Fayaz (name changed) is a daily wager in R&B department; his monthly wages are Rs 6750, only source of income for his 5 member family. He has to feed them and also support education of his 3 children. He gets wages only after 4 to 5 months and that too for a single month leaving no chance for him to fall in depression and pose a greater risk to the life of his family and the education of his children. He usually gets support from his brothers who look after his children but this cannot continue for long, he says, it feels I am begging and there is no dignified life for me and my family.
Kashmir like every other part in the country has lakhs of daily wagers working in many government sectors; manufacturing, electricity department, water supplies, food department, forest, agriculture, sheep husbandry, roads and buildings, etc. There are more than 1 lakh daily wagers in Kashmir who haven’t got regularization orders since years and decades and they feel they have got cheated.
Currently, a daily wager is entitled to an honorarium of Rs 225 as daily wage, earlier it was Rs 150. However, most of them do not even get it on due time; there are daily wagers who haven’t got paid for many years regularly. Their salaries are pending and they are experiencing a worst time during the pandemic. The emotions of these employees were exploited by every government in J&K, some regimes used them for election manifesto promising o regularize them and solve their problems while others tried to get vote bank as quid pro quo for the regularization orders. They have been always asking for their due rights which have been met by state with tear shells and chilly water during their peaceful protests, when otherwise always neglected.
The change in the nature of state to a Union Territory and appointment of Lieutenant Governor brought new hope to these workers that their problem might get solved but it didn’t help them when otherwise the issue of development and solving the problems of these employees was on cards after abrogation of Article 370.
However, the trend has been going on for past two decades now in Kashmir that not only the rights but feelings and emotions of these workers have been played with very often. These workers have been neglected and left to die in their worst conditions. They aren’t begging before the government but are asking for their Due, their legal and statutory rights. The workers get their wages only on occasion of Eid, Diwali, Holi like Khairaat and there is nobody who could listen to their woes.
The coalition government of Peoples Democratic Party and Bhartiya Janta Party in 2017 had promised to regularize the services of as many as 62,000 ad hoc employees. The government had even framed a policy and issued SRO-520 Dated 21 December, 2017 asking the heads of departments to prepare list of the employees who had completed 10 years of service on the basis of treasury vouchers against the wages which were released in their favor. However, some casual and need based workers had not got wages for years together and thus couldn’t produce the treasury receipts in support of their claim.
The Government knowing that they weren’t paid had however decided that first and last treasury receipts be placed by the concerned Drawing and Disbursing officer to authenticate that the incumbent was working in the department for 10 years. The policy was to be implemented from 1 January, 2018 and departments asked all the employees to submit the relevant documents, which these employees have been doing since very past times with hope of getting some fruitful result.
After a few months, there was a list viral on social media showing details of more than one lakh daily wagers and joy overtook home of every daily wager thinking that they got regularized , but the joy lasted only few hours and tuned into gloom when a clarification statement came from the government that it wasn’t any order for regularization.
The SRO was to be implemented from 1 January, 2018 but it was shelved in the same year when BJP pulled out of coalition with PDP, again putting water on the dreams of helpless and paying no heed to their problems.
More than 10 months have passed after J&K became a centrally administered UT, over one lakh employees employed in various departments like PHE, Power Development Department (PDD), Roads and Buildings Department (R&B),etc- who were waiting for their “Ache din” to live are completely disillusioned today. The laws after abrogation of Article 370 changed and new laws were implemented in J&K but the government is yet to implement Central Government Wages Act which promises a minimum wage amounting to Rs 520 on daily basis.
The basic violation of their rights can be well understood from the point that government is paying Rs 225 to an unskilled worker per day while per day rate of an unskilled worker in private sector is from Rs 500 to Rs 600. The casual laborers in all government departments who are technical hands also deserve to be paid if not at par but at least close to the wages of skilled workers in other private establishments.
The government has become so callous that it failed to pay the wages to the daily rated workers as is paid in other UTs of the country, and also as paid to its permanent employees doing the same work, therefore, committing a serious breach of the Constitutional principle of equal pay for equal work and violation of equality clause of the constitution under Article 14. The Supreme Court has upheld the principle of equal pay for equal work with respect to temporary employee’s vis-à-vis permanent employees in govt. sector in State of Punjab and ors. v Jagjit Singh and Ors. (26 Oct. 2016), and has made it clear that temporary employees performing the similar duties and functions as discharged by the permanent employees are entitled to draw wages at par with similarly placed permanent employees. The principle must be applied in situations where the similar work is being performed, irrespective of the class of employees”.
The Parliament has enacted The Minimum Wages Act in 1948 to put an obligation on Employers to not pay their workers below the minimum wage fixed by the government. Any amount which is paid below the amount of minimum wage shall amount to “forced labor” and force includes not only physical or legal force but also force arising from the compulsion of economic circumstances i.e., working for less than minimum wages, thereby a blatant violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India.
The question is where the government tries to secure the working and economic conditions of workers in private sector then why it has adopted a callous approach towards its own workers. If govt. daily wagers aren’t included within the ambit of the Act, it doesn’t otherwise also justify denying them their basic minimum wages which too is below the reasonable rate.
The minimum wages fixed by the govt. in J&K in the light of constitutional principle of equal pay for equal work, have to be therefore on the same lines as are paid to the regular employees doing similar work. The Supreme Court in a landmark case Sanjit Roy v State of Rajasthan (1980) has held that payment of anything less than the minimum wages would amount to forced labor and violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India. The government in J&K must ensure the protection of basic rights of these workers. There have been demands from these workers, their unions that the wages fixed by the government should be increased. Given the price demand in market, an honorarium of Rs 225 per day doesn’t suffice to meet the daily needs of the family, which they also don’t get on time. The Supreme Court has held in a landmark case peoples Union for Democratic Rights v Union of India held that non- payment of wages to workers leads to forced labor.
The daily wagers in Jammu and Kashmir have been employed decades ago and so far no one has got regularized, their plight is increasing day by day and the govt. seems paying no attention towards them. They have been protesting, been on hunger strikes and some even tried to commit suicide. This callous approach on part of the government is very disturbing. The government wants them to join to their duties, do all work and at the end of the day leaves them unpaid and even if pays that too at very low and unreasonable rate. The sufferings of these workers and their families can’t be undermined and ignored for this long; the government must think on serious notes about these workers otherwise a very big lot of people in J&K are getting sacrificed alive daily in broad day light.