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Powerloom weavers block national highway in Malegaon
Wednesday November 13, 2013 6:28 PM, ummid.com Staff Reporter

Peaceful but aggressive, thousands of powerloom weavers on Wednesday blocked the Mumbai-Agra National Highway No.3 in a protest against the Maharashtra government's textile policy and the recent hike in the electricity tariff.

Led by veteran socialist leader and former minister Nehal Ahmed a large number of weavers and equal number of powerloom workers, both Hindus and Muslims, who were sporting black strips on their arms and carrying white flags in hands, gathered long before the scheduled time and sat on the national highway forcing the administration to divert the traffic.

Shouting slogans 'Rollback, rollback, Electricity tariff hike rollback', they blocked the highway for over two hours, and brought normal traffic on the busy highway to a halt.

"You are paying thousands of crore rupees for the debt-ridden farmers and providing them electricity free of cost. But, for the industrialists who are contributing thousands of rupees to the state coffer, you are imposing new taxes and levies every day", the leaders said while addressing the protesters..

"This will no longer be allowed. If you want peace, you should allow us earn our livelihood peacefully", they said.

The national-highway blockade was part of the five-day protest announced by mill owners demanding a recent hike the power tariff announced by the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC).

Significantly, the protest, which was called by powerloom owners, was also supported by the workers employed in powerloom units and people associated with other trades, and a large number of them were also seen standing with the mill owners.

'The government has put to risk the very survival of our livelihood. The entire economy of the city revolves around powerlooms. Everything in the city runs when and only when powerlooms run. They are dead means we are dead", Rafique Quraishi, a tea vendor said while talking to ummid.com.

The labourers too expressed similar concern.

"Though Malegaon is a very big textile cluster, it works on minimal profits and wages we are paid are also very less. Five days of bandh means, we will have to suffer for months due to its after effects", said Rizawn Ansari, a powerloom worker.

The hallmark of today's protest was that 82-year-old Nehal Ahmed was unable to walk but he came and led the protest. For him the protest was a more powerful repeat of the famous agitation he had led in 1971 at the same place against the mill owners. The agitation had its impact on the local politics for three decades.

Equally significant was the rare show of unity by leaders of other political parties including local MLA Mufti Mohd Ismael, Deputy Mayor Jameel Bashir, Congress leaders Dr Tushar Shewale and Sabir Gauhar, NCP leaders Yunus Isa and Ex Mayor Abdul Malik, over two dozen councillors belonging to the ruling as well as opposition parties who were present for the protest called by Malegaon Powerloom Electricity Consumers' Association.

After decades local police experienced today the Malegaon style protest for which the city was famous once. After two hours of blocakde when the protesters courted arrest and brought to the City Police Station, the police officials were clueless about how to handle the crowd that was shouting 'Naam likho aur Khana do'. (Register our names and Give us meal) and asking for speciall arrangement to offer afternoon prayer.

Textile industry is regarded as the second largest industrial sector after agriculture providing employment to millions of people. India has over 2.2 million powerlooms. Of this about 1.1 million are in Maharashtra.

Powerloom weavers claim that the state government has never been serious about the growth of the textile industry. Tired of state's textile policy, mill owners in Bhiwandi, Ichalkaranji and other textile clusters are also on a strike since November first week.



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