Srinagar: After finishing his engineering course from a Bengaluru college, Syed Parvez remained unemployed for over a decade in the 1990s – a decade of turmoil in Kashmir. He joined hundreds of unemployed youth on the streets demanding jobs, until 2003, when the government introduced the Self Help Group (SHG) scheme. However, after surviving for 17 years, Parvez is out on the road again.
In 2003, Parvez founded a firm called Multiple Engineer Works (MEW) to avail the SHG scheme launched by the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government. It was an alternative to regular employment for unemployed engineering graduates in the region. The scheme reserved 30% of the total jobs in construction and upgradation of infrastructure work in various government departments and corporations, for these groups.
On August 10, however, the Union Territory government of Jammu and Kashmir abolished the SHGs, leaving hundreds of engineers like Parvez jobless.
Parvez, the state head of the Self Help Group Engineers’ Association (SHGEA), has been forced to take to the streets again against the government’s decision, a move he described as “backstabbing”.
“In a place like Kashmir where there are meagre opportunities for hundreds of engineering graduates, this scheme was the only hope. The government has ended it without considering what it would do to people and their families who survive on it,” Parvez told NewsClick.
Over 4,500 engineers – both degree and diploma holders – have been working under the SHGs. Over 2,900 of them worked in different districts of Kashmir division and over 1,600 worked in districts of the Jammu division. According to guidelines set by the labour and employment department, the unemployed engineers were required to organise themselves into SHGs of a minimum of four members and up to ten members. More than 1,000 SHGs were registered in the region, of which Srinagar alone had as many as 168 groups.
For Aditya Jamwal, an engineer based in Jammu, work under the SHG was his only option after he graduated in 2016. “Not even a single government job has been advertised for civil engineers in J&K in the last four years. As a result, I was left with no other option but to work with Self Help Groups. However, the administration has snatched that away as well,” said Jamwal.
He was shocked when he learned of the decision. “Instead of generating jobs, the J&K administration is taking them away. We are very disappointed and are not going to keep quiet about it,” he added.
According to Parvez, the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led government had introduced the scheme after the late CM had negotiated a six-month period from protesting unemployed youth, including Parvez. “After six months, he had said that there were only 500 vacant posts and that the government cannot employ everyone. Therefore, SHGs were an alternative which we availed,” he said.
After SHGs were established, the National Conference government led by Omar Abdullah introduced a set of guidelines later. They were subsequently approved by the cabinet during the PDP-BJP coalition government in 2017.
However, the sudden decision of the UT administration has not only risked the livelihoods of engineers and their families, but of others like office workers and accountants, who depended on them. “We had hired people for other services and also invested crores of rupees, including in engineering machinery, after taking loans from banks. The move has come as a death knell,” Parvez said.
Political parties have also opposed the decision. Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) president, Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari, called the decision “anti-youth” and urged the administration “to stop taking policy decisions in haste.”
“We vehemently opposed the J&K government decision to subsume engineering wings of various departments into PWD as the move will create too much of mess and confusion on the ground,” Bukhari said in a statement.