| STRUCK BY STRIKE |
Bhubaneswar, Feb. 22: Visitors to the zoo and animals were at the receiving end as a section of workers at Nandankanan went on a strike today.
Activities at the zoo were disrupted following cease work by more than 85 casual and daily wage workers who were demanding regularisation of their jobs.
The agitators included foresters, animal keepers, and gatekeepers, who are key to feeding the animals and managing routine work apart from providing security.
The strike took a toll on crowd management in the zoo since this is peak tourist season. Zoo sources said more than 19,200 visitors visited the zoo today. But the visitors to Nandankanan were unhappy as they had to wait for a longer period in the queues as there were fewer staff to man the entry gates.
“It was irritating to wait in the queue with my children as the sun was blazing down. The crowd moved at a snail’s pace,” said Sunanda Palit, a tourist.
Zoo officials conceded that it would be difficult to manage the crowd if the strike continued.
The agitating employees alleged that though the government had decided to regularise their jobs on March 28 last year, it had failed to keep its promise.
“We had staged a similar agitation last year and at that time the government had assured regularisation of our jobs,” said general secretary of Nandankanan Workers’ Union S.N. Patnaik. He also said that cease work would continue till their demands were met.
Sources in the zoo said that while the contractual workers were being paid Rs 6,250 every month, the regularisation of their services would enable them to get another Rs 4,500 as dearness allowance.
“I have been working in the zoo for the past 25 years and after three years, I will retire. With this much money, it is difficult to run my family. The government must consider our problems,” said Debraj Sasmal, an agitator who works in the security division of the zoo.
With inadequate manpower, the zoo officials are finding it difficult to feed the animals at the zoo. While on a regular day as many as 88 persons are engaged in feeding the animals, the strike led to only 38 employees being available for this vital job.
“The strike has definitely affected daily routine at the zoo. We had to manage with less manpower to feed the animals,” said an employee of the zoo. The zoo has more than 100 enclosures with more than 2,045 animals of 126 species.
However, zoo director S. Panda said daily work had not been affected. “We did not face any difficulty as we have enough additional staff to look after daily activities. Only a couple of workers have gone on strike,” said Panda.