workers or Kalli Valli. This is clearly evident from a comparison of the figures available with local officials and those with the Indian authorities in the UAE. The disparity between the figures speak voluminous of the discrimination illegal Andhra migrant workers undergo in the foreign land.
The Indian Consulate in Dubai has recorded 971 death cases in 2005 and 1157 deaths in 2006. The number of deaths on construction sites and suicides run into a couple of hundreds. And most of the victims are from Andhra Pradesh, according to an official of the Indian Consulate in Dubai.
But UAE officials put the figures for all nationalities including Indians for the last three years to hardly a hundred. This simply shows that UAE authorities record only the deaths and suicide cases of legal migrant workers, who are on a valid employment visa. And UAE has over five lakh illegal migrant workers, mostly from Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts in Andhra Pradesh.
According to sources, nearly one-third of deaths that are reported to the Indian Consulate and other Indian authorities are work-related. Indian Consulate officials admit that of the 1157 deaths that were reported in 2006, about 100 are suicide cases. But there is no official break-up of statistics on deaths of illegal migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh.
According to officials, at least 25 labourers are admitted in UAE hospitals with critical injuries every month. About 60 to 65 per cent of migrant workers needing medical attention are from Andhra Pradesh.
"These people do not have money to pay for medical bills. Since they are not legally employed we find it hard to convince labour courts on compensation. Several workers have become mentally insane due to head injuries. They cannot even recollect the names of their family members or the name of their village or district. We recognise that they are from Andhra Pradesh because they speak Telugu. They do not have even passports or other supporting documents," Joseph told this correspondent.
Chittepu Srinivas Reddy from Nizamabad district speaks incoherently and doctors advice him physiotherapy at least for one year. His IQ is 13/15 as against normal of 15/15. His father died two months ago and he was not informed of the tragedy that befell him. Srinivas Reddy sold away his ancestral land in Nizamabad to buy visa and air ticket to Dubai.
According to Consul-General of India in Dubai Venu Rajamony, they have taken up the cases for compensation of workers who have died while on duty. As many as 53 cases were settled in 2006 and a sum of Rs 203.5 million was received as compensation. The amount was forwarded to district authorities in India for onward distribution to the beneficiaries.

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - III


Published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 11, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 10: Life has been a bed of thorns for 25-year-old Kadimi Ravi Kumar, an illegal migrant from Rajahmundry, ever since he stepped into Dubai 42 months ago. Lured by the glossy advertisements in newspapers about the high living standards in Dubai, Ravi Kumar mortgaged his mother's jewellery to buy a ticket to this Arabian city.
For two years Ravi Kumar had no problems and he managed to send a few thousand Rupees to his parents back home in Rajahmundry city. But problems began for him, when Ravi Kumar was sub-let to another construction firm. His employer disappeared after extracting work from him for 10 months. Ravi Kumar is now in a debt trap, both in Dubai and Rajahmundry. Half of his daily earnings of 60 Dirhams goes towards
payment of interest.
Ravi Kumar is a classic example of exploitation of Andhra illegal migrant workers by unscrupulous construction companies and fly-by-night agents. There are hundreds of thousands of Ravi Kumars buried beneath the foundation of high rise buildings and massive flyovers.
Andhra illegal migrant workers are the most exploited lot when it comes to payment of wages. They are hired on hourly payment basis but the wages are paid after a customary lock-in period of 45 days. And quite often, "supply companies", as local manpower supply agents are called, disappear into thin air without paying the wages.
Since a majority of illegal migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh are illiterate and hail from the backward Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts, they cannot remember the name of their supply company or agent. What all they carry with them is just a telephone or mobile number of their "employer" and it serves as no proof to file a case in a labour court. Even otherwise, as illegal migrant workers or Kalli Valli, they are not eligible for a claim on wages, leave alone compensation.
"Our "employer" simply disappeared. I was taken into custody and my passport was sent to Jumerah jail where it went "missing". Without a passport, neither I can return to India nor continue in Dubai as I do not have money to bear the expenses. I am now with a new "employer" and as of now there's no problem with my wages," says Ravi Kumar attempting to put up a brave face, though the trouble he had undergone is clearly visible from his talk.
Fairly-built M Srinivas from Kodimial mandal of Karimnagar district is another victim of non-payment of wages. Scores of illegal migrants workers with whom this correspondent interacted at various labour camps in Dubai and Sharjah poured out their woes saying that they were under paid and even these low wages were not paid on time. They also complain of non-payment of wages.
Visit any labour camp or construction site in Dubai, Sharjah or Abu Dhabi and the most common complaint from Andhra construction workers is the withholding of wages by employers. Many Kalli Valli workers told this correspondent that heir "employers" regularly withheld wages.
Enquires revealed that most of the "employers" or "supply companies" had defaulted wages for periods ranging between one month and six months. The Andhra workers do not have anything in writing to prove that they had worked with a certain firm for a certain period of time. Most of them do not know the name of their employer or the company or even where the work site is located.
To ensure complete anonymity, the workers are taken to the construction site from the labour camps before the break of the dawn and dropped back only after the sun is set. Construction sites are changed regularly and it is a "normal" practice in UAE to withhold salaries for a minimum period of 45 days.
For instance, if a worker reports at construction site on January 1, he gets his
first wages on February 25. This is a deliberate strategy on the part of the employer to withhold the workers from leaving the site before the completion
of the building. A worker leaving the work half-way through the "contract"
forfeits the wages.
Allem Mallaiah from Konaraopet mandal in Karimnagar district amply sums up the plight of illegal migrant workers when he observes rather sadly, "we are just herds. We have no option but to follow the contractor. Wherever he takes us, we have to go. He pulls the rope and we follow him". Incidentally, like many Kalli Valli workers in his labour camp, Mallaiah too did not receive wages for six months.
Any delay in payment of wages or withholding of salaries for periods beyond one month severely cripples the financial condition of the migrant workers.
They fall into a debt trap and the interest on the money they borrowed back home to pay for recruitment mounts up. Moreover, they will not be in a position to send money to their families.
According to Venu Rajamony, consul-general of India in Dubai, the labour section received over 1408 complaints in 2006 as against 760 the previous year. Last year the consulate settled 1310 cases.
This correspondent has come across hundreds of cases of Andhra illegal migrant workers suffering heavily because of withholding or non-payment of wages. There are also dozens of cases where migrant workers skip a meal either because they don't have enough money left with them or they want to save a few Dirhams so that they could send home a "handsome sum".
According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, "withholding one-and-
a-half or two months' wages as security to prevent workers from running away to a better job appears to be accepted as a custom among construction companies in the UAE. When workers protest or complain about withheld wages, their complaint is not based on this customary withholding, but about wages withheld beyond that period".
For a legal migrant worker in UAE, changing jobs is a troublesome and long process and requires the approval of the original employer. But this is not so with Kalli Valli workers. This is the reason why recruiters prefer Kalli Valli workers, so that they can be changed from site to site depending on the demand for work, without inviting labour problems. And they can also skip wages quite often.
"The illegal migrant workers are not protected by UAE labour laws. We have to educate our people back in India that people should not come on visit visas
in search of employment. It is a risky proposition. Only those who gain entry into UAE on valid employment visas are protected by labour Rules," points our BS Mubarak, consul (labour) in the Consulate-General of India, Dubai.
Though there is no official record, it is estimated that unscrupulous employers in UAE regularly save as high as 10 lakh Dirhams a month by not paying wages to illegal migrant workers.

Dubai: Shattered Dream of Andhra Migrant Labour - II

Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age, March 10, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 9: Young Undedi Vincent Vijaychandra, a well qualified electrician but illegal migrant, wants to surrender to the UAE immigration official so that he could be deported to India. But his half a dozen attempts so far proved futile. The authorities turned his request down saying that the jails are full with more than 14,000 Indians and there's no further room left for him.
Every day dozens of people line up outside the Jumerah jail pleading with
authorities to imprison them. UAE Rules stipulate prison term and or penalty for overstay before deportation. Imprisonment is the shortest route to return to India for those who work illegally in Dubai and other Emirates.
"We need recommendation to go to jail. I can't understand why we are not arrested," argues Vijaychandra, who is desperately trying to leave Dubai. Vijayachandra is a victim of dubious recruitment agencies that lure unsuspecting people with "bundles of money" in Dubai. And there are hundreds of thousands of Vijaychandras in the UAE.
The seeds of illegal migration to Dubai are sown back in the dusty villages of
Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Adilabad and Warangal districts in the backward Telangana region where prospective migrant construction workers are literally hand-picked by unscrupulous recruitment agents.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that these recruitment agents, both in India and UAE, act in connivance with immigration staff at Nagpur, Hyderabad, Dubai and Sharjah international airports. They take advantage of the administrative and technical system being in vogue at Nagpur and Hyderabad airports to pump in to and pump out of Dubai and Sharjah airports hundreds of illiterate migrant construction workers.
While immigration desks at all the international airports in India are manned by personnel drawn from hi-profile Intelligence Bureau, strangely enough the airports in Hyderabad and Nagpur are manned by local police. This leave a wide gap in immigration controlling system at these two airports. And this explains the reason why almost all the illegal migrant or Kalli Valli workers working in UAE are from Andhra Pradesh. Whenever AP authorities tightens the immigration system, the workers go to Nagpur airport. Interestingly, Air Arabia operates low cost flight services between Nagpur and Sharjah.
Though the immigration system are relatively tight in Dubai, there's no proper check in Sharjah or Abu Dhabi airports.
An official at the Indian Consulate in Dubai admits lapses in immigration system particularly at Nagpur and Hyderabad airports. "Just tighten the system and the problem is solved once and for all. Follow the Emigration check rules strictly and there will be no Kalli Valli workers in UAE," he points out.

Kokkula Lakshman from Potharam village in Qatlapur mandal of Karimnagar district entered UAE through Nagpur airport three years ago. Today he earns eight Dirhams (Rs 96) per hour and pays two Dirhams (Rs 24) to his agent as commission.
Lakshman admits that he found his way through the immigration desk by bribing the officials. "Just slip Rs 200 in the passport and the official puts the departure stamp. If we do not offer money, we are asked to stand aside and only on bribing we are allowed to pass through the immigration check," he says.
K Ravi Kumar, who stays in a labour camp at Sonapur, supports the charge of Lakshman. "We are illiterate. We simply dream big of Dubai without knowing the troubles that lay ahead of us. Had the immigration officials in Hyderabad and Nagpur been sincere, the problem of Kalli Valli workers would not have arisen at all," he points out. Others in the labour camp at Sonapur nod in agreement.
Interviews with Kalli Valli workers at various labour camps and construction sites by this correspondent revealed that recruitment agents go round the villages in backward Telangana districts in search of able bodied persons luring them with the "golden" Dirhams and the "wonderful" life of Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. The currency difference between Dirham and Rupee is another attraction offered to unsuspecting prospective migrant construction workers.
The agents get commission not only from the migrant workers but also from the employers in the UAE. According to rough estimates, an agent makes between Rs 20,000 and Rs 50,000 per migrant construction worker depending upon the latter's innocence and financial affordability. They also guide gullible workers on which type of visa they should apply for, visit or employment visa.
Indian migrant workers whom this correspondent interviewed point out that these agents back home in India work on behalf of the construction or recruitment firms in UAE. There are also instances of some construction firms sending their scouts directly to Telangana districts in search of cheap labour.
According to sources, there are also firms that recruit migrant workers from India, particularly Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala for sub-contracting them to employers in UAE. These companies wear the illegal mark of "manpower supply" agencies but carry out illegal activities by confiscating the passports of migrant workers to have full control over them.
Life becomes horrible for migrant workers on sub-contract lease if they meet
with an accident. Several such workers are stay put in hospitals as they could not clear the medical bills. They are also not eligible for labour compensation.
Migrant workers, who gain entry into UAE on employment visa, are offered very low salaries since the recruitment companies or construction firms spend money on the recruitment and the visa process. Local labour rules stipulate that employers should pay certain fees to the government for each migrant labourer they recruit into UAE. The companies spend around 200 Dirhams towards visa request and 1,000 Dirhams for employment visa issuance fee.
The employers should also bear the cost of air fare and provide free accommodation.
To avoid this, unscrupulous construction companies prefer the channel of visit visa or "Kalli Valli". They need not pay any visa fee and also they are not liable for compensation to their workers if they are "Kalli Valli". No wonder then that the agents have found a safe haven for Kalli Valli workers in the backward areas of Andhra Pradesh.

Dubai: Shattered Dreams Of Andhra Migrant Labour - I

Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age, March 9, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 8: As the mosques that dot the landscape of Dubai reverberate with the call for the pre-dawn Fajr prayers, thousands of young people line up outside numerous labour camps in search of daily labour.
Before the dawn break out, dozens of buses arrive, one after other, and the line grows shorter. By 6 am, the entire crowd disappears and the labour camps wear a deserted look, only to brim back with activity after 9.00 pm.
This is the daily routine outside the so-called labour camps, which house illegal migrant workers, mostly from Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts in Andhra Pradesh.
With the "Kalli Valli" (illegal in local language) tag attached to their names, these migrant workers spend life in Dubai searching for work on daily basis.
Since they lack legal migrant worker status they are not assured of regular
employment. They are hired on daily basis and paid wages per each hour they work, with no medical facility or labour rights protection.
Sandagari Sai Reddy, 25, a migrant worker from Nizamabad, stands as the tall example of how Kalli Valli workers are exploited by construction firms.
Sai Reddy came to Dubai two years ago and after undergoing untold sufferings he wants to return to India. He suffered a fracture at a construction site and is now confined to a wheel chair. He was admitted in Rashidiya Hospital and was discharged last week. But the hospital authorities do not want to send Sai Reddy out of the hospital as he had not cleared 7000 Dirhams medical bill.
With Dubai becoming the fastest growing city on the earth with an unparalleled boom in the construction industry, unscrupulous recruitment agents and so-called manpower companies have turned this bustling city of high-rise buildings and wide roads into a haven for illegal migrant workers.
And the victims are mostly from the backward areas of Nizamabad and Karimnagar and some hail from neighbouring Warangal and Adilabad districts in Telangana region.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that more than four lakh Telugu-
speaking construction workers are held up in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and other Emirates in UAE as illegal migrants thanks to the well-chalked out strategy by recruiting agents, construction companies and UAE officials to pump in cheap labour to sustain the construction boom.

Of the four lakh and odd Telugu illegal migrants in UAE, a whopping 3.7 lakh do not posses passports and hence no national identity, except the Telugu language they speak. The common complaint is that recruiting agents had taken away their passports on arrival in UAE. Neither they do possess any documents that establish their nationality or bring them under the purview of the UAE labour laws for compensation, in case of injury or death at the work place.
"All my dreams have been shattered. Now I am not in a position to stand, let alone resume work at construction site. My employer does not want to bear the medical expenses as I am a Kalli Valli. Unless I pay 7000 Dirhams (Rs 84,000) the hospital will not allow me to leave the country. Moreover, I have to obtain emergency certificate from the Indian Consulate and pay penalty to UAE authorities for overstay. I will have to bear the cost of air ticket. I came to Dubai after borrowing Rs 1 lakh and I am yet to clear the debt," Sai Reddy
points out.
Like Sai Reddy, Kalli Valli workers cannot leave UAE for the simple reason that they do not have passports. Some of them have been staying in Dubai for as long as 12 years without hope of ever returning to India. Dudekula Shaik Saheb has been visiting the Indian Consulate in Dubai for the last six months.
He has completed 12 years of over stay in Dubai and wants to return home. But the main hurdle in his journey back to India is the passport, which he had given away to his agent long back.
The Indian Embassy allows Kalli Valli workers to travel to India only in emergency situations provided they prove they are Indians. Coming from lower strata of society and steeped in illiteracy, it takes years for some of the illegal migrant workers to prove their nationality.
That only 4000 "Out Passes" or "Emergency Certificates" were issued by Indian Consulate in Dubai last year, against more than four lakh illegal migrants in UAE, reveals the enormity of hurdles they face if they want to return to India.
Luckily for these migrant workers, the local police are not after them. The police do not swoop on illegal migrant workers for the simple reason that they contribute a lot to the economy of UAE and do not expect anything in return. Only those involved in theft, murder and other crimes are arrested and deported.
While a majority of the illegal migrant workers have been duped in by unscrupulous agents, a few thousands have voluntarily turned "illegal" by jumping their original employer to work as daily wagers at construction sites.
Interaction with over 200 migrant workers at labour camps in Al-Satwa, Rolla Square, Sonapur, Bur Dubai and Al-Khos revealed that recruiting agents are not always at fault. Though the agents are blamed for pumping in illegal workers to UAE as it offers them lucrative commission, in many cases the workers themselves are responsible for their plight and misery.
A Mallaiah from Nampally village of Vemulawada mandal in Karimnagar is a victim of recruitment scandal. He was lured with a promise of good job and comfortable stay but he faced reality only after he landed in Dubai. He has been working as illegal migrant worker for the past five years and now that he wants to go back to his village to perform the marriage of his daughter, he can't. Because he does not possess a passport. "I will commit suicide if you do not help me," he pleads with Indian Consulate officials.
Inquiries by this correspondent revealed that recruitment agents put two options before prospective migrant workers over the type of visa they would like to have to visit UAE. One is "employment visa" that costs more and the other "visit visa" that comes at a relatively cheaper rate. But the agents insist that the workers take the "visit visa". The visit visa saves the employer from legal and labour formalities in UAE.
Little do the workers know that this "visit visa" will later turn a bane for them when they really want to return home. The visit visa expires after 59 days (extendible by another 30 days) and after this the workers become illegal
migrants or "Kalli Valli".
The visit or "Kalli Valli" visa including the air fare costs anything between
Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000 while the employment visa that guarantees legal migrant status comes for Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 1,50,000. Since most of the workers from Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Adilabad and Warangal districts hail from lower strata of society with poor financial backgrounds, they prefer to live illegally as Kalli Valli.
Enquiries revealed that some of the workers intentionally turn Kalli Valli even after gaining entry as legal migrants through employment visa. This is because the salaries offered by legal employers is only 450 to 500 UAE Dirhams while as Kalli Valli each worker earn 60 to 70 Dirhams a day or about 1800 Dirhams a month.
"What these workers fail to understand is that though they earn low wages as
legal migrants, they are eligible for health and labour benefits including
compensation in case of accidents. But unfortunately, the desire to earn more
makes these migrants to work as Kalli Valli," says an official of the Indian
Consulate.
The modus operandi is quite simple. After a worker on visit visa lands in Dubai, the agent takes away his passport and makes him Kalli Valli. Once the worker loses his passport he becomes an illegal migrant. With the passport goes away all the rights. He is not eligible for compensation in case of injuries or death in accident at the work site. The UAE labour or the immigration department does not recognise the rights of Kalli Valli workers.
Taking away of passport and turning workers Kalli Valli is a deliberate attempt on the part of the recruiting agents, bigwigs in the construction industry and the officials in the UAE government. Kalli Valli workers live on the constant threat of being arrested by the police. But their free movement and negligible number of arrests or detention by police give credence to the charge that the UAE government wants illegal workers to stay in Dubai and other Emirates to help the construction industry.
"Not only the Kalli Valli workers come as labour on hourly basis but also do not have any legal rights to claim compensation. This suits the booming construction industry in UAE as the employers can simply wash their hands off by paying Dirhams on hourly basis," points out social activist Uma Paddy, who has been counselling Kalli Valli workers for the past 10 years.
Since the Kalli Valli workers do not have passports or other legal documents that prove their legal status or national identity, employers exercise an unreasonable degree of control over them. It is interesting that though UAE courts have described the practice of taking away passports as illegal, the Emirates government has not initiated any steps to end this menace. Those who want to be deported to India need to surrender to immigration authorities in Dubai. But the authorities turn down Kalli Valli workers saying that the jails are full and there's no space to lodge more prisoners. This makes the process of leaving Dubai more difficult for illegal Indians.
"I have approached the immigration authorities at least half a dozen times. But they are not willing to imprison me. If they jail me, at least I can leave Dubai," says Dokuri Veera Reddy of Asireddypalli village in Karimnagar district. He preferred Mumbai airport to Hyderabad three years ago when he landed in Dubai in search of employment.

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