SRINAGAR: Each day hundreds of casual labourers in the Jammu Kashmir government’s wildlife department risk their lives. Aggrieved employees say they remain “out on duty all the time”, playing an important role in controlling forest fires and tranquilising wild animals found in human residential areas.

They have been facing “a tough time” for many months now as the government hasn’t paid them their due wage.

Most workers stay in the department’s control rooms even during night hours to look after the situations that arise, and said they get scant time for other duties or living their personal lives.

Recently, a group of wildlife casual labourers were out dousing a forest fire on top of a hill in Pulwama, south Kashmir. They told the Citizen they have been facing immense hardship in the absence of salaries for the last eight months, with their family members too suffering daily.

Mohammad Yousuf Gojjar, a wildlife casual labourer who is the lone breadearner for his family of seven, said he faced a tough time during the pandemic lockdown trying to provide for his family without wages.

He said he has been performing his duties regularly and participating in each and every departmental activity in his jurisdiction, “irrespective of the time and place.”

“I always perform my duty and follow the instructions of the officials. I even attended my duty during the pandemic. The lack of wages for eight to nine months has however left us dismayed,” Gojjar stated. He is now reliant on free rations provided by the Union government to feed his family.

Another casual labourer, Jahangir Ahmad, said he works in hazardous situations “24x7”, dousing forest fires and capturing wild animals in residential areas.

“Most of the labourers get injured while capturing dangerous animals like leopards and bears,” he said.

Asked about the long delay in wage payments, Ahmad said his family have asked him to do some other labour instead of this tiring, risky work with endless time in the field, without pay.

“I am not able to support my family these days given the delay in wages for more than eight months. My parents’ old age pension is sustaining the family as of now,” he told the Citizen.

Similarly, Bashir Ahmad Khan from Aripal tehsil of Tral said he doesn’t know how he will buy clothes for his kids or stock up for the winter.

“I haven’t received a single paisa since March, despite being on duty constantly in the Khangund wildlife zone control room. The department is only giving us fake assurances, due to which we as well as our families suffer, as I am not even in a position to buy clothes and books for my children, besides stocking up for winter.”

These employees of the Union Territory administration unanimously said that they have been demanding that their salaries be released, but no concrete step is being taken to fulfil their demands.

They sought the immediate intervention of higher-ups to release their due wages and ease their families’ day to day hardship.

When contacted, Kashmir Regional Wildlife Warden Rashid Naqash said the finance department hasn’t yet released the funds, which is why the labourers have not been paid.

He said it is up to the finance department when they will release the funds.