[ Tongam Rina ]
ITANAGAR, May 6: Tata Projects Ltd and Sterlite Power grid ventures have abandoned their workers from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir in Hollongi, near here without payment, proper shelter or food.
The workers are living in a transit camp since the lockdown that began on 23 March in Arunachal following the outbreak of the Covid-19 in the country and the subsequent nationwide lockdown on 24 March midnight.
The companies are setting up the 132 KV transmission line between Biswanath Charali and Itanagar.
Thirty-five workers are staying together in one camp. One portion of the camp is a make-shift, put together by using plastic sheets where 10 workers share space (See pic).
In another camp, a contractor has given accommodation to 13 workers. The living conditions in all the camps are dire and some of the workers are in bad health conditions.
Fifty-eight workers are from Ramban district in Jammu, while 13 are from Chamba of Himachal Pradesh.
A site manager of the Sterlite Power said that they are providing basic necessities to the workers but the living condition and facilities say otherwise.
He further blamed the restriction on movement put by the Arunachal government for the companies’ inability to provide basic accommodation, and blamed the vendors for the situation.
He claimed that food and other essentials were being provided.
The workers had watered-down dal and rice for lunch when this reporter visited the site in a kitchen that is falling apart (See pic).
The workers share two make shift bathrooms and there are no toilets (see pic)
“We use the open field,” a worker said.
The site manager for Sterlite Power said that the process to make payments to the workers is ongoing. “We are processing the payment,” he said but did not specify when the payment would actually be made.
Each worker’s payment is Rs 16, 000 per month.
He put the blame on the primary partner- Tata Projects Ltd for not looking into the welfare of the workers.
The site manager says that Government of Arunachal should open up its border so that work is allowed to be carried out. But the workers from Jammu say that they do not want to stay a day longer as they appealed to the Jammu administration to make arrangements for their return home.
There are 64 mules that were brought from Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh for transportation of transmission materials.
While workers from Himachal are willing to stay back, the ones from Jammu said that they want to go back.
One said that farming season starts during April in Jammu, therefore, they have to go back home or their families would go without food the entire year.
The contract of the some workers ended on 31 March.
The chief minister’s office, while responding to a tweet by this reporter said that the state government is in touch with the workers.
“They were offered alternative accommodation which they refused. All want to return to their state. Will tie up with the respective nodal officer of J&K and facilitate their return,” the tweet read.
An officer of the Himachal government said that they have spoken to the workers, while this daily could not reach the Jammu and Kashmir administration for their plans.
All these days, the workers were on their own away from the public and media glare.
The squalid condition of the workers only came to fore after Himalayan Watchdog, a Facebook news page shared the condition of the workers.
A social worker, who did not wished to be named, said she watched about the workers on Himalayan Watchdog and decided to give masks to the stranded workers when she came to know about their living conditions.
The social worker works as volunteer for Arunachal Today, a media organization that is working to provide food to the workers, including the ones from Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a team of five doctors from the Indian Medical Association (IMA)-Arunachal chapter visited the workers. They provided masks and other essentials. The IMA-Arunachal said that it would set up a medical camp for the workers on Sunday.