Srinagar: CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami on Friday said the payment of Rs 1000 per month as COVID-19 relief to registered construction workers, shikarawalas, ponywalas, dandiwalas, palkiwalas and tourist guides is inadequate as double whammy of unemployment and rising food prices have crippled the poor sections of the society in Jammu and Kashmir.
“A huge number of construction workers, who are not yet registered with the Board and migrant labourers, have been left out,” Mr Tarigami said in a statement issued here on Friday.
He said ever since August 2019, the incomes of people associated with the informal sector, consisting of low wage workers have dwindled sharply due to a major job loss wave. “Some of the severely affected people include construction workers, auto and bus drivers, small shop owners and daily wage labourers. Hit hard by the lockdown, a majority of these informal workers have no savings and extra income to purchase food at higher prices,” he said.
He said people associated with the transport industry have been crippled as they had taken vehicles on loan from the banks for which they have to pay installments and interest, though they have hardly got any working days in the last almost two years.
Similarly, he said the multiple lockdowns have made the survival of thousands of families who are dependent on the handicrafts sector difficult. People are eking out a tough existence in Kashmir. “Thousands of businesses can’t pay their staff or keep them on their rolls. Thousands of labourers from the region, who used to go to Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, UP and other places during the winter months to find labour work, couldn’t go last season due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
He said people associated with the tourism industry are finding it hard to earn livelihood since August 2019, adding with food prices rising, these people are now facing a dual crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Despite the last three decades of uncertainty, the horticulture industry in Jammu and Kashmir which was considered as the backbone of the region’s economy was flourishing till a few years back. However, the decline started from November 2018, when the apple crop and trees received damages due to unseasonal snowfall,” he added.
Mr Tarigami said the fruit industry in Kashmir faced economic consequences due to the lockdown imposed after the Centre abrogated Article 370 in August 2019. “As if it was not enough, another unseasonal snowfall on November 7, 2019 followed by successive Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 has wreaked havoc on the fruit industry in Kashmir,” he said.
The CPI(M) leader said this has affected the livelihood of a huge chunk of the population in the region. “And if all this was not enough the surge in food inflation has come at a vulnerable time for lakhs of J&K’s poor as they are left financially crippled due to months of stringent lockdown. Restricted transportation and higher fuel rates have significantly pushed up prices of vegetables and other essential commodities in J&K causing a huge crisis for poor families,” he said.
“There is a large gap between the government’s inadequate relief and the actual situation on the ground which needs to be addressed on priority. A hunger alarm seems to be ringing loud with rising food prices. It could mark the beginning of a dual crisis for the poorest families in J&K,” he added.
Mr Tarigami said with lakhs of people in un-organised sector staring at loss of livelihood, there is a need to increase the working days under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MNREGA) from the existing 100 days to 200 days. “A fund to extend financial assistance to all workers in the informal and un-organised sectors, whose livelihood is affected besides a moratorium on bank loans for a year for small and medium enterprises and retail traders, is the need of the hour,” he said.
“The Public Distribution System (PDS) should be expanded to cover all essential commodities. Free ration through PDS to people, including people living below poverty line must be provided in this hour of crisis. We demand all jobless be provided at least Rs 6000 per month for six months,” he added.