Satish Kumar, a resident of Bihar, has been working in Kashmir for over a decade. Even during the 2016 unrest, he did not leave the Valley. However, Kumar is one among the many non-locals who fled Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A.
“It is not possible to work under the present circumstances. Our families are worried as we have no communication with them,” Kumar said while boarding a bus for Jammu at the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar.
At least 80 percent of the semi-skilled and skilled workers working in different parts of Kashmir are non-locals. More than five lakh labourers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and West Bengal come to Kashmir every year to earn their livelihood. Developmental works in Kashmir depend on these skilled labourers from states across India. However, all the developmental works have come to a grinding halt as the non-local labourers continue to flee the Valley.
Satish's friend, Mahesh, who had come to Kashmir last month, was also leaving with his family. He said it isn’t possible to keep working as they fear for their lives.
“Under the present circumstances, it is not possible to restart work in the Valley. When bureaucrats are reluctant to move freely, how is it possible to work,” argued Bashir Ahmad, a contractor.
Ahmad had hired 120 odd non-local labourers to work on several developmental projects for the construction of bridges, macadamisation of roads and other big projects. They all have left following the abrogation, He added that such projects can’t be done without the help of migrant workers.
In Kashmir, more than Rs 2000 crore worth of projects are at different stages of execution. The administration had set a target to complete almost 1,800 languishing projects by end of this year.
An engineer of the Roads and Buildings Department, on condition of anonymity, told
101Reporters that work on all these projects has been stopped. Construction works will be restarted only when skilled labourers from other states are available, he added.
“We want outside engineers and other skilled labourers to return, but they seem reluctant to come here. The work on major construction projects is not possible unless these people return to the Valley,” he said.
He said most of the work for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Economic Reconstruction Agency, cement factories and brick kilns, are being done by non-local skilled labourers. “The government can’t do anything as the labourers are reluctant to work on developmental projects under the present circumstances. If works are not completed, then the funds of the current fiscal will go lapse and Kashmir’s economy will be affected,” he added.
Kashmir has a limited working season from April to September and the region’s developmental activities are among the worst-affected whenever there is some disturbance in the Valley. “Hundreds of contractors are dependent upon the non-local skilled labourers. When they are not able to meet the deadline, the government won’t release the payment. Even local labourers won’t be able to do any work without non-local skilled labourers. The brick kilns can’t be run with these labourers,” the official added.
Daily life affected
Similarly, thousands of non-locals who run saloons, beauty parlours and wood shops have left. The non-locals have captured the major market in these professions over the years. Almost 80 percent of the barbers in Kashmir are non-locals as societal pressure has forced many local barbers to give up the trade.
“I could not have a haircut or shave for the last two weeks as the non-local barbers have left the Valley. We have been left with only a small number of local barbers,” said Mohammad Sharif, a resident of Bemina in Srinagar.
Rohit Kansal, Principal Secretary of Planning and Development and Jammu and Kashmir government spokesperson, hopes that non-local labourers would return to the Valley. “Our developmental works are largely depended upon skilled non-local labourers. The situation is limping back to normality and works on developmental projects will be restarted,” he told
101Reporters. The author is a Srinagar-based freelance writer and a member of
101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.