SRINAGAR: ‘Away from the glare of conflict, nothing seems to be right at the Right River Circular Road division (RRCR) of the Roads and Building (R&B) department, Srinagar, located at Kaka Sarai.
Spending a few hours at the division, talking to lower-rank officials and daily-wage workers, the impression that strongly emerges is more of a fiefdom than a public department. According to what Kashmir Reader was told, officials here are transferred to make way for bringing in favourites, daily wagers are not paid on time and money is swindled on the pretext of cleaning the office.
The lower-rung officials allege that higher-ups in the office transferred seven officials from the department without any reason to make way for a so-called blue-eyed official named Mehrajudin, said to be a close confidante of the RRCR head, Executive Engineer Nayeem Ahmad Khan.
“He is an expert in supervising R&B works in the field. He was a man from the technical section. But he is now doing office work,” officials allege.
“Once we needed a person to supervise field work; however, he was not released by the executive engineer on the pretext that the office was running short of men for doing desk work. The truth is that our office head transferred seven officials.”
The head of the right river division, according to the office bearers, violated the order of the chief engineer twice when he asked him to put Mehrajudin on field work.
“The excuse was the same that his right-hand candidate was needed on the official desk since the office had no men,” the officials in the department said. There is more to the story. The department has not been releasing the daily wagers’ salaries.
“Since the past one year,” a daily wager working in the department said, “the head of our department is asking us to get police verifications that we were not involved in acts of stone pelting. Many of us provided those, but we have still not been given our salaries.”
According to department officials, 22 daily wagers work in the department on a monthly salary of Rs 4,000.
“We visited the office of the executive engineer on the last two Eids, demanding that our salaries be released. But to no avail. In fact, this Eid-ul-Fitr, it was a local contractor working with the department who gave us some money, looking at our miserable condition,” the daily wager said.
“On Eid-Ul-Azha, we again approached Khan with the plea to release our salary, but he refused to give us our hard-earned money, pending since the past year,” the daily wager added.
The daily wagers said that only one among them is being paid regularly.
Giving more details, the officials working in the department said that among the 22 daily wagers, one Kulsooma is a cancer patient while Husna Aara has a medical condition in her back. Narrating more details, the officials said that the department purchased 20 Bukharis from the market along with gas cylinders, but there are only 14 in the store room. Where are the rest?
“Last winter, in 2016, the executive engineer suddenly told us that the chief engineer, R&B department, wanted six Bukharis. He brought a load carrier and took them away along with gas cylinders. However, we had no official written communication wherein the chief engineer has sought Bukharis from our department. Right now, we have only 14 Bukharis in the store,” officials claimed.
This R&B department also throws light on how money is embezzled in government departments for doing petty works.
“In the month of March this year, Khan came to the office and asked all the office bearers and daily wagers of the department present to clean the office. Once we collected the trash, we dumped it in the nearby Sonur stream, behind dental college. Later, we set it ablaze and disposed of it,” officials said.
“When we were finished with the cleaning work, we were shocked a few days later when we saw that the department has drawn a Rs 50,000 bill from the government coffers. Out of this amount, Rs 35,000 was charged for cleaning purposes, while Rs 15,000 was charged for miscellaneous work,” the officials claimed.
Besides, a Rs 55 lakh work-order of the department, outsourced to a private company, to metal the 1.5 km stretch from Gousia Hospital, Baba Demb, to Walmut factory is still pending. “The metal topping was not carried out since there is no habitation on the roadside, apart from commercial establishments,” the officials said.
A shopkeeper at Baba Demb locality, Nisar Ahmad, said a drain was constructed six months ago in the middle of the road.
“After the drain work was completed, the road was filled with stones and dust. However, so far no metal work has been done on the road,” Ahmad said. Executive Engineer RRCR (R&B), Srinagar, Nayeem Khan, however, termed all the allegations against his department as baseless.
“I have not put my favourites in the department,” Khan said. “There is already a shortage of staff in Kashmir. That is why I could not release Khurshid for other works.”
Asked why, if the department was running short of staff, did it transfer seven office bearers to other R&B divisions, he said, “The transfers are carried out by the chief engineer. Same way the senior assistant was also transferred to the department by him.”
On non-payment of salaries to daily-wage employees for the past year, Khan said those employees are utilised on a need basis.
“These needs-based employees are paid by the government. So far we have not received any money which will be paid to those employees. So the fault does not lie with me but with the funds provided to me,” he said.
Khan categorically rejected that he used his staff to clean the RRCR division a few months ago and later drew Rs 50,000 from the government coffers for cleaning the office.
“The road from Gousia to Walmut factory has been tendered. However, we have intimated the contractor several times. He is busy with another contractor in Pulwama. He has not yet responded to our repeated intimations,” Khan said.