According to media reports the people in the area were frustrated because they were allegedly promised jobs when part of the land was taken over by the ISRO.

A crowd including several people in daylight iwht a truck in the distance and in the background are green treesCourtesy - MediaOne
news Controversy Sunday, September 05, 2021 - 19:03

A number of people had blocked a truck carrying a load for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, on September 5, demanding that they be given the charge of unloading and paid ‘nokkukooli’ or ‘gawking wages’, a banned practice in Kerala. Only two days ago, the Kerala High Court had directed the state government to completely end the practice. But on Sunday, there was a ruckus when people thronged the place and made their demands. It was after police intervention that the vehicle was allowed to pass through to the ISRO and the people dispersed.

Police said that they received a complaint from the ISRO, based on which they reached the spot and found the workers preventing the lorry from entering the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) facility at Thumba. The issue was settled and the workers left the area after the intervention of police officers and the Commissioner, an official of the Thumba Police Station said.

A source at the ISRO said that there were 184 tonnes in the truck and the people who stopped the truck were demanding Rs 2,000 per tonne. “We have a contract with Tata to do the unloading. These are heavy equipment and you will need cranes and other machinery to unload it. It cannot be done manually,” said the source. Although the vehicle has gone in now, they fear more issues on Monday.

MediaOne reports that people in the area were frustrated because they were promised jobs when part of the land was taken over by the VSSC. This led to their objecting of using machinery to unload the cargo, and demanding that if such machinery is used, then they had to be paid nokkukooli. Minister for Labour V Sivankutty has instructed the district labour officer to take action against those who created trouble.

Nokkukooli, which literally means 'gawking wages,' is a practice in Kerala where headloaders charge money for gawking or staring at people loading or unloading cargo. The term is also considered a euphemism for extortion by organised labour unions. The High Court, hearing a plea filed by a businessman from Kollam over the issue, said on Friday that the rights of the head load workers should be protected legally and petitions seeking action on those demanding nokkukooli were on the rise.

"The practice of nokkukooli is damaging the image of Kerala. It should be eradicated. It gives out wrong perceptions about the state. Meanwhile, the rights of the head load workers should also be protected," the court said.

On May 1, 2018, the state government had banned the practice. Last year in April Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had condemned the practice of nokkukooli when it was reported in several places in Kerala during the first lockdown for COVID-19.

(With PTI inputs)

Watch: Ruckus at ISRO

Read from archive: Will Kerala really put an end to 'gawking wages'? Not unless there is political will

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