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Cows heave moo of relief, employees remain sore

Workers at the well-known Bombay Panjrapole in South Mumbai’s Bhuleshwar yesterday ended their three-day strike without any of their demands being met. Issues over employees’ provident fund (EPF) and access to personal loans had prompted the agitation.

Arjun Rabari
Good guy: Worker Arjun Rabari milks a cow at the Bombay Panjrapole.   Employees say they milked the cows once a day despite the strike to avoid causing the animals any suffering. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Since the onset of the strike on Monday, workers had stopped milking the cows regularly, leaving the animals at risk of infection and likely death. The supply of milk to a number of areas in South Mumbai also dropped as a result.

“Though none of the demands were met, we had to end the strike as the notice we had given was only for three days,” said Kiran Pawar, secretary, Mumbai Gumasta union, who is supporting the employees. “We will soon decide on the future course of action.”

Pawar said over 140 staff members, both permanent and contract, at all the centres of Bombay Panjrapole participated in the strike.

“The workers resorted to the agitation to raise two main concerns,” said Pawar. “One is that they have been kept in the dark about provident fund deposits being made in the EPF office in Bandra instead of the trust. The second concern is that the trust has stopped giving them loans against their provident fund.”

Pawar said since the past three years the trust had started depositing the employees’ provident fund with the EPF office in Bandra instead of keeping it with the trust, which was the earlier practice. The trust claims it is merely following the auditors’ advice and EPF officers’ instructions. The staff allege that they have been kept in the dark about it all and that the trust even failed to produce any document to support its claims.

Pawar said the other major concern was the trust stopping the facility of personal loans. According to the employees, the trust would in the past give them personal loans of up to 60 per cent of their contributed PF amount, on which an interest of 9.5 per cent was levied. They say that for three years they have not been getting personal loans from the trust, while the EPF office does not entertain such requests on the grounds that loan applications can be made only after the trust deposits the entire sum collected from employees so far.

“The workers are only asking for their rights and are not interested in causing hassles to anybody, including the cows, but the trust is not budging,” Pawar said. “We are demanding that the trust should allow the workers personal loan up to Rs 2 lakh and also give bonus to contract workers, besides a pay hike, which is stated in our charter of demands.”

Bombay Panjrapole trustee Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy said the employees, in connivance with the union, were trying to pressure the trust at a time when it was financially ailing.

“We are only following the instructions given to the trust by the auditors,” he said.

According to him, a total of Rs 3.52 crore had to be deposited by the trust in the workers’ EPF accounts, of which Rs 2.72 crore is already deposited.

“The remaining Rs 80 lakh is yet to be deposited, which will be done shortly,” Jeejeebhoy said. “But the demands of the workers cannot be met, as the trust is already running into huge losses of Rs 35 lakh per annum over the past few years.”

Jeejeebhoy said the strike had resulted in 800 litres of milk that is collected daily from 135-odd milch cows going waste, a claim Pawar and the employees refuted.

“We are not wasting any milk,” said Arjun Rabari, a worker. “We worship the cows and so we milked them once during the strike instead of twice a day. The calves were fed.” On-duty veterinarian Ramesh Pukar said milking a cow just once a day was not enough.

“If the cows are not milked twice a day, they can develop mastitis and it could even be life threatening,” Pukar said. “Also, the chances of cows developing bacterial and viral infection cannot be ruled out if sheds are not cleaned daily.”

Around since 1834
The Bombay Panjrapole was founded by Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Amichand Shah in 1834, initially to look after stray dogs and pigs. The two businessmen were helped by Parsi philanthropist Cowasjee Patel. Today cows outnumber other animals, and the money from the sale of milk to locals is used for the upkeep of the shelter. Jeejeebhoy also built a complex housing 200 shops and 450 tenants to generate revenue for the shelter, but today the rent is insufficient for the intended purpose.  

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