These chowkidars are the lowliest paid

Chowkidars in Jammu and Kashmir, the lowest government functionaries, are paid a monthly salary of ₹1500, pushing them to lead a hand-to-mouth life

These chowkidars are the lowliest paid

Akshay Azad

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders may have used “chowkidar” prefix to their names to please their “master chowkidar’’, but their government in the border state of Jammu and Kashmir pays to its chowkidars a measly salary of ₹1500 a month.

Technically, chowkidars are full-time public servants who are not allowed to do any other work, government or private to earn something extra.

A chowkidar is usually required to look after over 4-5 villages and has to assist officials of over 43 governmental departments for the implementation of government schemes. He has to record birth and death cases and get them registered at police stations.

Chowkidars furnish information to government officials regarding status of land, data of physically challenged persons, widows, government employees and households for the ration cards and voter ID cards. They also collect house tax and submit it regularly to government treasury besides filing inquiry reports for the state subjects certificates and character certificates.

“Despite working for longer hours and poor wages, they don’t even get bus-fare for their frequent travels to government offices for filing their reports,” complained Sardar Singh, provincial president of Jammu and Kashmir Numberdar, Chowkidar Association.

“Earlier, chowkidars were given separate uniforms for winters and summers, a torch, headgear and long-shoes. But things changed in the last few couple of years. Now they are getting only 3 meters’ cloth and sewing cost is to be borne by a chowkidar himself,” Singh rued, demanding that “either the government should abolish the Chowkidari system or give proper remuneration to them for leading a dignified life.”

Stressing that their work becomes all the more difficult in hilly and remote areas, he further said, “One has to trek several kilometres to reach a police station and other administrative offices to furnish records. With the introduction of new welfare schemes and growing population their work load has increased manifold, but the salary remains meagre despite skyrocketing prices of all essentials.”

Bashir Ahmed Sheikh, president of All Jammu and Kashmir Chowkidar Association said, “when Ghulam Nabi Azad was the chief minister of the state, the honorarium of Chowkidars was enhanced to ₹500 per month and later to ₹750. The PDP-BJP coalition government enhanced the honorarium to ₹1500. But the enhancement was a cruel joke. The government should ensure that they get wages in consonance with the Minimum Wages Act.”

“Our counterparts, working in municipal areas are engaged as regular Class-IV employees and are getting respectful salaries. They have little area of operation but chowkidars in rural areas have vast area of operation and ₹1500 is not adequate enough to meet their daily expenses,” Sheikh lamented.

“Its good to see that Prime Minister Narender Modi has added word Chowkidar to his name. However, he has used this prefix for political benefits ahead of elections. We are Chowkidars by compulsion and not choice,” Sheikh argued.

A delegation of Chowkidars had called on Advisor to Governor KK Sharma on March 31, seeking enhancement of honorarium.

However, a senior official of the revenue department, who didn’t wish to be quoted, said, “the office of Principal Secretary Finance department has asked Revenue department to take up the matter only after the Model Code of Conduct is revoked.”

Gulchain Singh Charak, president of Dogra Sadar Sabha, which is a parent organisation of Jammu and Kashmir Numberdar-Chowkidar Association, slammed BJP for using the term Chowkidar for electoral gains eyeing 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “A Chowkidar has all the information about his area but what type of Chowkidars these BJP leaders are? Under their rule, lakhs of files regarding Dogra culture and heritage have gone missing. Dogra heritage building complex, Mubarak Mandi, is crumbling.

“Under the BJP rule, youth have no jobs, bunkers in border areas are filled with slush, the colleges sanctioned by their government don’t have required infrastructure,”Charak rued, adding that “the misuse of term Chowkidar by the BJP leaders to cover up their failures, is an insult to the institution of Chowkidari.”

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