Successive governments have mindlessly “hired” people on an ad-hoc, provisional and temporary basis. They keep the government’s service delivery show going on at almost half of the daily wage guaranteed by law. Merely surviving on a hope that one day their services will be regularised, these more than 60,000 families are dying almost on daily basis. They are at the core of a social crisis, reports Yawar Hussain
On one wintry November 29, morning in 2020, Farooq Ahmad Dagga long wait ended with his death. He was lowered in his grave and the funeral shroud included his hope that one day he will be a regular employee of the Jammu and Kashmir government and his family will reap the benefits of his sweat and blood that he contributed to the department he worked for.
Farooq was part of 61000 workers engaged on a temporary basis in Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s with the promise by each government of getting them regularized after a gap of seven years. He was one of the hundreds who worked Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department as a Daily Rated Worker since 1996.
Farooq’s brother, Latief, who also is engaged with PHE, says his brother died on duty while working in Soura.
“He got two dozen stitches on his back. We sold our ancestral land for his treatment because the government provided no aid,” Latief regretted. “But last year he passed away with the hope of getting regularized one day still in his heart.”
Latief, who himself has only four years of service left also, has his family split. His wife separated from him and it ended in a divorce, a crisis he attributes to his poor financial condition.
“I got married 14 years back,” Latief said. “My marriage ended seven years back as the relation between me and my wife deteriorated due to lack of finances.” For years, he said, the daily wagers had to do without a monthly salary on time.
His brother, Latif said, was 37 years old, and used to eagerly follow news bulletins in anticipation of any news related to their regularization.
“The assurances by the successive government’s between 1996 and 2020 have all been a hoax but they have kept our suffering alive,” Latief regretted with a sense of defeat. “We used to think that we will be made proper permanent employees which, however, never happened. We live because our sufferings make us to live.”
Unlike Latief, Farooq was not married. He was actually waiting for his regularization so that he could raise his family.
There are many Farooq’s now underground, in eternal sleep, who sailed in the same boat when they were alive. Kaunser Ahmad Shah was engaged in 1994. He was also a daily-rated worker who died with a hope etched in his heart of having a normal family of his own.
Shah, like Farooq, died while on duty with nine years left till the retirement age of 60.
Not Just One Tragedy
The stories of social discord and growing psychological problems among these workers and their families are ubiquitous. It is a huge crisis. There are countless cases in which these workers survived with injuries on “duty” and were discarded to fend for themselves.
The Power Development Department (PDD) tops the list of government departments where most of the deaths have taken place and where a huge number of people were reduced to invalids on “duty”. Records available with the respective association suggest that 175 people have died while on duty in PDD. Currently, 250 others are living with crippling handicaps. The PDD is followed by PHE which has so far recorded 45 deaths on the duty of these workers while 60 have been handicapped.
Ghulam Qadir Mir from Chadoora’s Dooniwara was engaged as Daily Rated Worker 22 years ago in 1999 during the National Conference government. He says he was promised regularization after four years which has extended to 22 years now.
“I will be retiring soon. I believe my life has been a waste,” he asserted.
Mir currently feeds a family of nine including the wife and two children of his deceased brother.
“They give us Rs 6750 per month. How are we supposed to survive on this,” he says, adding that their per day salary is Rs 225 which is even lower than what is mandated under the Minimum Wages Act.
“We have been asking the government to implement the Minimum Wages Act which is one of the many legislations that the central government had claimed to have implemented in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370.”
Mir claimed he has had to sell off some of his father’s property to survive at times.
Hang All Politicians
Mir along with a group of daily wagers outside the PHE office in Srinagar said that they want that all the politicians across political parties should be taken to task for ruining their lives.
“Hang them at Ghanta Ghar along with their bureaucrats,” an agitated Mir said. “We have daughters of marriageable age but we lack resources to manage their send-off.”
These daily-wagers said the time they had been assured by all political parties that their services will be regularized. But it did not happen.
“We were recently told by top BJP leaders including MoS Home GK Reddy and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that Prime Minister has given go-ahead to our regularization and the orders would soon follow,” a group of daily wagers revealed. “But nothing is around in pipeline.”
They said that have met all the advisors to the successive Governors and Lt Governors of Jammu and Kashmir. Everybody admits that it is a problem but nobody has done anything for them.
They said that if any government would have sacked them en masse or announced that their services will not be regularized then they would have been freed of the “curse”
Mohammad Riyaz, a resident of Poonch and a daily wager in the PHE Department, Jammu committed suicide in February 2021. His body was kept inside the premises of PHE Jammu Chief Engineer’s office for a week as a mark of protest.
Apart from having five kids, Riyaz was rearing a big family comprising his wife, brother and parents. As per his colleagues, Riyaz was under financial pressure for many months and had taken a loan as well.
“It’s not a suicide, it’s murder! This is what the Government is doing with daily wagers for the last 20 years,” one of his colleagues said. “Riyaz was financially weak. He couldn’t bear the fact that he had served the Government for 20 years and still wasn’t a permanent employee. He couldn’t handle his daily expenditure. The government wants to get its job done free of cost.”
Following his suicide, there were protests in Poonch as well as in Jammu by hundreds of daily wagers but to no avail.
PHE Daily Wagers leader from Poonch, Maqbool Hussain said that Riyaz was waiting for his wages which were not released.
“He made a phone call to someone who told him that the PHE department was brought under a municipality and they had no future now,” Hussain said. “It disappointed Riyaz to an extent that he consumed poison and died while undergoing treatment.”
Echoing similar intentions like Riyaz, Mushtaq Ahmad who has been engaged by the government as a daily rated worker in 1994 said that sometimes he also thinks of drowning himself in river Jhelum.
“We have been destroyed,” Mushtaq said. “We could have become labourers and earned more but this tag and assurance that we are a part of government ruined us.” He has been in the department since he was appointed as a daily wager by the then Chief Engineer, Shahmiri.
“I was elated when I got the official identity card. I thought I was a government employee.”
This I-card became the basis of his social standing. Soon he got married.
“My wife now castigates her bad luck for marrying me because I cannot manage my expenses,” he regretted. After 27 years of service, he can’t afford a bicycle for her daughter. “She every day asks me when I would buy her that cycle. I can’t face her anymore. How many lies would I have to tell her?”
Terming daily rated workers as “bonded labourers”, Mushtaq says they work more than the regular employees. “I only have two years of service left now.”
While Mushtaq can retain his hope for the next two years, Irfan Ahmad Bhat of Fatehkadal Srinagar died after waiting for regularization for 23 years.
Bhat, who died in 2019, has left behind his wife and two children who are now left to fend for themselves.
Bhat’s wife says that she approached everyone for her engagement as daily wager after her husband died.
“The former Advisor to LG Kewal Kumar Sharma gave me a letter directing the former Chief Engineer Abdul Wahid to get me adjusted,” she said.. “But in the end, it was all a hoax.”
She along with her two children are now living at her parent’s home where she is now dependent on her brother who works as a labourer.
“He takes care of us. We have no other source of income. My children have stopped going to school,” she says.
“If my husband would have been regularized which he deserved we would have had a normal life.”
She says the future of her children worries her.
Children’s Budget Hopes
A daily wager of PDD wishing anonymity said that his children were sitting in front of the television screen when the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was delivering her speech on the Jammu and Kashmir’s special budget.
“They are also under stress. They were expecting regularisation policy for us like we have been for decades now,” he said.
Sajad Parray, president of the Daily Wagers Association said 90 per cent of the casual workers are mentally stressed and suffer from clinical depression.
“The rough figure is that around four lakh people are directly and indirectly affected by this problem. They are all under acute depression which is going to affect,” he said.
Parray also fears that the children of many daily wagers would take up menial jobs to help the financial constraints faced by their families.
“A lot of children are already working as child labourers, which is against the law. But indirectly the government is facilitating something which is unlawful,” he said.
He said children of many workers are already out of school as their parents can’t afford their school expenses.
Money For World Water Day
The daily wagers rue that on one hand, the government has so much money to spend on the recent World Water Day-where conservation, usage and ways to keep water bodies clean were enunciated-while on the other they have no money for the daily wagers who run tirelessly to keep the essential services working.
“We continued to work in 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016 agitations to provide water and electricity along with other allied essential services to the public,” a group of daily wagers said.
They said that they were at the forefront post-August 5 so that people don’t face any inconvenience. “During recent Covid-19 we didn’t even think about our families but continued to work on the ground.”
They said that they have been demanding implementation of the Minimum Wages Act, which would increase their per day salary from Rs 225 to Rs 520.
In 2017, the then BJPDP government issued an SRO-520 under which the services of 60,000 daily wagers were to be regularized.
The then Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu had made the announcement regarding regularisation of the daily wagers of various categories and after regularization, these employees were to be designated as Government Services Assistants.
Under the SRO, the daily wagers were classified into skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled categories and pay bands were also announced for them under different categories. But this all proved a hoax as no headway was made in this regard after the fall of the ill-fated coalition.
Throw Them Out
While the present administration has formed committees to look into the issue of regularization of these workers spread across half a dozen departments, the sources in the administration reveal that the government will not be regularizing the services of all the 60000 odd workers.
Recently Lt Governor Manoj Sinha said that after due consultations the daily wage workers would be adjusted as per available vacancies in respective departments.
“I don’t understand how the administration was being run here earlier,” Sinha was quoted saying. “I am amazed. I sympathize with these workers.”
Sources said that the government is also mulling to keep the workforce which is employed before 2005 out of the regularization ambit while getting in the people who have more time left in their services.
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department recently issued a circular asking the respective district Forest Officer’s to disengage the workers, which are not needed now by the government along with providing pay to the daily rated workers only for working days which exclude the Sundays and holidays in a month.
National Conference General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar said that his party regularized nearly 60000 daily wagers in 1996.
“There is already a government order under which these workers have to be regularized after 10 years of service,” he said, adding that government should absorb them.
Peoples Conference Vice President Abdul Gani Vakeel said daily wagers have been used by all governments for their own gain.
“It is these workers who run all the departments. Only the government headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad had decided to regularize them but unfortunately, PDP withdrew support. After that there were only false promises,” Vakeel said.
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party Vice President Usman Majeed said that he has always fought for them.
“Government should regularize them. I have been raising this in assembly as well. They basically have been running all government schemes on the ground,” he said.