The village defence committees (VDCs) members in Doda-Kishtwar belt, who have been defending mountainous and remote hamlets in the region, are up in arms against the government over "failure" to pay them their wages for the past two years now.
They have threatened "mass suicide" if their pending monthly honorarium is not released at the earliest.
Around 50 armed VDC members from different areas gathered at Manthla village in Bhadarwah and unanimously decided that they will commit "mass suicide" along with their family members, if their issues regarding their monthly honorarium is not settled and treating their job at par with Special Police Officers (SPOs) is not considered at the earliest.
As per available data, 27,924 people have been working in VDCs to fight militancy for the past two decades. Further, it was stated that 4,248 VDCs were functioning in 10 districts of Jammu division and Leh district of Ladakh.
With an aim to contain the activities of militants in rural areas and to ensure security and safety of the identified villages, the Union government in 1995 led to the setting up of VDCs when militancy was peaking up and authorities were unable to provide security in far-off villages.
"To ensure safety of my family and villagers, I was compelled to leave my studies at the age of 15 and join VDC in 1996," said Kuldeep Kumar, a VDC member of Chekka, Bhadarwah.
"Now, after putting in 22 years of my youth for the service of my nation and participating in several encounters along with security forces with militants, I have been left penniless as we are not getting our monthly honorarium because SPOs from our VDC refuse to share the wages with us," he lamented.
Kumar said that in the given circumstances, he is left with the only option to end his life and family members with the service weapon.
There are normally eight villagers in a VDC and to provide them some financial assistance, authorities appointed three of each VDCs as SPOs with an internal arrangement that the honorarium will be equally distributed among all members of the committee, VDC members said.
The distribution of money was being carried out smoothly until 2016 but as the honorarium was enhanced to Rs 12,000 and instead of cash, the amount started being transferred to the accounts of SPOs directly, they (SPOs) reportedly refused to share the money claiming that the remuneration is meant for them only.
"Everything was going on smoothly and we use to get our honorarium in cash without any hassle, but the government decision to transfer the money to the bank account of SPOs played the spoil sport, as these SPOs have now refused to share the money," said Rajinder Kumar (55), a VDC member of Kakool, Bhadarwah.
"We are performing similar duties as our SPOs but I am unable to understand why the honorarium is being transferred to their account only. Keeping in view of sacrifices during last 22 years, we appeal to the Governor to settle our issue once and for all, otherwise we have decided to commit mass suicide," Kumar added.
When contacted, Bhadarwah ASP Rajinder Singh said, "VDC SPOs are bound to share the honorarium among other members of the committee and they in no way can deny this as they have been appointed SPOs with the consent of other committee members."
"We have also received some complaints regarding the issue, as the problem started only after the enhancement of remuneration and bank payment. I will take up the matter with higher authorities so that a permanent arrangement regarding distribution of honorarium be made at the earliest," the ASP added.
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