By: Zafar Musyani
Munir Ahmed, remembers fondly how he came back to his hometown–Khuzdar, in 2004 after spending four years working as a gardener in the United Arab Emirates. He had got a job in a newly initiated road construction work in Karkh, a mountainous Tehsil of Balochistan’s Khuzdar district.
Fifteen years later, he sits on a stone near the incomplete road remembering his joy when he reunited with his family after he quit his job abroad, thinking that he would now work in his hometown.
A company named “A.M Construction Company (Pvt) Ltd.” had the project to construct the Khori to Wangu, Khuzdar, section-3 of Motorway-8, which connects Gwadar with RatoDero, Sindh and falls in the central route of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) –part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
When the company started working in August 2004, the local people from Karkh had an agreement with it. As per the agreement, hundreds of them got jobs as watchmen, drivers, conductors, cooks and peons and so on.
“I started working as a driver for the company, as soon as I reached home,” Munir Ahmed told Balochistan Review.
However, what turned out later was a worse ordeal -delayed payments of salaries was one of the concerns of the local employees.
“After every three or four months, company paid for one month while handed only vouchers for the remaining months’ salaries to be paid later,” Munir Ahmed shared with Balochistan Review.
He still carries the vouchers, some of which are torn apart after remaining in his pocket for years.
In the last fifteen years, neither the company has been able to complete the construction of 50 kilometers’ road nor has it paid salaries to hundreds of workers. Now the company owes Ahmed Rs. 405000 but it has been years that he has not received anything.
Habib Ullah is one of the local elders in the town who helped the company in establishing itself in the area. He was told that locals would be accommodated in the company.
“We gave company materials used in crash plant on the cheapest rates compared to other areas where construction companies pay much higher. Similarly, we agreed on lowest compensation for the land,” Habib Ullah told Balochistan Review.
He further said, “We gave the company our houses and places for its staff and machinery to camp on very meagre rent. In short, we have been cooperating with it in every possible way. Despite the aggravated law and order situation, never anything unpleasant happened to any of the staff of company”
But as per the local population, the company simply exploited those working for it. It did not pay the salaries to workers, nor rent for vehicles hired by them; compensation for lands, crush plant and rent for the houses they had rented.
“Even the company’s managers borrowed diesel, wood, and other utility stuff from the local shop keepers. Debts weren’t paid and the shop owners suffered immense loss,” adds Habib Ullah.
Haji Karim Buksh has been running a shop since decades. When the company stepped in Khuzdar, he moved his shop to the nearby camp, where the staff and machinery were stationed, in the hope of maximizing profits. Initially, his business got a boom. But, the borrowing slowed down the business. He had some hope for years that the borrowers would pay their debts, and thus he would revive his shop. Now his hopes have vanished.
‘’Look,” says Haji Buksh, “My shop is empty. I am now paralyzed and cannot move independently. The company doesn’t pay me. And I need money for my medical treatment. There is no one else at home to earn either. I was given a ‘bogus cheque’ by them. I tried many times to cash it but failed.”
Similarly, Fateh Muhmmed is another shop owner. He has filed a case against the company for the non-payment of his loans.
“It has been two years since I filed a case, but I am yet to get justice. On the instruction of company’s relevant officers, I gave them utility from my shop. But now they are clearly saying that that they would not pay,” Fateh Mohammed told Balochistan Review.
Many have got bogus cheques from the company. A person whose vehicle has been on contract in the company says, “I have been given four bogus cheques of worth Rs.1.2 million.’’
According to local people’s statistics the company owes them around 100 million as compensation for land and boulders, loans, payment for workers and vehicles and rent for houses.
“As per our estimation,” explains Hafiz Rasool Buksh, “if a labour was working on Rs. 5000 remuneration, he has 150,000-200,000 rupees pending against the company. Likewise, if someone’s salary was Rs 30,000, his dues amount to around Rs. 150,0000-200,0000.”
According to the locals, company paid for a month and procrastinated for others after every couple of months. Labourers could not quit amidst this uncertainty. Same is the case with owners of vehicles that were on contract with the company. As for compensation of boulder and land, rent for houses, company has never paid except a small amount back in 2009.
“We have been demanding for the payment and have knocked all the doors and met concerned officials but to no avail. There have been two agreements with the company for the early payment of dues in 2010 and 2015. But the company has not fulfilled its promises,” Hafiz further told Balochistan Review.
The scribe did not get any response from the Deputy Project Manager of A.M Construction Company (Pvt) Ltd, Mr. Faisal Khan, after several attempts to contact him and find out more about the allegations from local people against the company.
However, according to Ali Raza, the Project Director of National Highway Authority for this project, “The Company closed its work in 2007 due to the law and order situation. So it did not receive payments. Consequently, the liabilities on the company increases manifold. When it returned after two years, it could not pay the remainings. We, the NHA, has been asking the company to pay the liabilities. But it is not legally binding on NHA to ask the company. Because, the company, is a private entity, and local people had made an agreement initially without any approval from NHA”
Similarly, Molana Qamar Ud Din, former Member of National Assembly from Khuzdar, (2013-18), who was also a member of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Communications, raised this issue both in NA and the standing committee.
“I supervised this project on the behalf of the standing committee. Which is why the work has completed to a great extent,” Molana Qamar Ud Din told Balochistan Review.
However, he adds, “The company’s owner is responsible for not paying the salaries, loans and compensation of local people. Every time I approached them for this matter, they assured me to resolve it soon. But, unfortunately, they didn’t.”
Now the people of Tehsil Karkh, where this section of M-8 passes from, affected by this company worry if they will ever be paid back for their services.
And the company is nearly about to complete its project, as it has completed almost 80% of its work. Many local people are concerned, what will happen if they company wraps up its work and goes away?
A local activist, who requests anonymity, says “Do you think this project benefited us? Not at all, it has brought miseries to us here, where everyone is affected badly. Hence, it is not development rather it is blatant exploitation.”