New Delhi: A survey of migrant workers in Gurugram, Haryana has revealed that the prolonged lockdown has left most of them without any savings and forced many to take loans. Also, while most of those who hail from far-off states like Assam, Bihar and West Bengal are keen to return to their native places at the earliest, a majority of those from nearby states like Uttar Pradesh have adopted a wait and watch approach – and their return will be contingent on whether they get a job again.
The survey, done by a citizen’s platform, Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch (GNEM), that engaged with several daily wagers and informal sector workers through its food relief programmes during the lockdown, revealed the condition of these workers during the last two weeks of May. In its report, “Caught in a Bind: A Status Report on Uncertainty and Distress Amongst Gurugram’s Unorganized Workers”, the organisation has highlighted how delayed implementation of the public distribution system and withdrawal of cooked meal facilities compounded the food distress during the period.
The Manch, which in its first report in April documented distress and urged the administration to universalise the PDS, has in the second report provided a situation analysis of the conditions of workers at a time of transition out of the lockdown.
The findings of the organisation, based upon telephonic survey and conversations with the workers, have revealed that “the administration delayed implementation of distress PDS at scale during the peak period of food distress” in April and May when migrants were unable to leave the city.
Withdrawal of cooked food facility hits the poor hard
Also, it said, the withdrawal of cooked meal facilities compounded distress for nearly 37% of the migrants, who were dependent on this supply.
The survey also noted that many of those dependent on cooked meals were facing particular distress. In this regard, it highlighted the case of Meena Devi, a 25-year-old woman and mother of three children, who lived close to a government-run feeding centre and who ate at least one of her meals there. “However, after the feeding centre shut down, the frequency of her calls to GNEM volunteers increased,” the report said, quoting her as saying, “Jab se community centre mein khaana batna band hua hai, ab bahut zyaada dikkat hai. Ration ki zaroorat hai (We are in deep trouble ever since the community centre stopped giving out cooked meals. We need rations).”
To safeguard the interest of the likes of Meena Devi, the organisation has also urged the Gurugram administration to resume community kitchens for clusters dependent on them such as in places like Sarhol, Khandsa and Manesar.
It has also called for considering a universalised PDS mechanism with simple registration and minimal verification procedures to sustain migrants for the next few months till they again get stable employment.
Most migrants left with little savings
The report also noted that 87% of the migrants were left with Rs 500 or less in cash reserves. Moreover, despite some units being allowed to operate, it said, “demand for workers in factories is low owing to social distancing norms and disrupted supply chains”.
Also, the report said, “44 per cent of self-employed workers have not yet been able to restart work owing to negligible demand and lack of capital to restart business.”
This prolonged pain has pushed many of these workers towards debt. Among those surveyed, the report said 25% had not taken any loans, while 30% had taken loans of up to Rs 2,000, 24 of between Rs 2,000 and 5,000, and 8% cent of over Rs 8,000. Likewise, around 44% of self-employed workers took loans of between Rs 5,000 and 8,000.
Unit owners not paying full sums, fear the workers will flee to home states
The report has also highlighted the plight of workers who are not getting their full wages as owners are wary that they would flee to their native places on getting the entire payment. It quoted Mukesh from Sarhol, who worked at an export house, as lamenting: “Kaam toh chaalu ho gaya hai par poori tarah nahi hua hai. Mere floor mein aath export line the, abhi do hi chal rahe hai aur maalik advance payment bhi nahi de raha hai. Kehta hai tum paisa le kar ghar bhaag jaaoge. Ab gas bharaane ke paise bhi nahin hai (Work has started, but only partially. My floor had eight export lines, but right now only two are operational. The owner is not making advance payments. He suspects we will run away with the money. Now I only have enough money to replenish cooking fuel).”
As for the urge to go back to the home states, the report revealed that while 30% wanted to “return immediately”, 40% were “planning to wait” while another 30% had “no intention of leaving the city”.
Those from far-away states eager to return
Also, while most migrants from Assam, Bihar and West Bengal wanted to return, around 64% from Uttar Pradesh said they were willing to wait for employment.
Stating that “the administration’s handling of migrant transportation via Shramik trains and buses has been chaotic, with last minute announcements resulting in mismatches between reporting travellers and available seats”, the report also called for a “transparent well-managed system” to meet the pending demands of migrants to return to their native places.
The report pointed out how in the first lockdown, the distress among the workers pertained to the need for food and resulted in calls for rations. However, it said, “subsequent lockdowns substantively increased their anxiety over daily survival.”
When it came to payment of rent, an issue which is said to have forced many of the migrants workers to leave, the report revealed that while 25% of the respondents said they had not faced pressure from landlords, most admitted that it remained a cause of anxiety.