By Pallavi Sareen
JAMMU: The abrupt fall of the BJPDP government had interestingly small victims as well. Some stoner carvers who were in the middle of implementing some jobs for the government have booked good losses.
The names of ex-ministers are carved on a set of stone staked by the side of Akhnoor road. Suresh Kumar, the stone carver, is anxiously waiting for these stones to be picked up by their respective customer who forgot all about them after placing the order, leaving a huge amount in credit.
From Tara Chand, speaker for J&K in 2005 to Sham Lal Choudhary, Minister for PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control in 2016 to Rajeev Sharma, MLA Akhnoor; Bali Bhagat, Minister for Health and Medical Education; Prof Chaman Lal Gupta, MLA Jammu West, and Jenab Ali Mohd. Sagar, Minister for Works, J&K, the names are seen engraved on those inauguration and foundation stones. Some of the stones have cracked with the passage of time and yet are placed right on display with the engraver hoping they might get picked up again.
After the developmental schemes are announced, plans are laid out, and well before the construction process starts, orders are routinely placed for the foundation and inauguration stones, often by government officials. Since there is no official provision for spending on inauguration and foundation stones, the order is placed informally by government officials to please the “VVIPs”.
When the minister shifts to a different department or the government changes, these stones lose all the meaning and worth for the buyer. And the time, effort and money invested by the carver are never repaid. The tragic part is that the persons, who place the order, pay a fraction of money as advance. If the stone is actually lifted, the full payment is made. In case, it remains unclaimed nobody pays for the hard work put in by these artists.
For big establishments, the cost would come to a minimal and might even be ignored but to a roadside carver who depends on the engravings for his livelihood, the blockade of his earnings is a crisis. These carvers have a yearly turnover barely reaching a million rupees and only part of it goes to their home. In such situations when the hard labour remains unpaid, it adds to their toil and loss.
Kumar sits in his chair every day making nameplates for houses, engraving addresses and working hard. But the government, which otherwise is the sovereign and a guarantee in all affairs prove defaulters in crushing this small number of stone carvers.
Kumar said he is a sole-worker and not an established carver. These orders mean him working on a single stone for days’ altogether. Lack of education makes documentation impossible and so he cannot even file a claim for the money, various government departments owe him. He has been sitting at the same place, inscribing those stones for past sixteen years.
“Just the stone tablet costs Rs 7000 and often these stones keep lying around for years with no one coming to pick them up,” Kumar said. “These stones go completely waste once they have been engraved and there are ways to reuse them, but it requires a lot more effort and is basically cheating the customer.”
When a government official approaches them for a stone, they expect good quality stones. “Once it is ready, it goes waste,” he said. “Since I do not remember who placed the order, I put these stones on display so that some people who might notice them may come and clear the balance.”
So far, however, nobody has come to claim the stone they had placed an order for.
“Some of the stones don’t have dates on them so when a Minister is shifted to another department, the stone stays here for years and if he is ever shifted back, they take the stone and plant it somewhere,” Kumar said. “But that is quite rare. I do ask for an advance after being cheated for so many times, yet the advance that they give is very minimal and doesn’t even cover the cost of the stone.”
Is there a possibility for these VVIPs to visit these stone artists and clear their names?