All-Weather PHE Workers ‘Weathering’ in Wait of Regularisation

Bilal Handoo

SRINAGAR

PHE PROTEST (3)
PHE workers protest to press for regularisation in this file photo. Pic: Bilal Bahadur.

With nothing to fall back upon, Nazir, one fine day, took out Samovar from his home and went to a local coppersmith for doing a brisk bargaining business. The moment Samovar turned into cash, he hurriedly took his ailing wife to health centre to do a necessary medical check-up. For this poor Public Health Engineering (PHE) ground worker – awaiting regularisation for last 20 years – life has always been like this.

Nazir gets a paltry sum of Rs 4200 per month like thousands of casual PHE workers. And with this income, since 1994, he has been an all-weather PHE worker—who hit the ground with trench tools to detect and subsequently correct any block or snag in water pipes.

Be it shower, snow or scorching sun, he remains on toes to be at public service.

“Even after putting up so much effort,” says Nazir, “neither officials nor public are pleased with us.”

Like Nazir, Gowher Mir has also been maintaining the same routine from past 20 years.

“The job we do is both taxing as well as tolling,” he says. “On face of it, authorities are yet to take a final call on us.”

Post-September floods, last year, the workload of these daily wagers has mounted to a level of ‘breakdown’. Even after doing gruelling work at stretch, they rue over their holdup salaries—not to talk about incentives and other benefits.

And yet, says Nazir, “we make it sure to provide all convenience to public, no matter what.” But then, he continues, our plight is continuously getting worse.

Currently two batches of daily wagers are working in PHE department. One batch was picked in 1994, when regularization faced axe in state because of turbulent times. And the next batch—on need basis—was picked up in PHE after 2005.

In both batches, says a PHE official, total workers are around 16,000.

“And both are being paid Rs 4200 per month,” asserts PHE Inspector, Ghulam Mohammad Nath. “Though post-1994 batch often gets their wages without any delay, but post-2005 batch often faces hiccups to secure their monthly wages.”

Nath expresses hope that the new dispensation is likely to regularise both these PHE batches any time soon.

His confidence rests on the announcement made by the new Finance Minister of state, Dr Haseeb Drabu, while presenting his maiden Budget in JK Assembly recently.

“The Government will announce a High Power Committee of Ministers and some external experts, to confront with a gigantic problem of regularization of thousands of workers engaged on casual basis,” Drabu said in his Budget speech.

But a few days back, Drabu admitted: There is no policy in place for regularization of Need based/Casual labourers engaged prior to January 3, 1994 or after that.

Notably, over 61000 Casual/Seasonal labourers have been engaged by different departments across state.

As stalement over regularisation continues, thousands of PHE workers seem to have another ‘nail in the coffin’: their holdup salary for last three months!

Caught in this ‘twin paradox’, between salary holdup and stalement, Nazir—with no fall back system, is likely to step out with his another home article, any time sooner, to maintain his brisk bargaining business with a local coppersmith!

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