Maharashtra state Labour Department announced on August 13 that it will give Rs 3,000 each to active as well as registered labourers in the real estate sector—a second instalment for the labourers who had to face a number of difficulties during the lockdown. As per the estimate of the Department, this would benefit 10 lakh workers in the state and would cost Rs 300 crore.
The government had announced the first installment in April which cost it Rs 154 crore. Then, Rs 2,000 were directly transferred to the bank accounts of seven lakh registered labourers.
Sources in the Labour Department as well as a few from the real estate industry told NewsClick that the recent announcement is purportedly an attempt by the state government to bring the labourers back to work. They said that the industry has been witnessing a dearth of labourers.
Trade unions like Shramik Kamgar Sanghatana, mainly which deal with the unorganised sectors like real estate, believe that many builders and developers often do not register the actual number of labourers. However, according to the Department, 12 lakh registered labourers had been working in MMR (Mumbai and surrounding eight cities) and Pune-Pimpri Chinchwad area from 2015.
Uday Bhat of Sarva Shramik Sanghatana said that the labourers do not have faith in the services they could avail in case they contract the novel coronavirus infection. "The state government has asked the developers to provide masks, gloves, insurance cover, etc. But, nobody believes that this will actually be implemented. So, they are not willing to risk their lives," said Bhat.
The real estate industry had already been hit due to the demonetisation and later because of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016. The state hasn't increased the ready reckoner rate since 2019, which brings revenue to the state government through stamp duty. But not increasing it for two years shows how the industry is in bad shape. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have further devastated the real estate industry.
Bhawani Builders from Panvel has two ongoing projects housing 450 and 300 apartments. The owner, Shashikant Mhatre, wants to complete it at the earliest. "The stalled work is increasing the cost of the project. I was hoping to complete these projects by December this year. But almost three months have passed without work. So, these will be ready by February or March 2021.”
“On top of this, we are not getting labourers now. They have gone back to their native states,” said Mhatre. His both projects had about 80 labourers for brickwork, 20 for mixing plaster, and 25 drivers and helpers for transporting bricks, cement among other material. Now, he has been able to employ 60 labourers including ten drivers. "I am trying to get labourers back through a contractor. But they are scared of coming back. They say they will return next year now," added Mhatre.
Subhash Jagtap of Jagtap Associates in Pune reported similar issues. He had undertaken four projects in Pune's Ravet, Kothrud and Vadgaon Sheri areas. His project in Vadgaon Sheri project has witnessed return of 70% of the labourers; the other projects are struggling to pick up pace with 30-40% labourers.
According to Pankaj Dikshit, a well-known architect from Mumbai, only 40% of the construction projects have opened up gradually so far. "What we are seeing right now is a serious situation. There are around 12,000 ongoing projects in the city. But only 4,500 to 4,800 have successfully restarted after the lockdown. That too with 50-60% availability of labour. Until efforts are made by the government, the situation will not change drastically," he said.
The efforts to bring the labourers back are failing, as per labour unions as well as contractors. "Labourers are scared to come back to the city. They are waiting for the pandemic to end," said Chandraprakash Morya, a contractor from Thane.
In a bid to revive the economy, the state Housing and Urban Development Departments are clearing many projects. The Housing Department is also coming up with a policy to repair 12,000 and reconstruct 16,000 dilapidated buildings, as per the government data. But this will remain on paper as long as dearth of labour force continues to hamper the sector.
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