KARACHI: Speakers of a ‘Hari conference’ held on Saturday demanded that labour rights be granted to haris (peasant farmers) under the Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013 (SIRA2013). The speakers also demanded that artificial shortage of water be ended in Sindh. They urged the government to declare Thar desert a calamity-struck area and provide jobs to the local people in the Thar Coal field. The National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and Sindh Agricultural General Workers Union (CBA), jointly, organised a ‘Hari Conference’ for community of Mahao Bheel Goth of district Mithi, which was presided over by Union President Ali Ahmed Panhwar. It was largely attended by the representatives of Hari farmers and agricultural workers. Addressing the conference, Sindh Agricultural General Workers Union (CBA) President Ali Ahmed Panhwar said that five years had already passed to recognition of the agricultural and fisheries workers as legal worker under the Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013 (SIRA2013). “Under this act, it was accepted that social security, pension, grants, welfare schemes, and the right to make unions and CBAs would be granted to the workers of agricultural and fisheries sectors, just like industry workers but the concerned deparments of Sindh government have not made rules of the SIRA2013 yet,” Panwher explained. “Resultantly, millions of workers of the agricultural and fisheries sectors are deprived of their legal and constitutional rights,” he added. Panhwar said that the agricultural workers were facing serious threats to their health and life due to lack of health and safety measures at their workplaces. He added that their situation was similar to that of industrial workers. The union president said that agricultural workers were not given any training to properly handle dangerous fumigation, pesticides and fertilizer. “In case of illness and death, there are no facilities of medical treatment,” he said, adding that the families of ill and deceased agricultural workers received no compensation. Sindh Agricultural General Workers Union (CBA) general secretary Lal Bux Lallan Sathio also spoke on the occasion. He said that today feudal lords, ‘waderas’, so-called religious and spiritual leaders had made their fiefdoms in Sindh which were like slave states. He added that no political or religious party was ready to raise voice for these virtually enslaved haris. He said that the haris were vulnerable and their daughters were facing kidnappings, forced marriages and conversions. He pointed out that the murder and rape cases were on the rise in hari settlements and the haris belonging to minorities faced the blunt of this oppression. . Other speakers including NTUF central deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor, vice president Sabaghi Bheel, information secretary Mushtaq Ali Shah, union leader from Mithi Moti Ram Bheel, Abdul Aziz Wago, Heranand, Saleem Jamali also addressed the conference. They said that the Thar region was facing a famine due to a prolonged drought. They said that the situation in Thar had deteriorated to the point of becoming a human tragedy. “People are facing hunger and diseases and their animals are dying due to a lack of water and fodder. They are forced to migrate” they added. The speakers said that there was nobody to understand and resolve the problems of these people. The speakers said that on top of this, jobs were not being given to locals in Thar Coal projects and non-locals were invited to work on these coal projects instead. The speakers said that the artificial shortage of water in Sindh had become a huge crisis. They said that on one hand there was a manmade shortage of irrigation water and on the other, influential waderas and feudal lords had created a monopoly over distribution of water. They said that small growers and peasants in the region were deprived of their share of canal water by these influential lords. The speakers further said that there was no mechanism of setting crop rates in consultation with the representatives of haris and haris as well small cultavators were left to the mercy of market mafia and commission agents, who always set the crop prices to serve their own interests. Published in Daily Times, August 19th 2018.