CHITRAL: It is strange and also disappointing why the government never pays monthly salaries to 220 Nigahbans working in Upper Chitral on time and waits for a protest and hunger strike by them.
Once again the department concerned has kept the Nigahbans working without salaries in different villages of Upper Chitral for the last nine months due to the official red tape by the forest and wildlife departments.
The Nigahbans were hired by the provincial government to take care of saplings planed under the billion tree tsunami afforestation project a few years ago. Besides, these newly-planted forest, the Nigahbans are also tasked with conservation of mountain areas by stopping locals from grazing goats, cutting trees and hunting wildlife.
But they have always held protests and sit-ins for not being paid their salaries since 2018. Early last year, the Nigahbans held protest demonstrations and hunger strike in Booni for their stuck-up pays.
In April 2019, the government cleared their 10 months’ dues and verbally told them to continue work. They were also informed that their services had been extended till 2023. However, since then they have not been paid salaries.
A resident of Sholkoch in village told ChitralToday on phone that under the tsunami afforestation project the local communities were told to abandon keeping goats and sheep as they grazing in mountains were one of the main causes of floods.
He said the Nigahbans were also tasked with checking hunting, cutting of wood and grazing in mountains which have been divided into different enclosures. This step has worked well and there are no flooding in our area, he added.
He said not paying salaries to the Nigahbans were unjustified and an injustice with them. He said delays in release of the salaries was due to a tug of war between the forest and wildlife departments.
When ChitralToday contacted Divisional Forest Officer (wildlife) Chitral Muhammad Idrees, he said his department had transferred the Nigahbans to the DFO forest in April 2019, and hence it was the forest department to pay the salaries.
He said the forest department also had officially acknowledged receipt of the file transferring the workers.
But DFO Forest Shaukat Fayyaz Khattak told ChitralToday on phone that sending a file and handing over an enclosure were tow different things. He said enclosures had been set up on private and government land by the wildlife department and it (wildlife) has to decide if these enclosures are to be retained, or closed down or handed over to the locals.
He said after a committee carried out a verification of the enclosures and the workers last year, the wildlife department approached the forest department for payment of the salaries to the Nigahbans and the salaries were released.
He said the forest department would release the salaries to Nigahbans only after the wildlife department submits its recommendations as the enclosures were still under the wildlife department.