Monday, November 30, 2015

Billion Tree Tsunami project: Paid only first instalment, labourers threaten to uproot plants

Their contract with nurseries for the Billion Tree Tsunami will end in December; yet most of the labourers claim they still have not been paid since it started in January.

“I was excited to work for the project but I now regret it as I have not been given the fruit of my hard work,” Hassan, a labourer who is also a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf worker, told The Express Tribune. “I now don’t look after the plants and flowers and will start a protest if I’m not paid the salary that I deserve.”
Hassan added Minster for Environment Ishtiaq Urmar had announced salaries would be paid after Eidul Azha but that did not happen. “I, along with other labourers, tried to contact Naeemul Haq (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf central information secretary) but he was never available.”
The labourers have also gathered outside the watershed office in Kohistan several times, hoping for results. Each time they get the same answer: the government has not released the money for their payment.
Bowled over
When the Billion Tree Tsunami project was initiated in January by PTI Chairperson Imran Khan, nurseries were set up. Around 30% of the nurseries were handed over to the private sector, including those in Shangla.
There are about 200 private nurseries in Shangla district which are looked after by labourers who work for private contractors. As per the agreement, the first 25% instalment was paid to labourers and contractors; this included the purchase of plastic bags, seeds and equipment.
However, the second 25% and third and final 50% instalments have not been paid even though the agreement will end in December. This leaves labourers in a fix who have no other source of income to feed their families.
Withering plans
A contractor, Ali Taj, the only bread earner in his family, told The Express Tribune he was working one of the nurseries and taking care of the plants for quite some time but was still not paid.
Now he says he is no longer taking responsibility for the nursery as he is planning to leave. “I’m going through a difficult time as the landlord [of the property on which the nursery is established] asks for rent and I do not have anything to pay them.” Taj added the landlord and labourers threaten him, and say they will destroy his plants and saplings if they are not paid on time.
Landlord Umar Saeed said his community buys seeds for wheat and other food items to sow in their farm from the money they get from the initiative, but they have not been paid rent for their lands yet. “We will throw away the plants from the nursery and will take the matter to the court.”
The sense of restiveness among labourers and others who rely on the project for a living comes from the fact that agreement of the project ends in December. The labourers have said the government has forced them to take to the streets. They have said they will protest on Karakoram Highway for their demands.
However, when asked, the region officer of the watershed office in Kohistan, Shujat Ali, said the finance department has not released funds to them as yet and they are expecting the funds will be provided in near future.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th,  2015.



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