Khrew: Twenty-three kilometers from Srinagar, Khrew hosts around seven cement factories. As per the data provided by these cement factories, more than 70 percent of workforce is from local population and the transportation of cement is also carried out by trucks owned by locals.
Two truck unions are working in this locality, which own more than 1200 trucks, have seized all the transportation of ferrying cement to other parts of state. According to an estimate, one out of five households in Khew and Khanmoh owns a truck and are directly dealing with factories. As a matter of fact, these truck unions don’t allow outsiders to operate in the area, as they fear that it will affect their livelihood. Moreover, these unions have their own rules and regulations like fixing the prices and dealing with the dealers directly.
While locals and activists protest against the pollution caused by cement factories, it can be observed that both are complaisant in this problem by directly having business ties with these factories.
“Yes, we want employment as cement factories are using our resources, but we also want safe and secure life which is above everything,” said a local employee working in JK Cement.
While truck unions have direct dealings with factories, they are more concerned about their business interests and least bothered about the pollution problem. “These factories provided us livelihood and why should I protest against them. It is like axing on my own hands,” said a local truck driver, Mohammad Ramzan.
“These unions have monopoly in the area and prices for transportation are fixed by them,” said TCI MAX General Manager, Sheikh Mushtaq. “Hundred trucks operate daily from our plant and ferry cement to other parts of valley. Trucks indirectly earn revenue from us and they have to be regulated.”
TCI cement has 338 total employees and 186 are employed from local population. “When it comes to employment opportunities, we give preference to locals,” Mushtaq said.
Dealers from Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag said that these unions charge more than what is fixed by the government. “The normal charge from transportation from Khew to Srinagar is Rs 4500 but they charge Rs 7000-8000 which is immoral and hurts our business,” said a dealer from Srinagar, Abdul Majeed.
President of Zaffron truck union, Fayaz Ahmad, accepted that they have monopoly in the area. “Because these are our resources and we won’t allow outsiders to take our trucking business,” he said.
JK cements, owned by state government, have 584 employees and out of which 366 are locals. Around 46 trucks operate daily from this plant operated by Zaffron truck union. Javaid Ahamd, general manager of JK Cements said that we have nothing to do how theses tucks operate. “It is not our business to see how much they charge. It is government who should set the rates and see their working.” He however stressed that truck unions manipulate the prices of transportation, which indirectly affects the prices of cement.
Khyber Cements located in Khanmoh is a big cement plant where more than hundred of trucks transport cement daily to other parts of valley. More than 70 percent of employees are from local population. Saifco Cements located in the same vicinity also hire trucks from these unions. While these unions have upper hand in fixing the prices for transportation, officials from these factories said it is unjust that these truck unions sabotage the business by fixing their own prices and on the other hand dealers are left to pay more for transportation which lowers their profits.
The government recently regulated the prices upon the intervention from dealers and cement factories. But the unions went on strike and prices were set according to the demands from these unions.
As truck unions have taken all the transportation business in the region, the dealers complain that trucks should be regulated and prices should be set according to rates set by government.
“When cement factories can earn in millions, we are dependent upon them. We have our own demands. These factories promise us better roads, better water, better electricity but nothing was fulfilled. They cheated us. How can they say we have upper hand in this business? We are only charging what is just,” said president of Zaffron Truck union, Fayaz Ahmad.
While more than 500 hundred trucks operate everyday in Khew and Khamonh, raising huge amount of dust and noise pollution, locals complain that apart from pollution from cement factories, trucks are another cause of pollution which affects their health. “My son has cough and irritation in the eyes from a year now. Doctors said it is because of dust,” said Riyaz Najar, a local resident.
Meanwhile, cement factories pay huge amount of taxes to government, but least development can be witnessed in the region. Roads are damaged and electricity is uneven. “Government is least bothered to develop this area. We need better roads as hundreds of trucks run every day from these roads. Our window panes are covered with dust particles and even our utensils,” said a local, Imran Ahmad.
“People and activists are always protesting against the cement factories while they least know that these factories are vital for state economy. We generate employment and pay taxes to government. Our plant is well equipped with pollution control devices. We have spent 25 crores on pollution control devices. People are unaware about it,” said TCI’s Mushtaq.
As truck unions earn huge revenue from cement factories, they are least bothered about the big issues and have domination in the region. Therefore, who is to be blamed for the pollution in the region? Locals, who work for cement factories, or factories, which employs them.