Struggling to make ends meet and unable to pay rent during the lockdown, many workers had left for their hometowns over the past six weeks.
Even as construction work resumes in the national capital as part of the easing of coronavirus restrictions, around half of the usual labour force has turned up so far. Struggling to make ends meet and unable to pay rent during the lockdown, many workers had left for their hometowns over the past six weeks.
In the first three days of the easing of norms, some have started slowly coming back to the city in small numbers, and employers say most are expected to be back in the next month or so.
Work on the Integrated Transit Corridor around Pragati Maidan resumed on Monday morning. The contract company, Larsen & Toubro Limited, had made arrangements for 300 workers to stay in temporary sheds built on an empty plot at Sarai Kale Khan throughout the lockdown.
The construction supervisor, Jeevan Kumar Das, said he and other workers who stayed on-site were also provided with three meals a day.
Another worker said rooms provided on-site could accommodate four or five people, but it was difficult for those with families. Workers continued to work on an underpass on their first day.
A group of workers for a contract company called Nina Percept at Pragati Maidan said they chose to stay back. Even though work was stopped, they were given 30 percent of their salary.
A 25-year-old construction worker from Uttar Pradesh said, “We normally get Rs 13,000-14,000 a month. With a 70 per cent cut earlier because of the lockdown, it was difficult to survive. I stay with my family and pay Rs 3,000 rent per month. I have a child and wife to look after and food costs us a few thousand rupees.”
Another worker, from Assam, chose to stay in the city, only to regret it later. He has two children and also lives on rent. He said, “I went home last year during the lockdown. This year, we thought the situation would improve. But now I think going home would have been a better option.”
The two workers said that their colleagues, who went home, kept calling them to inquire about the situation. They are hoping to resume work soon on return.
At a Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Phase-IV construction site, work continued throughout the lockdown as the contract companies had made arrangements near the site. However, work had slowed down due to a labour shortage. A security guard at the site said that due to uncertainty, only 25 of 175 labourers stayed when the lockdown was first announced.
This time around, the oxygen crisis as well as the surge of Covid cases added to their woes and fear. A worker at the site said, “One of our site engineers contracted the infection and died … he had very low oxygen levels. Since then, we have been too scared.” Workers started coming back to work once the Covid cases declined. Around 100 workers were present at the site on Monday.
Aakil Baig (50), who stayed back and continued to work, said the company he is working for, Arena Infrastructure, had made arrangements close to the site and ensured vehicles and passes. Meanwhile, Ayyub Khan (49) went home to Meerut for a few days, but returned soon to resume work. Both workers had gone home last year and returned only around Diwali. They had lost both time and money last year, but were glad that the situation did not repeat itself.
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