In crisis situations like last week when sudden heavy snowfall forced a Kashmir-wide electricity outage, it’s the casual workers the power department employs who are at the forefront of restoration in the most difficult circumstances.
Many of them have lost their lives or suffered devastating disabilities during accidents of electrocution on duty. But they say, the power department disowns them in such circumstances and rarely pays any compensation.
Also, this vanguard of poor, hardworking men seldom receives enough wages on time and their demands of being regularised are pending since 2005. Last month, Mohammad Rajab Ganai, a daily wager had his arm amputated after an accident on duty during installation of a transformer in Langate.
Ganai, who had been working for the power development department (PDD) for a decade said he lost everything after the accident.“I have four kids, the eldest is in 5th grade. My future and the future of my children have been ruined as I can’t work anymore, and I don’t have any hope from the department despite working from 10 years now,” Ganai said, his voice choking with grief.
Ganai is now bedridden and still in hospital at SKIMS since the October 21 accident. He says working in conditions without being regularised is like suicide.
Shabir Ahmad, who is the state president of PDD daily wagers’ union said, “From 2005 around 11500 daily wagers were engaged from time to time, among them at least 150 have died and more than 1000 seriously injured with most having their limbs amputated in accidents in the line of duty.”
“We receive our wages once or twice in a year and no serious steps have been taken for our regularisation from more than a decade now,” Ahmed said.
“During unpredicted snowfall of November 3, it was us who were bearing the brunt of harsh weather while restoring electricity in every household across Kashmir while we ourselves are in such a condition where we can’t effort the basic amenity like electricity at our own houses.”
He said adding “many of our colleges lose their life or limbs during the restoration of the electricity in harsh weather conditions like snowfall, but when it comes to our demands of wages and regularisation, the department turns a blind eye.”
Another daily wager, Shabir Sofi from Pulwama, who was seriously injured while restoring power on November 4, is also bedridden in SMHS hospital.“He is unable to talk or properly recognise people around him, we live in a single room with two kids to feed,” said Sofi’s wife, Afrooza Bano.
“With no wages since around a year we are unable to feed ourselves let alone paying medical bills of my husband who is my only support.” Sofi is among thousands of daily wagers who are working for the department from 2005 with no hope of being regularised or paid regularly.