Not paid wages since Aug 5, 2019, casual labourers also receive no money for treatment of injuries sustained in field
Shopian: Casual labourers working for the wildlife department are the overlooked victims of Kashmir’s man-animal conflict. In return for meagre wages, they often get critically injured during duty but get no assistance from the government, not even for treatment.
To add salt to their wounds, the government has not been paying them wages since the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A on August 5, 2019, the casual labourers told Kashmir Reader.
Irshad Ahmad, a casual labourer who works in wildlife division Shopian, became the latest victim of the growing man-animal conflict in the region. In August, Irshad went to a rescue operation after information was received from locals of Imamsahib that a bear had been spotted in the area. Irshad was attacked by the bear and he was left seriously injured.
He received 62 stitches, most of them on his head.
Irshad told Kashmir Reader, “After getting injured in the attack, I am bed ridden. No help came from the department and all the expenses on treatment were borne by my family,” he said.
Irshad, according to wildlife department officials, works as a casual labourer where he performs duty as a driver and a tranquiliser shooter.
Officials said that casual labourers are underpaid and get no safety gears, which results in more such incidents and grievous injuries.
Mushtaq Ahmad, another casual labourer from Tral, was critically wounded in a leopard attack at Abhama area of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district recently.
Mushtaq told Kashmir Reader that he rescued three leopard cubs and as he headed towards the spot where the mother leopard was hiding, he missed the target as his tranquiliser gun had some technical issues. He said that the leopard almost mauled him to death, but ‘thank God’ he survived.
“I only received Rs 2,000 for three vaccines and the rest of the amount on my treatment, one lakh rupees, I spent from my own pocket,” he said.
Casual labourers of the wildlife department told Kashmir Reader that though the abrogation of Article 370 brought economic and political losses to Jammu and Kashmir, they were the worse victims of it move as they have not received wages since themn. “Since the August 5 decision, only Rs 2,900 has been released as our wages, that too for three years,” Mushtaq said.
A wildlife department official, who wished not to be named, said that the labourers deserve regular employment given the duties they are performing. “If not immediate regularisation, they should be given equal wages, since they are the people who go out on the field and get injured or killed. They are also the ones who face public anger and hostility of smugglers,” he said.
There is a government scheme where civilians who get injured in man-animal conflict are being given compensation, but the wildlife department’s casual labourers say they are exempted from this scheme and have not received any such compensation so far.
Besides Irshad and Mushtaq, there are dozens of such wildlife casual labourers who get disabled, maimed or even killed due to animal attacks but receive only a few pennies from the government.
Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir, Rashid Naqash did not respond to this reporter’s phone calls for his comments on the issue.