The forest labourers of Pakur, Jharkhand who are staging a protest demanding their pending salaries of 9 months have now approached the High Court. The court is yet to issue notice in the case.
About 250 labourers hired to ensure the upkeep of one range of Pakur Forest Division have been unpaid for the past 9 months, and despite sending repeated letters to concerned authorities there was no redress in sight.
The petition has been filed by Anil Kumar Singh, a forest range officer who acted as a good samaritan throughout this phase and was helping the labourers by paying them small sums from his pocket, albeit that only brought them temporary relief. He said the money owed to 250 labourers since the Covid-19 pandemic broke amounts to Rs 10 lakh.
Singh’s PIL blamed the wage delay on the ‘non availability’ of the divisional forest officer. It said Singh is being ‘compelled to give advances’ to labourers which is causing ‘great hardships’ to both the workers and himself. “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,” reported Indian Express.
The plea states that the issue has not been resolved due to the highly insensitive attitude of the authorities as several letters written by Singh himself have gone unheard. The plea also raises the issue of having inadequate frontline forest staff consisting of only 7 forest guards and 2 foresters.
The workers said they live hand-to-mouth and have little option but to survive on loans. Ram Hansda, who also cultivates paddy in his fields, said he lives off whatever he earns by selling his produce in the market. “I buy vegetables with the money I make from my produce. We are desperately short of cash. It would help if the forest department releases Rs 65,000 in unpaid wages. I hope the high court will resolve our problem at the earliest,” Hansda told IE.
The IE report states that the labourers, on December 15, locked the Pakur Forest Division office, demanding their dues as they don’t have enough money to even feed their children.
Pakur district is populated largely by rural Paharia and Santhal people.
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