Gorakhpur: Ajay Mishra, 39, a resident of Deoria, has been sitting at home without any work since the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Initially, the lockdown was did not pose a problem for Mishra, a daily wager, who had been working for V. N. Dyers & Processors Private Limited. But then it started taking a toll on his living standards.
“It was alright for the first couple of days and we were also happy with the announcement made by the government that labourers would be getting Rs 1,000 and dry ration but in reality we did not get anything,” said Mishra.
Mishra added that with factories having closed down, they also began running out of savings. “We were paid for the time we worked and were given six days payment as compensation. We approached the concerned authorities including the district magistrate on phone and even met him face to face. But, we were told that nothing can be done for us so it was better that we return to our hometowns,” Mishra alleged.
Arun Chaubey, another factory worker in his late thirties has spent all his savings to fulfill the needs of his family during the lockdown and is now struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
“My landlord has asked me to vacate the house,” Chaubey told NewsClick over the phone. He said that he was making Rs 8,000 per month but does not have an income or his savings to pay rent. “The landlord said that since we do not have a job so paying rent would be difficult and thus we should leave. I tried approaching people for help but nothing worked. This is happening in the Chief Minister’s city. There is no one to help us. If this continues we will die of hunger. The administration or the government must chip in immediately to address our problems,” he added.
Varun Dixit, another factory worker who was working with a rubber factory said there was uncertainty around whether the factories would begin operations and that people were in panic now.
“I tried selling vegetables for a few days but it was not my cup of tea. Now there is a limited ration at home and I cannot see my kids sleeping without food. I have been begging people for work and can do anything to earn money. The situation is beyond my control now. We have protested for wages three times in the last two weeks and the factory owners are saying that they will not pay us,” said Dixit.
Calls to the district magistrate and the labour office in Gorakhpur went unanswered.
Gorakhpur-based social activist Shavita Kaul said that a few companies in Bargadwa in Gorakhpur put out a notice on March 22 for their workers. “It mentioned that they would be liable to pay their workers a compensation during the lockdown period. The companies never bothered to implement it though. Instead of giving some relief to these workers, the company management is asking them to withdraw their PF amount so that they can feed themselves and their families. However, the majority of the workers in this company are employed on contract and as casual workers so they do not even get PF benefits,” she said.
According to Kaul, between 225 and 250 workers work for the company and many of them are from the adjoining state of Bihar, while others hail from districts like Jaunpur, Balia, Azamgarh and Deoria. “The workers protested against the company for not implementing its own notice. They even approached the Deputy Labour Commissioner and the local administration, but they have not received any sort of help from them either,” she added, mentioning that it was a violation of the state and Centre’s announcement that workers would be paid and their services would not be terminated during the lockdown.
Kaul said that that the labour ministry of the Uttar Pradesh government had issued a helpline number to register complaints against the factory owners if they did not comply with government orders, but that the ground reality was different. “These workers have not even received ration from the PDS system. When these workers contacted the ration distribution coordinator of Bargadwa, he told them he would not be able to provide them ration for more than two days as it was not possible. It seems that the state and Centre are announcing schemes and packages just for the sake of it. Gorakhpur used to be CM Yogi Adityanath’s constituency till a few years ago. He regularly visits Gorakhpur, then why is it that he has turned away from the grief and pain of workers from his former constituency?” she asked.