ANANTNAG: While the rural areas of Jammu Kashmir have seen a large number of public works constructed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employement Guarantee Act in the past decade, NREGA support staff continue to face official negligence.

A large number of MGNREGA supporting staff members shared that they have been facing a lot of problems and distress in view of the low salaries and the government’s delay in regularising their jobs.

They say “We have been working on our feet for more than a decade, and are playing a main role in the [Rural Development Department] Kashmir, but we were never considered for absorption into the department, or a hike in our salaries.”

One staff member, who works as a GRS or Gram Rozgar Sewak in the department, said he was appointed in 2013 with a basic pay of Rs 4,500. Seven years have passed but his pay now is only Rs 6,800, which “cannot fulfil” his needs given the high inflation.

“My family members are wholly and solely dependent on me. I work hard to earn these 6,800 rupees, but I spend the whole amount on transport fares and other essentials, due to which my family members suffer,” he told The Citizen.

Another GRS, Parvaiz Ahmad in south Kashmir, said that “With market prices very high, we are being paid an honorarium of 6,800 for the GRS post and about 10,500 for [Management Information System] operators and technical assistants.”

“With this amount we are unable to meet even our individual needs, so think what we can do for our families behind. Deduct the official expenses which we have to incur to perform our regular duties, like bus fare, stationery etc. We get a net amount of about 4,800 and 8,000 respectively.

“Given such conditions, we feel that we are a burden on our families, and despite contributing so much to the Rural Development Department we are receiving an insult to our faces,” said Ahmad.

He went on to say that if any private industrialist were perpetrating such injustice on their employees, the government would certainly take action.

“But unfortunately this injustice is from the side of government, so their attitude is totally different.”

For more than a week these employees were on a pen-down strike in all the districts of Jammu and Kashmir, due to which “works in the Rural Development Department still remain pending, as the supporting staff plays an important role in maintaining the main works” of the department.

“We are working 24x7, and besides MGNREGA works, we worked for the coronavirus pandemic and elections as well. Apart from our routine work, we always contributed in other works of the department, that too with our own laptops and mobile data packs.

“But our job policy has yet to be made and our salary is still very low,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a president of the workers’ union.

Many of these workers are highly qualified with modern computer skills, and are working tirelessly for the development of rural areas.

“We are working as the backbone of the department at the panchayat as well as block level. We were appointed on the basis of merit from 2006 to 2013, districtwise,” they said.

The delay in regularisation and salary hike is simply injustice, they said. They demanded absorption into the department at the earliest so they can “breathe a sigh of relief and work more enthusiastically for the welfare of the general public.”

Sources shared that most of these employees are about to touch over-age status, and are apprehensive that they won’t be able to apply for other jobs in future. They said these workers don’t get a travelling allowance, dearness allowance or any other increment in their favour.

When contacted, the director of the Kashmir Rural Development Department, Qazi Sarwar, said his officials only have a supervisory role, and “recruitment of supporting staff is being done through district levels.”

Sarwar further said that the government would have to address these staff members’ demands directly.