PDD daily wagers at forefront continue to suffer unheard

Casual labourer falls from electric pole in Kulgam
A Power Development Department (PDD) man repairs live wires amid snowfall in Srinagar's Downtown, on  Saturday 8 January 2022.
A Power Development Department (PDD) man repairs live wires amid snowfall in Srinagar's Downtown, on Saturday 8 January 2022.Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Anantnag: The linemen working as daily wagers in the Power Development Department (PDD) have been risking their lives in Kashmir to ensure people get uninterrupted power supply and essential services are not affected. From summer to winter, the linemen at the PDD work on fault lines across the Valley, unattended

Braving snowfall and chill, these casual laborers are again at the forefront- clinging to the electric poles repairing damaged wires or rectifying the snags in electric transformers in cities, towns, and villages.

However, in the absence of a compensation scheme for the victims of accidents and lack of safety gear these casual laborers continue to suffer unheard and unnoticed.

Early morning on Sunday, one among them-Shabir Ahmad Dar was grievously injured after falling off an electricity pole in his native village Bogund in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

An official said Dar was repairing the electricity supply at his native village early in the morning when he fell down from an electric pole.

“The colleagues accompanying him immediately rushed him to district hospital Kulgam for treatment,” he said. Dar has grievous injuries and doctors referred him to Srinagar for advanced treatment.

This is the second such incident in south Kashmir during the recent snowfall.

Earlier, two days ago another daily wager Javaid Ahmad Sofi of Nowgam in Awantipora sustained injuries after falling off an electric pole in Khandaypora Panzgam village of south Kashmir’s Awantipora in Pulwama district. He is undergoing treatment for his injuries at the hospital. The incidents are not isolated ones.

Hundreds of these daily-wage casual laborers in Kashmir have either been electrocuted to death or have been rendered handicapped while repairing the power supply.

” In the past decade alone, we have lost about 68 of our men – who have been electrocuted to death. 280 others have been handicapped for life,” said Nazir Ahmad Wani,, president of Anantnag Daily wagers Electrical Employees Union.

In December, last year Salwat Bashir, 32 of Kokernag – a PDD Daily wager lost his life while repairing a high voltage line in Lisser-Kokernag. He left behind his wife, and two daughters, aged 12 and 6 months.

“Neither were we provided with a job under SRO nor any compensation,” said his wife. A decade back Muhammad Amin Bhat, 39, was repairing a fault in an electric line in Ashmuqam, Anantnag only to be electrocuted. He fell down and both his hands were damaged in the accident. Bhat’s right arm was amputated and his left arm is unable to function. “I cannot earn and can’t even eat with my own hands,” says Bhat. “We did get any financial help from authorities and to sell our land for my treatment,” he says.

Bhat said that due to the financial crisis he is not able to pay the school fees of his two sons either. To meet the end, his wife now sells homemade handicraft items. “ I gave thirteen years to the department and got nothing in return. Now, I only wish for a better life for my family and children,” Bhat says.

The victims have been left alone in difficult circumstances without any assistance. “ They do not get any compensation from the government, or the department, for their treatment. The families who have lost their kin in these accidents are not rehabilitated either” said a daily wager.

The daily wagers also lamented that their services are not regularized after decades of service.

“I have been working since 2002, but my services have still not been regularised. Despite risking our lives we have no financial security,” said another daily wager from Anantnag. He said they are getting mere Rs 6750 as wages and the insurance cases of victims are not being cleared. “Even as the department bought us under insurance cover, and money is deducted from our meager wages, the cases of victims are still not cleared,” Wani said.

He also lamented the non-availability of safety gears for the daily wagers and attributed growing accidents to it. “Yes, there is some safety equipment but that doesn’t suffice people on the ground,” Wani said. He said they never get shock-proof gloves, rain hoods, and insulated trousers while repairing power lines. “There aren’t even enough ladders to climb the poles,” Wani said. He said casual laborers don’t even get the shoes. "Are our lives so cheap?," Wani asked.

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