NSM contractors stop work on Saffron Mission

Waseem Ahmad

Srinagar, Aug 13: The contractors who were roped in for the implementation of National Saffron Mission (NSM) have stopped their work due to non-payment of their dues for almost a year.
The saffron growers said last year there has been 95% decline in the crop production due to non-availability of irrigation facilities. The suspension of work has plunged the growers into despair as they fear that if the irrigation facilities were not made available this year the crop yield would plummet further.
Under the Mission, nearly 124 bore wells were being dug to provide irrigation facilities to nearly 2400 hectares of saffron land. “All this was done to revive the lost glory of the crop but administrative apathy has failed to effectively implement the initiative,” a grower said.
The contractors who have been hired by the Mechanical Engineering Department (MED) for laying pipes and digging bore-wells alleged that despite completion of most of the work, their payments are pending for a long time.
“We have completed 80% of the work, but we are pushed to the wall. Our payments have been withheld for quite a long time. To about 13 of the contractors, the department owes an amount of Rs 22 crores. We will not resume the work until our dues are cleared. The authorities shall not test our patience, we can go to any extent,” a contractor said.
The contractors said that due to non-payment of their dues, they have to face various hardships. “We have taken loan from the banks and now we are in a situation that we are not able to pay the money back to the banks. Our houses and offices will be seized by the banks as we have run out of our resources,” Mir Ishtiyaq, a contractor said.
“At present, we are not doing any kind of work, as we are unable to purchase the required stuff or pay our laborers. Our savings have exhausted. The department has not released funds from September last year,” said Director, Bio Care Techno Solutions (BCTS), Raqib Yusuf.
The Rs 400-crore project meant to better the saffron production by way of providing quality seeds and uninterrupted water supply, is being looked after jointly by the Agriculture and Mechanical Engineering departments. The Agriculture Department distributes the seeds to farmers, MED has employed contractors for laying pipes and digging bore-wells.
The contractors rued that despite approaching several officials in the administration, no concrete step was taken to resolve the issue. “From Governor’s grievance cell to Prime Minister’s Office, we knocked every door to register our concern but all in vain as no one pays heed to our issues. We also approached DDC Pulwama who is the chairman of the National Saffron Mission but nothing happened,” the aggrieved contractors said.
The Superintending Engineer of MED, Mushtaq Hussain Jan blamed paucity of funds for not addressing the issues of contractors. “We have not received funds for last six months. The contractors demands are genuine as their work is labour oriented. The Department of Agriculture is accountable for not releasing the funds. I have raised the issue at the highest level but there seems to be no end to their woes in immediate future,” he said.