Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced lockdown on March 24 as a measure to tackle COVID-19 outbreak, workers across the country are dealing with uncertainty, living without enough food, water and other basic necessities. Many workers, who had migrated to cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Surat, Jaipur, etc. for work, had no option but to go back to their native villages. In the absence of transport, many were forced to walk back home after the lockdown.
The week following the lockdown saw scores of workers walking back home with their families, including infants, from the national capital and other cities. There were reports of deaths of migrant workers while on their way. A latest survey, of about 11,000 workers, says that about half of the migrant workers stranded in the cities had ration that would last for less than a day. About 96% of the surveyed workers had not received ration from the government, and 70% had not received any cooked food. As many as 89% had not been paid by their employers at all during the lockdown, said a report by the Stranded Workers’ Action Network, a group of 73 volunteers. The numbers were most grim in Uttar Pradesh, where none of the 1,611 workers surveyed had received any ration from the government so far.
In Maharashtra, 71% of the surveyed workers said that they have ration only for a day, while 89% claimed they do not have enough stock for more than two days, the report said. Of the total 1,212 workers who were interviewed in Karnataka, 36% said they do not have ration to sustain them beyond a day. “We are eating only one meal a day to conserve the quantum of grain we have,” a group of migrant labourers in Bengaluru told the organisation.
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According to the report, the workers had better access to cooked meals in Delhi and Haryana. Suresh, who hails from Muzaffarpur in Bihar and works as a construction worker in Delhi, had been able to get cooked food at a government feeding centre on a few occasions. “But the lines are long and food runs out by the time it is our turn,” he said.
Apart from this, the report states that “74% of the workers had less than half of their daily wages left to survive the rest of the lockdown period. Around 98% of them have not received any cash relief from the government. Only a few workers claimed to have received Rs 1,000 from the Bihar government, while three women said they received Rs 500 for the month of April in their Jan Dhan Yojana account”.
Meanwhile in Kerala, the state government has initiated distribution of free ration for all. All the migrant labourers across the state are being given cooked food or raw material and those who did not have a place to stay are housed in government shelter homes.
Though Prime Minister Modi announced the extension of the nationwide lockdown till May 3, there was no economic revival plan or package for the migrant workers despite repeated requests from the state chief ministers. Recently, workers were forced to protest demanding better living conditions at the shelter homes or means to return home.
According to a survey conducted by NGO Jan Sahas, “90% labourers (approx) have already lost their source of income in the last three weeks”.
For the construction workers, the central government had announced compensation owing to the impact of the lockdown. However, for a vast majority of workers, it won't be easy to claim the compensation amount as they don’t have identity cards.
The survey, which was conducted among 3,196 construction workers across India, said that 94% of the workers do not have the Building and Construction Workers identity card. “A staggering 94% of the workers do not have the Building and Construction Workers identity card, which rules out the possibility of availing any of the benefits that the State has declared from its Rs 32,000 crore BOCW fund."
As per the study, the number of workers who may be rendered ineligible would be around 5.1 crore.
“If our dataset is representative of the 55 million (5.5 crore) labourers currently employed in the construction sector then more than 51 million (5.1 crore) labourers will not have access to any benefits,” the study says.
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Seventeen percent of the labourers surveyed by the team did not have bank accounts, which would make it difficult for them to access government’s financial aid. Jan Sahas suggests that they can be paid using “Aadhaar identification and cash payment at doorstep using Gram Panchayat and postal offices”.
More over, most of the workers are not aware about how to access the government’s emergency relief measures. As per the survey data, 62% of the workers had no idea about these processes. This survey also noted that 42% of the labourers mentioned that they had no ration left even for a day. “About 33 percent workers mentioned they did not have the money to buy it, 14 percent mentioned that they did not have ration cards and about 12 percent mentioned that they could not access it in their current location as they were migrants,” the study said.
About 31% of the workers mentioned they have loans and they will find it difficult to repay it without employment.