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MUZAFFARABAD: Employees of a dissolved public sector corporation in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Friday threatened to commit self-immolations in front of the AJK premier’s office if the government failed to pay them their dues byApril 21.

“For the past one year, we die almost daily of humiliation, depression and desolation, but our rulers seem to be completelyunmoved by our plight… We have decided to resort to the extreme steps,” said Raja Mohammad Shabbir, a top representative ofthe employees of the disbanded Azad Kashmir Logging and Sawmills Corporation (AKLASC), at a press conference here.

Mr Shabbir was accompanied by more than two dozen colleagues.

AKLASC was generating considerable income from extraction of timber, until the felling of green trees was banned in 1997.

The volume of extracted wood would sometime exceed 3 million cubic feet (cft) in a year, but as only the “dead, decayed ordiseased” trees were allowed to be extracted after the ban, the volume plummeted to 500,000 cft per year, thus drasticallylowering corporation’s revenues.

The functions of AKLASC came to a standstill in 2010 after the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, asked the AJK government to completely ban timber felling and in return promised to meet the shortfall [thus created] in AJK’s income.

It was however in early last year the AJK cabinet decided to dissolve the corporation by March 31, 2018, owing to its inutility. On May 29, last year, the AKLASC Board, headed by the prime minister, decided that all employees would be offered golden handshake within three months and funds for this purpose would be generated from the auction of corporation’s assets, includinga huge plot in Islamabad.

Mr Shabbir regretted that the government had failed to live up to its words, which had forced them to stage protest demonstrations of different kind from June 2018 onwards to secure their rights as per the agreed package.

“On each occasion, government functionaries came with promises [of payment of dues] but those turned out to be empty words,”he alleged.

Mr Shabbir recalled that one of the demonstrations, where the employees had also brought their family members, was visited by Premier Haider who assured that payment would be made within one month, but to no avail.

He said it was unjust to link the payment of dues with sale or auction of corporation’s assets.

“If assets are not sold, will the government kill us,” he asked, angrily.

Mr Shabbir demanded that the government should take over all assets and make full payments to all 586 employees who were relieved on March 31 last year by April 21 as per the agreed package.

Otherwise, he announced, the employees along with their family members would set up a protest camp in front of the AKLASC building on Monday.

“We will not leave the camp without receiving our dues. Instead, we will go to the extent of committing self-immolations in front of the PM office on April 25,” he warned.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2019