Thirty-six year old Dev Lal was electrocuted to death while repairing an 11kV transmission line at Sub-Division II, Division III in the Anand Nagar area of Bohri, Jammu city, at five p.m. on Thursday. Lal, a native of Bihar, was a private need-based labourer who had settled in Jammu long ago, doing odd jobs to survive with his family.
One of these jobs was repairing transmission lines for the Power Development Department (PDD), without safety gear, whenever the need arose. Yesterday, while on duty, Lal came in contact with live electricity supply and dropped dead on the spot.
Unpaid wages and the lack of regularisation of their jobs, coupled with the Minimum Wage Act not being implemented, is hurting casual labourers in Jammu and Kashmir, especially those in the PDD.
“He had climbed the pole from which he was fixing the wire. He received an electric shock, fell down and died on the spot. He is survived by his two young kids and his wife,” said Kuldeep, Dev’s brother-in-law.
In 2018, Fareed Ahmed, 34, a casual worker, received an electric shock while carrying out repairs on an electric pole in the Kunjwani area of Jammu. Ahmed braved the shock but lost his ability to work for a lifetime. He cannot straighten his arm and needs support to walk. “I received serious injuries in the upper part of my body and have not been able to resume work since then,” he said.
Fareed ended up selling his ancestral farm land to pay for his treatment, and has not fully recovered yet. Fareed lamented that no one from the power department ever came to his aid. “I was given Rs two lakh as compensation for treatment which cost more than Rs ten lakhs. No one from the power department ever approached me thereafter,” said Fareed. He is jobless and surviving on the debt taken from his neighbours.
Sham, another worker who joined the PDD with the dream of being regularised one day, salary in tow, lost his arms to an electric shock. With both of his arms amputated, Sham has been dependent on his wife who works as a house-maid. He said his wife’s work has also been affected on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Akhil Sharma, president of the Jammu chapter of the PDD Workers Union, said that around 150 workers have lost their limbs while working as linemen in the power department. “Many causal workers have lost their lives at work. Around 70 workers have lost their lives and 90 have lost their limbs in the last five years. Others have committed suicide due to the non-payment of wages,” said Sharma.
The men who lost their lives and limbs were causal labourers working on a temporary employment contract, rendering daily services to the PDD with no entitlements and benefits.
Around 3,169 casual workers, mostly working as linemen – daily wagers and need-based – in the PDD have been demanding regularisation of jobs and the release of pending salaries.
In November 2019, close to 2,707 workers started receiving their salary after a gap of between six to ten years, but the remaining 462 workers are still unpaid.
“The rest (462 workers) could not get themselves registered because of a fault in the registration process. There were issues like their Aadhaar cards were not being approved, but it is not the fault of the workers,” said Akhyar Chaudhary, Vice-President, PDD Workers Union.
PDD workers have been demanding the implementation of SRO 381 (part of Recruitment Rules) which promises the regularisation of daily wagers who have completed seven years in the department. The SRO 381 was issued as part of recruitment rules on August 26, 1981, and stands unimplemented.
Around one lakh casual labourers – daily wagers, need based workers and others – have been engaged in different departments including PHE, PDD, PWE, Agriculture, Estate Departments, Forticulture Department and others, across Jammu and Kashmir, for the smooth functioning of the government machinery.
“The workers have been apprising the government of the problems they are facing in terms of regularisation and payment of wages, but in turn, the authorities have been delaying justice by constituting one committee after another with no desirable results,” said Tanveer Hussain, President, J&K Casual Workers United Front.
A person employed as a casual labourer is entitled to receive a meagre amount of Rs 225 as their daily wage. The labourers said that they have not received the amount for several years. Meanwhile, the government’s promise of implementing the Minimum Wage Act in the UT of J&K has not seen the light of day.
The Minimum Wage Act, yet to be implemented in J&K, promises an amount of Rs 520 on a daily basis to the workers.
“It has been 10 months since the state of Jammu and Kashmir was turned into a Union Territory but nothing seems to have changed for us. We are still protesting. The high-handedness of the government, coupled with a callous approach towards poor workers by withholding their wages and not regularising them is an issue of concern and will invite serious repercussions,” said Tanveer.