Srinagar: Muhammad Amin Dar, 40, had been working as casual labourer for the Power Development Department for 14 years.
One day, in the summer of 2012, he was working on an “allied electric network” to repair a transmission line on a mobile network tower. A sudden shock and he came crashing down with 90-percent burn injuries on his body.
“Five years before that accident,” Dar told Kashmir Reader, “my own department had ordered me to cut the power supply to an area. But when I went to do so, I received a shock from which I fell unconscious. They had forgotten to turn off the power in the transmission line.”
When he suffered the accident atop the mobile network tower, Dar was admitted to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital. Doctors there discovered a gangrene rapidly spreading in his right arm. Blood had clotted his veins and his bones were fractured at six points. There were also multiple fractures in his back.
“I don’t remember what exactly happened. It was difficult to believe at first,” Dar said. “Since then, I keep thinking that it would have been better had I died in that incident.”
“I was a daily-wager. I worked more and harder than my senior officers but I am not entitled to special benefits like them. I gave everything to my department. I did not receive any compensation. On what basis can we ask the government? There is no such policy nor any scheme meant for us,” Dar said.
His family ended up spending more than Rs 2 lakh on his treatment. Daily-wagers and casual-labourers earn about Rs 4500 a month.
When asked why he did not look for any other, permanent job in the 14 years that he worked as daily-wager for the government, he said, “I have three children. How could I have left this job when it was the only source of my livelihood? I continued in the hope that my job will become permanent and then I will receive a good salary and have a secure job. But the years went by and nothing was done. It is not only I and my family who suffer; there are thousands like me.”
There are 8406 in Power Development Department alone. A couple of thousand work in Srinagar Municipal Corporation, SKIMS and some other departments.
‘Casual labourers’, ‘daily-wagers’ and ‘need-based workers’. These job descriptions itself speak of the precarious condition of the holders. Last year alone, 11 of them received electric shocks while working. Four died.
When this reporter inquired from PDD officials about the number of deaths and injuries last year, they said six injuries and no deaths. When told that two had died in December only, an official went to check the records again. He returned after about 15 minutes and named four others. He was still missing one. Such casual approach is rampant.
The department has no readily available information about the total number of such casualties in the past. This reporter was informed about last year’s casualties by Irshad Ahmad, spokesman of the PDD Daily Wagers Association.
“It is due to widespread unemployment in Kashmir that people opt for this job. Otherwise it is a death trap,” Irshad said.
He said the hope of a secure, permanent job makes these workers perform tasks they are not supposed to do in the first place.
“Rules say a casual or need-based worker cannot climb electric poles to do repairs,” he said.
A few years ago, the state government had recommended a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to the next of kin of a worker who dies of electrocution during work, while Rs 1 lakh for permanently disabled and Rs 30,000-40,000 for those with no-so-serious injuries.
Zahoor Ahmad Zargar, a PDD official, said ‘regular casual workers are entitled to benefits under SRO 43, meaning their kin family members can get a government job in case of their death.
According to official data, however, in the past 24 years— between 1992 and 2016—only 26 casual- or need-based or daily-wage workers have received compensation.
Another 79 cases are pending clearance since 1992. As many as 21 cases have been approved for compensation but the victims are yet to receive any. Why? Because FIRs are not filed in time or officials do not submit inspection reports and other details.
“We met senior officers several times in this regard but nothing happened,” Irshad said.
Farooq Ahmad and Ishtiq Ahmad Mir, both employees of the electrical department at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science suffered electric shocks while working at the institute building.
A resident of Bemina, Farooq Ahmad had been working as casual labourer for SKIMS for more than 14 years.
“My face and right arm suffered burns. I did not receive any compensation but I continued with the work as it was the only work I knew. I hoped that my job will become permanent but I also know that this is a job where anything can happen to us,” he said.
Most casualties have occurred due to electric shock from high-tension wires or from falls from electric poles.
On December 27 last year, need-based worker Abdul Salam died of electric shock in Nagbal village in Khag tehsil of Budgam district. Before carrying out the repairs he had informed the receiving station to cut transmission to the area. The carelessness of the staff at the station caused his death, Irshad told Reader.
“In the same month, another need-based worker, Abdul Gani, resident of Parimpora, lost both his arms. No official visited his home to see his condition, leave alone talk of compensation,” Ahmed said.
Since 2013, the government has regularised the services of about 1,400 workers. It has become unlikely that any more will be regularised.
Chief engineer PDD Shahnaz Goni said the department is looking at way to meet its manpower needs.
“On the basis of seniority and vacant posts, we regularise the workers,” he said.