Raipur: The local industry in Chhattisgarh is increasingly concerned by the continuous outflow of migrant workers, and fears the exodus could drastically affect production.
Various representatives of Chhattisgarh’s industries and industrial organisations told ThePrint that about 60-70 per cent of the workers, including both semi-skilled and skilled personnel, have now gone back to their homes within the state or outside it.
They also expressed fears that the migrant workers may not return anytime soon.
“Despite repeated assurances by the state government, the workers from other states are unlikely to come back. Most of these are skilled workers whose return will be very difficult now,” Chhattisgarh in-charge of Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Satish Pandey, told ThePrint.
“These workers are likely to be willing to work for Rs 100 per day in their own areas rather than going back to other states even for Rs 500 a day. Their faith in migrating out to earn better livelihoods has been completely shattered,” Pandey added. “This is why it will take a lot of time for them to come back. In the meanwhile, the industries operating in the state will have to depend more on the local workers. But here a big problem is that the majority of local workers are from the unorganised sector and their efficiency in performing technical tasks is also low.”
The industrialists are also saying if the Central government does not take any concrete steps to boost industrial production in the coming days, they are likely to face a huge shortage of skilled workers.
‘Migrant workers more skilled’
According to Ashwin Garg, president of the Raipur-based Urla Industries Association, workers form Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, who are now headed home in large numbers, are very skilled in technical tasks and their departure can cause a huge decline in industrial production.
Garg said around 70 per cent of workers employed in the industrial units of Chhattisgarh have now returned home. “Right now it will be very difficult to fill the void. The scale of distrust among these labourers towards working outside their states can be gauged by the fact that they preferred to travel 1,000-1,500 km or even more by cycle, instead of staying around their workplaces,” Garg said.
“Some workers of Chhattisgarh, working in other states, are also returning home. But their technical expertise is much less compared to the workers who have left the state,” Garg added. “Then again the freshly returned workers are unlikely to start working so easily because they too have returned home after facing very difficult circumstances. As of now, they will prefer to remain at their homes and may not be willing to work in industries for the next 2-3 months.”
According to Garg, there is not enough labour for industries to commence operations — with even 33 per cent workforce, which was allowed by the government when it announced relaxations in the lockdown norms.
The state government has promised to look into the problems in the sector but it feels the industrialists’ numbers on migrant workers are not accurate.
“Some 80 per cent of the workforce employed in the industries of Chhattisgarh is from the state. Some special technical workers, like those working on furnaces or foundries, are from other states,” said Additional Director, Industries, Praveen Shukla. “The biggest challenge for us, however, is to bring back the labourers who have returned home (with)in the state. This is because now their own villagers are not allowing them to return. Some villagers are reportedly threatening these workers that if they venture out of the village again, they will not be allowed to come back.”
No rolling capital due to lockdown
Entrepreneurs from the state are also saying their rolling capital is now completely stuck in the market due to the long duration of lockdown, and that they are in serious need of some working capital to resume production.
According to Garg, around Rs 10 to Rs 15 lakh crores from industries across the country is now blocked in markets, in the form of rolling funds, due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
“In this, the share of industries from Chhattisgarh is around Rs 30,000 crore. The government’s assistance in the form of working capital is required to bring this back (into the economy),” Garg said. “This requires a special economic package by the government. Although Union minister Nitin Gadkari has asked for a working fund package amounting to Rs 1 lakh crore, no concrete decision has been taken by the Centre in this matter as of now. We want the central government to take a decision in this regard to rescue the industries.”
ThePrint had contacted Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal’s office for a response but is yet to get one. This report will be updated when there is a response.
‘Lockdown has also hurt markets’
State entrepreneurs also say Chhattisgarh is a goods producing state but the markets, which consume 90 per cent of the products, are still completely in the grip of the Covid-19 crisis.
According to Garg, this is the reason that demand for goods produced in Chhattisgarh has waned.
“Ninety per cent of the industrial production from our industries is dispatched to the markets in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. But all these states are among the worst affected,” Garg said. “This is why demand for our goods is almost zero. Even if we start producing at a large scale, where will all the produced goods be consumed? Some units have started to operate, they are also getting some demands but most of this is short-term demand which has come from small local stockists.”
Both Garg and Pandey concur that production has started in the core sectors of the state, like steel, rolling mills, power and cement, but in the absence of demand, there is doubt about how much the other factories, except PSUs, will be able to produce.
Additional Director, Industries, Praveen Shukla said almost 90 per cent markets of the state’s products are still blocked, but the government is dealing with the crisis.
“The state government has resumed all of its construction projects so that the core sector of our industries can get some kind of a market,” Shukla said.