New Delhi: A survey analysing the impact of the nationwide lockdown on the lives of 3,196 migrant construction workers of central and north India has called it “catastrophic in the short term”.
According to the survey, 42 per cent of the workers who were interviewed between 27 March and 29 March over phone said they had no ration left for the day (the day they were interviewed), let alone for the entire duration of the lockdown.
The survey conducted by NGO Jan Sahas — founded by activist Ashif Shaikh who has worked with the Ministry of Social Justice to eradicate manual scavenging — quantifies the plight of the migrant workers after the 21-day lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March.
The survey interviewed construction workers, who form the biggest chunk of the migrant workforce in the country. Currently, India has 55 million construction labourers, the survey said.
According to the survey, nearly “90% labourers have already lost their source of income in the last 3 weeks”.
When the lockdown triggered an unexpected exodus of migrants from various metropolitan cities, the central government scrambled to announce a relief package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore for the poor. This included direct cash transfers and an additional 5 kilogram of rice or wheat.
The survey, however, found that 62 per cent of the workers do not have any information about these measures announced by the government, and another 37 per cent do not know how to access the existing schemes.
17% don’t have bank accounts to get direct cash
On 25 March, when the lockdown came into effect, the labour and employment ministry had put out an advisory to all states and union territories, directing them to transfer funds to construction workers “through DBT (direct benefit transfer) mode from cess fund”.
However, of the 3,196 interviewed, a staggering “94% of labourers do not have Building and Other Constructions Workers (BOCW) cards, making them ineligible for any BOCW related benefit transfer”.
“If our data set is representative of the 55 million labourers currently employed in the construction sector, then more than 51 million labourers will not have access to any benefits,” according to the survey.
A sizable proportion of those interviewed — 17 per cent — did not have bank accounts through which DBTs could be received, and 14 per cent said they do not have ration cards.
Another 12 per cent claimed they were not able to access ration in their current location due to their migrant status.
Approximately 10 per cent of those interviewed said they had a pregnant member in their families.
Fear of debt repayment
Of the 984 labourers, who admitted to be on debt, half of them said they fear their failure to repay the debt due to the Covid-19 crisis “can put them in danger of some kind of violence”.
About 83 per cent of the total sample size was afraid of not getting work after the lockdown period comes to an end.
The NGO made several recommendations to counter these effects. Among them is a provision for essential ration that should be uniformly enforced across states.
It also recommended that the government order regarding termination of services be strictly enforced and monitored, since 90 per cent of the labourers have lost their jobs.