May 13, 2020
During the Coronavirus-caused-lockdown a video clip went viral in the social media and also broadcasted in the premier news channels where eighteen migratory workers were seen debarking from the steel drum of a concrete mixer vehicle through an opening barely sufficient for one person to pass through at a time. These workers, reported to be residents of Uttar Pradesh, had taken this distressing journey from Mumbai towards Lucknow, to reach their home and caught mid-way by the Indore Police. As a matter of coincidence they had started their journey from Mumbai on May 1, the International Workers’ Day, after surviving for 12 days on very little food.
It is not too tough to imagine the hardship faced by these men who were willing to take the journey of over 1200 Kilometers, at the range of ambient temperature being above 40-degree Celsius, jam-packed in a confined vessel made of steel with little ventilation inside. They could have been died of suffocation with a little hither and thither of things. Alone this clip is enough to understand the situation of the casual workmen engaged in the sectors like construction in our country, especially during the country-wide lockdown inflicted by COVID-19.
In view of employment, Construction sector is presently the fifth largest in India giving employment to 5.43 Crore people, after Agriculture (20.53 Crores), Services (14.44 Crores), Industrial works (11.53 Crores) and Manufacturing sectors (5.64 Crores). Out of these big number of people 10.8% are self-employed and another 5.5% earns a regular salary. The remaining, a whopping 83.7% are casual workers, which is the highest percentage of this category in any sector in the country, are mostly the migratory construction workers. These workmen are the soldiers at the front taking the country forward through construction of various projects at places far away from their home for a paltry income. Being devoid of any structured financial benefits they are among the most vulnerable band of people during the country-wide lockdown going on.
These workmen are engaged in projects executed by small to big construction companies and real-estate developers but are not directly employed by them. Generally, they are taken to the project sites through manpower supplying individuals or agencies for various category of works, starting from unskilled works e.g. concreting, earthwork to skilled works e.g. carpentry, bar-bending, masonry, welding, operating construction equipment etc. The manpower suppliers are of very limited financial capacities in most of the cases and thus unable to give required monetary protection to the workers on their own on occurrence of any urgency.
Minimum wages are increased by the Central and State Governments in regular intervals, also various Governments at different time has taken initiatives for betterment of their livelihoods by instigating acts and policies. But the reach of those to the beneficiaries are put to question marks by events similar to the one in subject. Provided the assurance of required financial security for self and family in place these eighteen men would not have been so desperate to travel under such uncertainty and anguish.
Not just increasing the wages and facilities on paper, most importantly, the Governments need to devise an appropriate full-proof mechanism to ensure availability of the same to these people. It’s time for incorporating appropriate insurances for their health, life and disability and old-age benefits based on the current age and length of work-tenure. There is a need for creating an exhaustive and exclusive register by the Central authorities for these casual workers which may be linked with their AADHAR and bank account. This will be useful for monitoring whether they are actually getting the benefits intended by the Government. In addition to this, suitable audit procedures need to be in place to avoid lapse of the mechanism.
In view of construction being one of the key sectors in contributing to the nation’s GDP and expectation of our country to reach to the topmost band of global construction market by 2030, it’s definitely high time to ensure appropriate care for the people at the fore-front who shed their blood and sweats day-in and day-out to turn these expectations in to reality.
[Data source: CRISIL report dated April 30, 2020, ‘Viral fever: Covid-19 impact on economy, corporate revenue and profitability’]