New Delhi: A gardener by profession, Sukh Nandan, was among the special invitees to watch this year’s Republic Day parade at the revamped Kartavya Path.
Several workers and labourers, engaged in the construction work of the Central Vista project and maintenance activities around the India Gate and along the Kartavya Path, were offered special passes to attend the parade.
They were allocated enclosure number 17 which was right opposite the saluting dais (on the other side of the Kartavya Path) where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Droupadi Murmu among other dignitaries were seated.
Nandan, who hails from the Niwari district of Madhya Pradesh, was delighted to share his experience of seeing the PM from such a close distance. He said he was thrilled when the PM went close to the enclosure and waved at them.
“I felt fortunate to be a part of the function. I had never thought that I would be chosen to be among the special guests,” the 44-year-old said.
However, when asked what would he have asked the prime minister if given chance, he said, “My last contractor refused to pay wages for 44-day work. I will request PM Modi ji to help me get my wages.”
Nandan has been working in the horticulture department at the India Gate for the past two months. Earlier, he was employed at Andhra Bhawan under a contractor.
“He refused to pay my salary for 44 days of work. I have a copy of the attendance register which proves that I was present on those 44 days,” Nandan, who lives in the makeshift tents near India Gate with his wife and two children, said.
“Despite that, the contractor is not ready to release my salary which I deserve. Now, I have also refused to return his brush cutter which I had kept. I have told him that unless he pays my dues, I will not return the brush cutter,” he added.
The local bodies outsource various labour-intensive work to private contractors who hire labourers with a promise to pay at the rate fixed by the government.
Many a time these workers are subjected to exploitation and are denied pay by the contractors on one pretext or the other. They can’t take recourse under the legal system as they neither have the money nor the time and awareness to do that.
According to Nandan, the monthly wage for gardeners fixed by the local municipal bodies is Rs 14,586. “At this rate, my total dues stand at approximately Rs 21,000,” he said, adding that the contractor had offered to pay Rs 6,000 only.
“Now he often threatens me of FIR for taking his brush cutter. I will really be grateful if I get any help from the government,” Nandan said, heaping praise on his present contractor for timely payment.
When contacted, Nandan’s former contractor Jiten Upadhyay admitted not paying the wages, saying that there is a dispute on the pending amount.
“I don’t think his dues are Rs 21,000. Also, besides the brush cutter, he has kept other plumbing equipment too which he has to return first,” he alleged.