Lockdown, unseasonal rains leave Kumari rubber workers in lurch

Workers solely relying on rubber plantations in parts of Kanniyakumari district to survive are struggling now, having lost their livelihoods in the wake of COVID lockdown.
Lockdown, unseasonal rains leave Kumari rubber workers in lurch
A worker taps latex from a rubber tree at Manalodai


Adding to their woes, unusual rains during this month have made adverse impact as the workforce could hardly find an alternate source of livelihood. M Valsakumar, general secretary, Kanniyakumari District Estate Workers Union, on Saturday said the local economy has been hampered by strict enforcement of lockdown measures. 
Though there is no such restriction on rubber tapping, two-wheeled vehicles, the principal mode of transport for rubber workers, are not permitted to ply as part of the lockdown. 
Some employers arranged transportation for the workers, but many were reluctant to travel fearing COVID. Normally, the workforce would prefer to go to rubber plantation sites in taluks of Vilavancode, Thiruvattar and Thovalai by their bikes, which could even take them to interior portions, as it would be more convenient for the rubber tappers to carry loads of latex to collection points. 
As the rubber workers have been bumped out of a livelihood, the state government should consider their legitimate concerns and provide adequate relief during this crisis situation. Over 25,000 workers have been relying on rubber cultivation in the district, he told DT Next. 
C Vijayakumar, resident of Kulasekaram, who works in Chittar Estate, said if a worker managed to extract eight kilos of latex from rubber trees in a plantation registered under the Companies Act, he could earn Rs 480 a day. 
With 25 years of experience in rubber tapping, the 47-year old Vijayakumar said he could hardly reach out for an alternate source of earning his livelihood. 
A Velappan from Thuckalay for Manalodai Division, a worker could get at least a rainy day allowance of Rs 110, if two-wheeler movement is allowed to access plantation sites, where attendance in registry is mandatory for availing such benefit. But it would not benefit those living in far off places from such sites. 
Further, he said the Division contains living quarters of 221 houses for workers, but mostly ill equipped and under poor maintenance and only eight houses among the quarters are in living condition. 
Moreover, the vehicle pass provided for workers by authorities of the Rubber Corporation has not been duly endorsed by the police personnel. 
Therefore, the authorities should lift curbs on two wheeler movement in the interest of rubber workers and also revive the living quarters, he said.

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