COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS
(It is difficult to take photographs on brick kilns since the owners are suspicious of outsiders.)
An effort is made here to understand the economics of brick making in the life of an average Katkari family.
A Katkari family (husband, wife and small children) makes about 1,500 bricks per day. The Katkaris work for 6 days in a week, the weekly bazaar day being an off day. In some cases, even this holiday is not permitted. In a month, the Katkaris produce about 36,000 bricks. Assuming losses, breakages; it can be said that a family makes about 30,000 bricks in a month. At Rs.160 for thousand bricks, each family should earn upto Rs.4,800 per month.
Katkaris work for 6 to 7 months on brick kilns. So in a year, each family should earn something like Rs.29,000 to 33,600 working on brick kilns.
In reality the Katkari family gets Uchal (advance) of Rs.2,000 to 3,000 once in a year and Kharchi (wages) of Rs. 250 to 300 per week. That is, Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,200 per month or Rs. 6,000 to Rs.7,200 in wages over a period of 6-7 months. The advance and the interest are continuously deducted from wages. Considering an advance of Rs. 3,000 and wages of Rs.7,200; a Katkari family gets underpaid by anywhere between 19,000 to 23,400 in a year.
Assuming an average 15-20 years of work on brick kilns; a Katkari family is deprived of a minimum of Rs. 450,000 of its rightful wages during its lifetime.
The Katkaris have contributed, literally brick by brick, to build and rebuild major urban centres like Mumbai, Pune, Panvel, New Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, etc. However, the brick enterprise has not given them anything in return, apart from exploitation and bondage.
The Government does not make any efforts to ensure proper work and payment norms for Katkaris on brick kilns since the brick units are owned by the powerful builder lobby. There is a lack of political will and courage in addressing the issue of bonded labour on brick kilns.
The money earned on brick kilns is not enough to support families during monsoon. As a result, many families return from the brick kilns with loans from their sheth. As a matter of fact, sheths visit their captive villages before Ganesh Chathurti festival (August-September) and forcibly give loans to all the "bonded" families. Katkaris spend the money on lavish celebrations and gambling during the Ganesh Chathurti festival. This loan is deducted from wages earned by the family during the next season. Needless to say, the interest is exorbitant and the payment of wages inappropriate. The custom of taking the annual loan puts Katkaris in a debt trap. Brick kiln owners then forcibly take away Katkari people immediately after the monsoon season.
Katkaris are paid wages once in a week. The actual wages are Rs.160 per 1000 bricks, but the owners give a rate of Rs.160 per 1150 bricks, assuming 150 bad bricks per thousand. Wages are never paid properly since the never-ending interest is deducted from the wages and the wages earned are not calculated properly.
BONDED LABOUR ON BRICK KILNS
On the social front, most Katkari hamlets are located close to non-tribal villages since these provide some wage opportunities. Katkari houses are made of karvi reed and a low roof thatched with grass. The houses are very small, often consisting of a single room. There is no foundation. Moisture seeps in through the mud floor during monsoon and this has a negative effect on the health of Katkaris, particularly children, women and older people. Houses and surroundings are dirty and unkempt.
Katkari hamlets are generally located on lands owned by non-tribals or the forest department. As a result, Katkari families always remain under the control of the land owner or the forest department. The owner does not allow them to build better houses or to develop a drinking water source by digging a well. In some Katkari villages there are instances of the land owner harassing Katkari families who were provided improved houses by the Government (under the Indira Awas Yojana). The Katkari families took away the roofing tiles from their houses and migrated to another village. In another place, a non-tribal person from the neighbouring village claimed that the village land belonged to him as soon as a tar road was built upto the Katkari village. Katkaris hence always live under fear. The issue of land ownership in tribal settlements needs to be addressed on a priority basis.
Given the seasonal migration of families, Katkari children are deprived of access to education. Those who manage to go to schools find the syllabus so demanding and unfriendly that they drop out at an early stage.
Government programmes for the upliftment of tribal communities (mainly the Integrated Tribal Development Programme - ITDP) bypass the Katkaris. Interestingly, a large number of Katkari hamlets are not eligible for support under ITDP since they are located outside the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP). Katkaris are forced to stay outside the TSP for reasons of employment from non-tribal villages.