National Saffron Mission: Hold-up funds have brought us on verge of bankruptcy, say contractors

Srinagar: The National Saffron Mission, a Government of India’s initiative to revive saffron cultivation in traditional areas of Jammu and Kashmir has not released any funds from the last six month, allege the contractors related to the Mission.

On Saturday, the protesting contractors working with Mechanical Engineering Department (MED) locked down the main office of the department for not taking any efforts to release the required funds for the project.

“Our work has stopped because we have run out of money. Each one of us is close to bankruptcy. We had taken loans and now we are in a situation where the bank is about to seize our houses and offices because we have run out of our resources and don’t have the money to even pay back to the bank,” said Rakib, a young contractor who works with MED.

The irrigation component of the National Saffron Mission was handed over to MED by the Agriculture Department as they utilize the services of mechanical experts in pumping and other things related to irrigation. The MED department with the help of its contractors has since then finished 90 % of the work and is waiting for the funds to complete the rest of the pending work.

“Each one of us has an outstanding liability of 2-3 crores in the department which sums up to 20-30 crores,” says Rakib, “We cannot afford to stay silent now. Authorities have to address our severe grievances and get the project on track once again.”

Like Raqib, every other contractor working with MED is worried. From Governors grievance cell to Prime Minister’s Office, these contractors have knocked every door to register their concern.

“We also approached DDC Pulwama who is the chairman of the National Saffron Mission but in vain,” said one of the contractors sitting in front of the locked door, “No one is ready to listen to us.”

While further talking about the issue the contractors in a collective voice alleged that the officers at Agriculture department told them, “We get pleasure out of your sufferings.”

Mushtaq Hussain Jan, the Superintending Engineer, MED Kashmir, who was present at the spot said, “We are working for Agriculture department. At first Agriculture department interfered in the project and then they realized they are not prepared for it and backed out.”

The MED department currently holds only 8-10 Junior engineers with two assistant executive engineers and one executive engineer. The project is an additional work for the department and is doing it for agriculture department.

“We don’t have even field workers and still we have taken up this project. We have appointed local contractors who are very young and talented,” said Jan.

Jan further added, “These contractors have their own staff of almost 100 laborers. This was a good opportunity as unemployment was on rise. These young lads used to work day and night and also gave employment to the poor but now they are being pushed to the wall.”

Jan held the whole department of Agriculture responsible for not releasing the funds.

“Authorities have to see the mechanism of the agriculture department. It’s a huge mission of 400 crores out of which a project worth 50-60 crores related to micro-irrigation is being done through MED. And now they are not paying these contractors for their work. Whatever resources they had they invested that in the project and now they don’t have money to pay even a single labourer and the authorities are telling them not to stop the work,” said Jan.

Jan believes that holding these helpless contractors hostage from the last six months is not a good sign. “Agriculture department should take up the problems with the government and frame a plan so that we can bring the work on track once again,” said Jan.

But Abdul Rasheed, Executive Engineer, MED, holds a different view.

“These contractors should go the Agriculture department and register the protest there only. We cannot help them,” Rasheed said.

However, Rasheed, who was not present during the protest faced the wrath of the protesting contractors.

“We are not associated to Agriculture department. We work for MED. Its their call to take it with their principal authorities,” said one of the protesting contractors.

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