18 Years, Waiting

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A villager donated his piece of land for the construction of Panchayat Ghar when he was 30. He was promised a job. For all these years, he has been spending from his pocket for everything that is linked to the Panchayat and the events around but never ever paid, not even a penny, reports Umar Khurshid

A side view of a Panchayat building in Anzwalla village of Anantnag. KL Image by Umar Khurshid

A side view of a Panchayat building in Anzwalla village of Anantnag. KL Image by Umar Khurshid

Every morning, Mohammad Yousuf Dar, 47, a resident of Anzwalla in Anantnag, walks a distance of 100 meters to the local panchayat building. He moves around the building, dusts the windows and cleans the courtyard.

The building situated on the banks of river Lidder is painted and well maintained. From a distance, hardly anyone can  judge that it is a government building. Painted and well-maintained, it looks more of a luxury hut rather than the Panchayat Ghar.

Thanks to Dar for maintaining it. Dar keeps it well-maintained because it is constructed on his land. The Panchayat comprises four rooms, a bathroom and a verandah.

Way back in December 2001, Dar was approached by a local contractor. He promised him financial compensation and a permanent government job, if he provides land for constructing the government building. Early next year, the concerned Block Development Officer (BDO), ACD, VLW and other Rural Development officials along with the village heads met Dar in order to acquire his land. Dar said he was assured a permanent job as Chowkidar for the Panchayat building. He agreed to give his land. The building was constructed in 2003.

“I did not own much of land, but still I provided eight marlas,” Dar said. “I thought it would bring something good to me. But little did I know neither I will get the job nor any compensation.”

Now, more than 17 years have passed, Dar has a feeling that he has lost his prized asset. He thinks the government has fraudulently usurped his land. “I lost all these years waiting for my job,” Dar regretted. “I could have become a carpenter or done something else that would have helped me feed my family properly.”

Interestingly, during the construction of the same building, Dar was given Sau Din (hundred days) of labour work that he did for two years. He gave the land, worked on the building and is maintaining the building for all these years – without being paid even a penny.

Days after Dar provided the land to the government, a group of masked men barged into his house and threatened him against it . “They were about to beat me and my family but I somehow assured them that we will not provide the land and they left the house,” Dar said. The masked men feared as if the government would convert the small building into a garrison.

Later, in 2016, when Kashmir remained in turmoil for almost six months, after Burhan Wani’s killing, Dar along with his family shifted in the Panchayat building. Since Dar lives next to the Panchayat, it took him one whole day to shift his belongings to the other building. He barged into the Panchayat in order to save it from being set afire. In 2016 unrest, scores of government buildings went up in smoke.

In August 2016, Dar remembers five to six masked men, holding weapons, got into his home in the dead of the night. They wanted to set afire the Panchayat. “When they saw how miserable life I live, they left the house without saying anything,” Dar said. Soon after, Dar shifted into the building.

In 2017, when RDD created new blocks, all the Chowkidars were directed to perform their duties at their concerned blocks. Anzwalla falls in a block that is 5 kms away. Dar had to travel on daily basis in order to perform his duty. For many days, Dar had to carry all the belongings that include official documents, chairs, and carpets from his courtyard Panchayat to the block centre in Anantnag.

“For six long months, I did up and down and performed the duty; I had to spend around Rs 50 per day; I don’t even know how much that amounts in six months. I paid the fare of these items from my own pocket,” Dar said. “At the end of it, I was neither given attendance for those six months nor paid a penny.”

As the plans for construction of the wall of the Panchayat were set afoot by officials, he hoped against the hope that he would be asked to do this. He though the officials knew his plight. But the contract for the construction of the outer wall and main gate was given to a block contractor. Had the contract gone to him, Dar said his financial crisis would have somehow eased. “But no, why would a poor man earns some money!”

Though not a single penny came, Dar lived on a hope. He told his family that one day he would be paid a huge amount. “But the truth is that I have been lying to my family from 18 years. But I am helpless; I can’t leave things midway.” Dar has five kids and a wife. Since the government is not paying anything to Dar, he sometimes finds a day or two days of local labour work to feed his family.

There were instances when many families approached Dar suggesting they want to live as tenants in the building. “I refused their proposals because I knew it belongs to the government,” Dar said.

Early 2019, when Dar’s family was busy in a small construction work, they said they were officially told the Back to Village is being launched and the officials would meet people. Dar pitched a tent and hired carpets and chairs, prepared tea, food for officials for two days. Nobody asked him who funds the costs. Dar says he spent more than Rs 10,000 for the routine expenses of the “official guests”. Nobody paid him a single penny.

Dar remembers the last Lok Adalat initiative. The representatives belonging to far-off villages had to carry out their duties in the concerned centers and Dar remained with them for three long years but was not paid. “My job is to look after the building, but why would somebody work without getting anything in return. I am punctual to my duty all the time, but for no use,” Dar said.

During the last more than a decade, Dar and his family would work for every government function. He would take part in rallies and events of the government in the village. “I and my wife had to carry the belonging from the Panchayat to the event-place, every time, there was an event,” Dar said.

Those days, Dar said, his family starved for many days, when they had no money to buy the household items. “As I was not earning anything where would I get the money? Years have passed hoping for the job, but I still end up with nothing at all,” Dar said.

Shameema, 48, Dar’s wife, has given up her hopes that her husband would ever be engaged by the sarkar. Sitting next to her husband, she remembers the day when she borrowed Rs 10,000 from her neighbour so that her husband can travel to Jammu in order to get himself permanently engaged. “Many winters have passed since then but he received no order,” she said.

Asserting that Dar was cheated by the government, Shameema has been telling him that he must take possession of the building in lieu of the compensation for land and the services for which he was never paid. But Dar is still hopeful. “Every time he approaches the department he is being asked to wait for another month,” Shameema said. “This is how our 18 years have passed.”

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