Imagine waking up one day to find your death certificate. That’s exactly what happened to M Arumugam, a conservancy worker from Gudalur in Coimbatore, when to his horror he discovered that he had been reported dead to the district administration.
Arumugam began working for the Gudalur panchayat in 1998, and was eligible for a permanent contract in 2001. However, when he was to avail the permanent job, he took leave of 10 days in order to attend to his wife’s delivery.
It was during this time, in October 2001 that a report had been issued by S Jayachandran, Assistant Panchayat Director to the Panchayat Director stating that Arumugam had passed away.
The report, accessed by TNM, has “Appointment of 12 conservancy workers” as its subject line. It goes on to list Arumugam as one among the 12 workers eligible for a permanent job. Having joined on April 30, 1998, he was due to be made permanent on April 30, 2001.
But the report then goes on to state, “According to the decision taken by the panchayat, among 12 conservancy workers who were supposed to be appointed was Mr Arumugam. We would like to inform you that he died while he was on the job.”
Arumugam, however, was oblivious that this ‘death certificate’ had been issued in his name until recently. It was only by chance that the conservancy worker stumbled upon the report, when he had gone to the panchayat office recently to collect documents he required.
Speaking to TNM, Arumugam's lawyer, Garkey says, “The proof of the incorrect report stating Arumugam’s death has been submitted to the panchayat. But there has been no concrete response from the administration till date.” He also notes that there have been multiple instances where the jobs of contract workers have not been made permanent by the panchayat.
Garkey also accused the Gudalur panchayat of not paying minimum wages to several workers. “Several workers are being paid anywhere between Rs 120 to Rs 200 per day, despite the Coimbatore district collector decreeing in 2016 that the minimum daily wage should be Rs 300.”
Arumugam together with a group of workers staged a protest in front of the District Collector’s office on Monday, demanding that their contracts be made permanent and that proper wages be paid.
Meanwhile, Arumugam has continued to work as a contract worker for the last 19 years, on a meagre daily wage, all the while waiting for his contract to become permanent. He, and many more like him, await their due.