Stuck in a quagmire after abrogation of Article 370, distressed private sector employees of Kashmir have been pushed to the wall due to the “apathetic” official response.
Basit Nazir, 27, resigned from a well-known private automobile company in October 2020 after working there for six years. A month later he cleared his NOC and applied for Central Provident (CP) Fund. But eight months later, this breadwinner of a family of five is still trying to get his hands on his own hard-earned money.
To clear the decks, Basit even approached the higher authorities only to return disappointed.
“The government officials often tell us that they can’t do anything about it ‘because it’s up to Center now’,” Basit says.
“Where’re we supposed to go, and who do we approach now? I’m young and can move from one place to another to meet officials but there’re so many older employees among us who don’t even know the concerned office addresses to meet officials. They’ve been waiting for years together and can’t meet the officials over and over again. It’s become even more difficult for us to go out in this pandemic and roam around the government offices just to hear that the deadline is extended. All they do is give deadlines after deadlines without respecting even a single deadline and this is being repeated for years now just to delay the process.”
Fearing the same fate, Faiyaz Ahmad, on the cusp of retirement, is getting paranoid about his money being deposited in his CP Fund account since 2002.
“Hundreds of employees are going through terrible times and need money desperately during this third straight year of lockdown,” Faiyaz says.
Due to consecutive curbs, these private sector employees often struggle for survival while consistently demanding the withdrawal of their CP Fund for years now.
“Government should solve the matter on priority basis,” Faiyaz says. “Employees are waiting to withdraw their hard-earned money but due to the non-serious attitude of the Labour Department here, they’ve failed to transfer the data to the center and merge and update the accounts online from the last two years.”
Faiyaz and Co. even wrote an open letter to the Labour Department, but the response remains dispirited.
“We’ve lost the count of our visits to the department as our grievances are never addressed,” he says. “We even filed Right to Information (RTI) a few times in regard to withdrawing the money that gets deducted from our meagre salaries but nobody bothered to respond to that. The authorities have failed us time and again. It’s very disturbing and takes a heavy toll on our mental health.”
After New Delhi abrogated Article 370 in August 2019 in the name of “development”, most of the state departments came under the direct authority and laws of Government of India.
Before being downgraded to a union territory, the erstwhile state had a statutory body, Jammu & Kashmir Employees Provident Fund Organisation (JKEPFO), under Department of Labour and Employment, Government of Jammu and Kashmir. It eventually came within the jurisdiction and direct control of New Delhi under Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government of India.
The shift, however, has failed to fulfil promises to the already estranged population, especially private sector employees of Kashmir.
And for this, the Labour Department of Jammu and Kashmir is being called out for its “apathetic” attitude towards the poorly-paid employees, including school teachers, automobile workers and others.
Due to the alleged inefficiency of the department, employees have been unable to withdraw their years of CP Fund.
“Government’s tall claims of developing Kashmir have fallen flat with so many issues unaddressed for years now,” says Bashir Khan, a private school teacher struggling to clear his CP Fund since 2019. “Those who were in desperate need of this reserved fund had left their jobs but are still waiting for it.”
The Labour Department has failed to update the accounts of the employees’ CP Fund online which was the long standing issue of the employees in Jammu and Kashmir, hence creating an inordinate delay and distress to employees.
As per New Delhi’s scheme to ease the economic burden of the employees in the Covid lockdown, it reads that employees can withdraw any amount from their CP Fund anytime while they’re in service but private employees in the region cannot avail the facility due to Labour Department’s “lethargic” work culture.
“After working for 15 years in a private company, I resigned from my job in 2018 and hasn’t been able to withdraw any amount from my CP Fund so far because of the lethargic work culture in government offices,” says Shabnam Ali, a former private employee.
“The UT authorities throw the ball in New Delhi’s court while they themselves do not even try to resolve the issues at their own level by sending the previous data to Centre or coordinate accordingly with higher ups to come to any resolution.”
Notably, the J&K authorities have failed to meet a deadline to transfer pre-August 2019 CP Fund data to Centre for its merger as JKEPFO now falls under the direct control of EPFO, Government of India since October 31st, 2020. Its deadline was August 2020.
Due to this, Centre’s EPFO has updated the accounts online showing employees a record of their CP Fund only from October 2020 after JKEPFO came under Centre’s control.
According to the employees, there’s no data given to them about the deposited money in their CP Fund account prior to the abrogation of Article 370.
“But still most of us were able to withdraw our CP Fund before the abrogation of Article 370 but after that, we’re told to wait ‘as the situation has gone from bad to worse’,” continues Shabnum.
Nobody in the government offices is willing to help, says Sajad Ahmad, another disgruntled private employee. “Some employees are even fed up with following the deadlines and meeting officials now because they know it will be of no use and will only end up with physical and emotional exhaustion.”
However, Abdul Rashid War, Labour Commissioner, Department of Labour, J&K told Free Press Kashmir that transition is going on and till now around “6000 units” have been transferred.
“There’re some undigitised units which are taking time,” War said. “Besides we’re clearing withdrawals of retrenched and retired workers. Transferring all units in one go is not possible. The data of each subscriber which is being transferred to Central EPFO has to undergo thorough fidelity checks as every entry of the subscriber has to be cross-checked with the reference records. Further, all the withdrawal entries of the subscribers on the official portal of the Organisation are to be reconciled, so that no excess payment transfer is done to the Central EPFO portal.”
In a condescending tone, however, War tried to justify the conduct of his office saying: “Why would they [employees] call you [media] before calling us first? Nobody has called me. We haven’t been getting such calls or complaints from any employee. We haven’t been approached by any employee with this grievance.”
But when cross-questioned in regard to the written letters, complaints and RTI filed by many employees, the Labour Commisioner snapped the call.
The same curt conduct today makes many private employees in J&K believe that there’s no one ready to listen to their distress stories or address their grievances.
Like others, Basit Nazir was told to follow some official rules, including getting a medical certificate, for clearing his CP Fund. But he’s yet to come out of the official formalities.
“I’m being taken for a ride for just Rs 1 lakh as my CP fund. One can only imagine the fate of those employees who’ve not been able to withdraw their CP fund for more than 10 years due to the sluggish work of the Labour Department.”
Names in this story have been changed for privacy.