New Delhi: Nearly 250 labourers who worked in a range of the Pakur Forest Division in Jharkhand have filed a public interest litigation in the Jharkhand high court, hoping to be paid wages due for the past nine months, Indian Express has reported.
With the court yet to issue any notices in this regard and with repeated pleas to authorities falling on deaf ears, on Tuesday, the labourers demonstrated outside the Pakur Division Forest Office. The labourers are owed nearly Rs 10 lakh in total, and the time for which they are owed this amounts coincides almost entirely with the nationwide lockdown which strained living and financial conditions of most workers across the country.
Pakur district is populated largely by rural Paharia and Santhal people and sees some stone mining.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force (Jharkhand) P.K. Verma refused to comment on the issue to Express, citing the fact that he did not have records.
As the report points out, the issue is not limited to the non-payment of labourers. In spite of having been crippled by a lack of funds to his department, forest range officer Anil Kumar Singh had been paying labourers out of his own pocket. However, the lack of money has reached a situation where labourers are unable to fill their vehicles with fuel, so as to be able to execute their roles in stopping timber smuggling.
The plea filed by Singh also asks that the Pakur Forest Division be staffed adequately. It only has seven Forest Guards and two foresters. The absence of a Divisional Forest Officer has further led to a severe block in the payment cycle.
The labourers’ protest comes after Hemant Soren’s government in the state became one of the first to respond to the migrant labourer crisis in the initial months of the lockdown with a slew of reforms. Around 1,648 workers in the unorganised sector were given work in projects of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) at Vijayak and Himank, in a step towards institutionalising labour movement, according to The Hindu.
The issue is not limited to forest workers either.
A large percentage of workers who were employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) face huge problems in accessing their payments, a report prepared on the basis of a survey in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan has found.
Not only do they often have to travel large distances, they also have to wait many hours to get their wages, the report has revealed.