New Delhi: As COVID-10 cases in Delhi-NCR register a fresh spike, laxity by the public as well as the authorities in monitoring the protocol is being reported from various places. However, poor factory workers in Delhi, who are already struggling to earn their livelihoods, are reportedly being needlessly harassed by inspection teams, which are asking them to cough up fines for alleged violation of COVID protocol, much beyond their paying capacity.
Manoranjan Kumar, a factory worker at Delhi’s Bawana Industrial Area, says he was busy supervising his colleague when he found an inspection team from Delhi government within the factory premises. After few minutes of interrogation, Kumar was handed over a challan for Rs 1,000 for allegedly wearing a mask ‘improperly’ at his workplace.
Kumar says he was aghast at the amount of the fine which was equivalent to one-- tenth of his monthly salary. He says he approached the factory owner, who later sent the money to the inspectors. Kumar says he was lucky as his employer willingly bore the challan amount.
Of late, factory workers in Delhi’s Industrial areas are rattled at the prospect of getting challaned big amounts for COVID-related violations at their workplaces.
Talking to NewsClick, Kumar, who hails from Patna in Bihar, shared his concerns about the new fine-based regime for factory workers like him.
“This is the second time I have been fined at the factory. The inspection team had come a month ago and fined me Rs 500. Now, I was fined Rs 1,000. I am lucky because my employer paid the fine. But there are workers who will have to pay the fine from their pockets. This is sheer injustice. The factories were opened after months of lockdown and we literally do not have any money. The workers at my factory usually did overtime for four days a month. But there are no overtime hours of work now because there is no demand in the market,” he says.
While he agrees that workers should follow the norms, Kumar feels the fines are too high for workers who any way are struggling to meet their expenses. In addition, he says the working conditions are so poor, that wearing masks while labouring is suffocating.
“I think that the fines should be lowered because a Rs 100 fine would frighten a worker to follow rules anyway. Our working conditions are such that we cannot wear masks for long hours. It could suffocate us, said Kumar, ” demonstrating the process of manufacturing cooker bands in the factory where individual rubber bands are suppressed through a heater.
A conversation with other clearing staff shows how poorly the workers are paid in such work sites. A cleaner generally gets 24 paise per band which translates into Rs 240 per day after clearing 1,000 bands per day.
A few factories away, NewsClick met Bharat Kumar, a teenage worker from Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh, at an iron cutting and moulding factory, who also shared his agony about the high fines being imposed by inspectors.
Bharat Kumar said: “the inspectors me fined Rs 500 for wearing a mask improperly. I had to borrow money from my employer. Probably, they do not know what this money means to us. I will work for two days to earn this much money and they take it just like that. Inflation has skyrocketed. We buy mustard oil at Rs 140 per kilogram, Onions are out of reach. The inspection team comes along with police so we cannot even argue and resist the fines.”
The inspection teams generally consist of Delhi government school teachers who have been brought in to control the situation.
A school teacher, who requested anonymity, told NewsClick: “Technically, school teachers are government servants and cannot refuse to contribute in conditions like pandemic, Census and disaster management. But we are essentially teachers who are not trained for such purposes. Millions of impoverished children cannot access education due to lockdown. I feel guilty but we cannot refuse to do our duties. The teachers registered migrant workers, helped them return to their homes, facilitated Indians residing abroad and are now entrusted with this work. I think the government should seriously think about our role now.”
Newsclick tried to reach the SDM Alipur, Ajit Singh Thakur, Chairman of Local Disaster Management Authority, for his comments on the matter, but in vain.