Sadam Hussain / Mudasir Ahmad
Srinagar: Even though a footbridge over Jhelum has eased pedestrian problems, it has robbed the livelihood of boatmen engaged with ferrying commuters across the river.
The construction of foot bridges over River Jhelum has severely compelled the people engaged with the job of boat rowing to wind-up their ancestral profession. A daily earning of Rs 700 has been cut to Rs 200 a day.
“The new setup of footbridges over Jhelum has made it easy for people to cross the river free of cost but has forced us to windup our business of assisting people to cross it by boats,” claimed a rower, Bilal Ahmad Pakhtoon (35). In addition, he said, they complained to the government about their concerns but the authorities paid no heed towards boatmen engaged with ferrying people across the river.
Earlier, shikaras (boats) were used for multiple purposes including transportation of people and were a symbol of Kashmir culture by which they earned reasonable income; some shikaras are still used for fishing, harvesting aquatic vegetation and are ‘floating’ homes of poor people.
Bashir Ahmad said, “Soon time will come when Kashmiri children will read about shikaras in books only as government itself is debasing the centuries-old culture of Kashmir.
“Even our children bar us to continue with this work as we are not able to earn much and meet our daily expenses, compelling our children to abandon studies at earlier stages,” he lamented.
Bashir said, “Dozens of families are involved with boat rowing, earning their bread and butter but it is unfortunate that now only 20 to 30 families are engaged with this job.” The sole reason for the decline of this job is the outcome of these newly constructed footbridges, he added.
Noor Mohammad Shora, another boatman said despite approaching authorities several times to take remedial measures in support of their ancestral profession by providing them supportive facilities, the unmoved reaction of the authorities has left them destitute.
“Before the construction of footbridge the government assured us a satisfactory compensation or job but once the bridge was inaugurated the government did nothing,” Further Shora narrated.
The government has decided to facilitate loan to the people affected by the construction of the footbridges on 12 percent interest, stated Abdul Rashid Guru, another boatman. “If authorities are willing to grant the loan at 2 percent interest then we will accept it, otherwise we will demand appropriate compensation,” he added.
The apathy of government towards the people engaged with this job has put them in distress. People urge upon authorities to compensate them.