Around 250 labourers who were employed for manual upkeep of a forest in one range of the Pakur Forest Division in Jharkhand say they have not been paid wages for over nine months despite bringing the matter to the attention of authorities several times. Some of these workers held a protest outside the Pakur Division Forest Office Tuesday demanding wages.
Their hopes now hinge on a Public Interest Litigation filed in the High Court seeking its intervention to get the Rs 10 lakh these labourers are owed. The HC is yet to issue a notice on this issue.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force (Jharkhand) PK Verma said he was “not in a position to comment” as he does not have records with him. “I will comment on it once I get correct information officially,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, 32-year-old Ram Hansda, one of the labourers, said he is now dependent on the paddy harvest from his fields, which he sells. Others however, are not so lucky, he added. Non-payment has created left other labourers with no choice but to take loans, he added.
“I buy vegetables from the money I get from it (harvest)…We don’t have money…At least I will get Rs 65,000 from the forest department… I hope that the High Court resolves our problem soon,” he added.
The PIL was filed by Forest Range Officer Anil Kumar Singh, who Hansda says used to help the labourers financially out of his own pocket. This however, was only temporary relief as Singh’s own department is reeling from a lack of funds.
In the PIL,Singh has stated: “…that the non-payment of wages of the laborers, as per the norms of the government, amounts to violation of the fundamental rights of the labourers.”
The issue holds significance as Jharkhand brought in reforms for labourers in the unorganised sector and even got better payment of wages from the Borders Road Organisation. Recently, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, in a departmental review, told the Labour Department to speed up implementation of various schemes.
According to Singh’s plea, payments are stuck in the pipeline as there is nobody posted as divisional forest officer in the Pakur Forest Division. The petition said Singh was “compelled to give advances” to the labourers, which is creating “great hardships” to both, the laborers and him.
“That it has become difficult to remain in headquarters and keep the ‘mobile phone on’ due to lack of funds. The petitioner in person is not in a position to even fill the fuel in government vehicle and maintain the same to help combat the illegal transit of the timber, incidence of which is increasing day by day. That this attitude of the officers…is creating a bad image of the department.”
The plea also said the Pakur Forest Division is not staffed adequately only seven Forest Guards and two foresters.
“So 10 Home Guards have also been deployed to serve the Forest Division and the Wages and Ration Allowances of the same has not been paid to them from April, 2020 onward…They are facing a lot of problems which could have been avoided by posting suitable Officer to the post of the Divisional Forest Officer, Pakur even on additional charge, but repeated request to the authorities in power have failed to give any result,” the plea said.
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