Unpaid contractors lock govt offices across north Kashmir

Baramulla/Sopore: After a week-long tender boycott, building contractors across north Kashmir on Thursday locked all offices of the public health engineering (PHE) department in the three districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora. Under the banner of Contractors Coordination Committee North Kashmir (CCCNK), the contractors assembled in the morning in front of PHE’s division and sub-division offices in Baramulla, Sopore, Uri, Tangmarg, Handwara, Kupwara, Bandipora and Sumbal. They locked the main gates of all PHE division offices and did not allow any employee, from guards to officers, to enter the offices. They installed chairs in front of the gates and sat there to keep guard, ensuring that the offices were locked through the day.
The contractors are demanding release of their pending dues which together amount to approximately Rs 400 crore. The contractors said they had completed all work but it has been years since they have been waiting for payment from the government.
The contractors said that under the banner of CCCNK, they have called for boycott of any new tender. This boycott will be in place till the government pays all their bills.
“We will not allow PHE employees and officers to open their offices anywhere in north Kashmir. Till they assure us that the government will release our payment, we will also protest along with our families on the roads,” said Manzoor Ahmad, a contractor in Baramulla.
Reports from Sopore, Handwara, Bandipora, Uri and other areas also said that contractors had locked all the PHE’s division and sub-division offices in their respective areas and held protests in front of them. PHE employees who arrived at their offices on Thursday morning had to go back home when they found the gates locked.
In Sopore, hundreds of contractors of the coordination committee also laid siege to offices of the local administration, locking down the offices of the executive engineer R&B (Roads & Buildings) and the office of executive engineer PHE.
President of the North Kashmir Contractors Coordination Committee Gulzar Ahmad Reshi said that the committee had have submitted a memorandum to the head of the district administration to address grievances of pending payments. He said that payment of bills was pending with the R&B department in such schemes as Citizen town, Earthquake relief, NFB. In the PHE department, payments are due for work in schemes like NRDWP and temporary shelters. Bills were pending in the Irrigation department in schemes like SDRF, flood restoration, AIBP, FMP. He said that not just contractors were facing hardship, but also thousands of skilled and unskilled labourers.
Reshi said that in view of the holy month of Ramzan, the contractors request the authorities to release their due bills that are pending in different departments. He also requested that in future tenders, the supervising officer be made personally responsible for contractors’ payments.
(With inputs from Asim Shah)