The Gopalamitras of Andhra Pradesh, who provide doorstep livestock health services have been protesting for a month now over pending salaries and job security. The main concern of the Gopalamitras is being deemed ineligible for village secretariat posts. This comes after they were earlier promised that they would be given preference for the Veterinary Assistant posts under the Animal Husbandry Department.
On Sunday, after a month, Minister for Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Mopidevi Venkata Ramana Rao visited their protest camp, heard their pleas and has promised to provide jobs to the workers in the second phase of recruitment to the village secretariats.
The Gopalamitras also met with Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan in Mangalagiri on Saturday to voice their concerns over job security and pending salaries.
According to the Gopalamitra Workers Union State Secretary Malleshwaram, who works in East Godavari district, the program has been in place in the state from the year 2000, with a required educational qualification of class 10. “Earlier, the government had declared that they would give preference to Gopalamitras in the village secretariat appointments. But last month, the Animal Husbandry Department officials declared that candidates would need to have a diploma or vocational course certificate in veterinary science to be eligible for the Veterinary Assistant post,” Malleshwaram said.
Many workers said that they were unable to apply for the secretariat exams being conducted on September 1 following the announcement of the revised eligibility criteria. “They say that we don’t have the required technical training. But, we do undergo six months of technical and theoretical training for our jobs. Besides, many of us have years of experience. One of our workers recently won a national level award in 2018 for his work in livestock artificial insemination,” said Veeranjaneyulu, a Gopalamitra from Prakasam district.
Workers claim that colleges in the state have been offering the veterinary science diploma only since 2010, some of them had started working as Gopalamitras even before that. Many of them said that several years of their work and experience is being undermined and that they are being denied an important job opportunity. According to union members, while there are nearly 9,800 posts of Veterinary Assistants, only about 6,000 applications have been received from eligible candidates. “There are about 3,000 Gopalamitras in the state. This means they still have sufficient openings for all of us. If they still think we are technically underqualified, they could provide training to bring us at par with the diploma candidates. They are denying us an important opportunity by disqualifying us,” said Veeranjaneyulu.
Workers also said that years of their on-ground contribution to improving the livestock of the state is being ignored. “When the program was started in 2000, we were working as volunteers. Our only income was whatever the farmers would pay us on our visits. We started to get a monthly honorarium of Rs 1,200 only in 2008. It was slowly increased, and in November last year, it was made Rs 6,500. During the election campaign, the YSRCP had promised to raise our honorarium to Rs 16,500. But now, our payment is pending for the past seven months — since February. Our work-based incentives have been pending for 5 years,” said Malleshwaram.
With the payment dues already pending, workers say that they were looking towards the Veterinary Assistant post for job security, which they have now been denied. Malleshwaram says that the Gopalamitras have been protesting at the district-level throughout the month.
“Since August 1, we have been protesting outside the district collectorate offices. Not one official has responded to us in a month. Finally, we have all come to Vijayawada to protest, hoping the leaders will hear us,” he said. It was after this Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Mopidevi Venkata Ramana Rao visited the camp.