Dozens of panches and sarpanches on Tuesday began a week-long hunger strike here in support of their various demands, including the clearance of Rs 1,000 crore liabilities under the Centre's flagship MGNREGA scheme.
The hunger strike under the banner of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference (AJKPC) was also to press for security cover to all sarpanches and panches in the vulnerable areas and enhancement of monthly honorarium given at the rate of Rs 2,500 to sarpanches and Rs 1,000 to panches.
"We are forced to go for the hunger strike in support of our demands because of the insensitive approach of the administration. Our round-the-clock hunger strike will continue till December 10 but if the administration comes forward and addresses our issues, we are ready to call off the strike anytime," AJKPC president Anil Sharma told reporters.
He said the AJKPC had served an ultimatum of 15 days to the UT government for clearing the mounting liabilities of Rs 1,000 crore under the MGNREGA scheme.
"The poor labourers, including skilled and unskilled, have not been paid their meagre wages for years together. It was highly unfortunate that the government has become insensitive to the miseries of poor labourers," Sharma, who is leading the protest, said.
He said sarpanches and panches from all the districts of Jammu and Kashmir are taking part in the protest.
He alleged that the successive governments of the erstwhile J and K state and now the UT administration have been violating the MGNREGA guidelines with regard to the payment of wages to workers with "impunity".
"The MGNREGA guidelines suggest that workers should be paid their wages within 15 days of the work done but the situation is quite grim in the UT where the workers who executed works from 2015 to March 2019 have not been paid their wages till date. This is the worst example of human rights violation," said the leader of the AJKPC, which is a frontline body of the elected panchayat members.
Referring to the killing of a sarpanch and a government official in an attack at Hakura village in Anantnag district on November 26 during the 'back to the village' programme, he said the security of the panches and sarpanches is a major issue and needs to be dealt on priority.
Sharma said the monthly honorarium given to the sarpanches and panches is "inadequate" and should be enhanced.