NEW DELHI: Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally on January 15, hundreds of daily wagers of the public health engineering department in Jammu and casual labourers in the power department held a protest demonstration at Press Club near main Tawi bridge on January 7 against the previous PDP-BJP coalition, for not keeping its promises and demanding release of their salaries. The workers said they had not been paid for three years.
To make their voice heard, the workers also decided to protest during Modi’s rally in Vijaypur on January 15.
As per reports, on January 7, when the workers’ protest march was heading towards the Civil Secretariat for conducting a “gherao”, it was restricted by a strong police contingent near Dogra chowk. Workers from various Jammu districts, including Samba, Kathua, Udhampur, Reasi etc., participated in the march.
Since September 7, 2018, the PHE and power department workers have been protesting, demanding for the release of their wages and job regularisation but to no avail. Nearly 3,000 daily wagers in the public health and engineering department and 3,405 power department workers have been working on contractual basis.
Speaking to Newsclick, Tanveer Hussain, a social activist under whose leadership the protest was organised said, “The labourers and daily wagers are working under deplorable conditions. They haven’t received their wages for the past three years. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came with a promise that they would listen to the people of Jammu, but all they gave us was fake promises.”
Hussain claimed that because of extreme poverty and no wages, many workers had committed suicide. “Many workers have committed suicide. They live in conditions of extreme poverty. They take loans from neighbours and are in a perennial state of debt. Their children have been thrown out of the school because they are unable to pay fees.”
The workers are so agitated that they plan to disrupt Modi’s rally. Some workers told Newsclick that they had lost hope and confidence in life, as political parties had used them as a “political tool.”
“For the past four years, we have protesting. The BJP government came with the slogan that they would save us from this life of penury. We had high hopes, but they ditched us. We are demanding our wages, which is our basic right. They don’t even come to meet us. Our lives don’t matter,” Hussain said.
According to Hussain, many workers has lost their limbs in work-related accidents but no compensation had been given to them. “These workers do anything and everything. They supply water to houses. Go to repair pipelines in the mountainous and border areas and while doing so, if they lose their limbs nobody pays any heed. Many workers have been disabled while carrying out repair works,” he added.
Several trade unionists from Jammu have also joined in the protests demanding release of wages. As per a local newspaper,Daily Excelsior, trade unionists alleged, “Neither the government has completed the process of their regularization, nor have they released the wages of the workers. The families have been left for starvation. They are even unable to pay the fees of their children and feed them. Administration had given us 14 days’ time but nothing was done even after that.”
Planning a big protest on January 15, Hussain said: “We have no option left than to disrupt Modi’s rally. Our plan is that around 20,000 workers will gather and storm into the grand rally and stage a protest there. Modi will have to answer then. We won’t let him go away just like that.”