AS A car stops at Sector 19/20 roundabout or the Labour Chowk in the city, 63-year-old Shaam Lal rushes to see if people inside the car are looking for labourers. It’s 3.30 pm and Lal, who is a painter, is yet to find work for the day. Returning home without doing any work has been Lal’s routine for the last few weeks. He claims finding work has become difficult since November 9 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. His problems still persist.
“The decision [demonetisation] has brought difficulties,” says Lal. “Now we don’t have work to do because people don’t have money to pay us.” Everyday, Lal reaches this chowk at 8 am. He says that he has been able to find work only for few days in the last one month. “I used to earn Rs 400-500 a day on a daily basis. In the last few weeks, I have not earned more than Rs 2,500,” says Lal who has been living at Mauli Jagran for the last 10 years in a rented accommodation. He has seven kids and wife. How does he run his household now? “My wife works as a maid and two children are working at shops. Their employers have paid them money which has helped us survive,” says Lal.
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It’s not only Lal who is going through this ordeal. Every day, around hundred daily wagers, including painters, carpenters and masons reach the Labour Chowk in the morning. Some get work while others wait for the rest of the day. “This is the worst time of my life. This month I had no money to pay the rent,” says Ram Rattan, another labourer who lives in Ram Darbar. “I have been living in Chandigarh for the past 35 years. For the first time, I have seen such a situation. The shopkeeper too has stopped giving things on credit now.”
“Most of my friends,” Rattan says, “have already left for their villages because it was difficult for them to survive here.” Rattan, however, cannot go back to his native village in Bihar. “My entire family is living here now. We cannot go back because none of my relatives lives there.” Two kilometres away from this chowk is the Labour Chowk in Sector 45. Here, too, labourers have somewhat similar stories to share, with the same gist: demonetisation has affected their daily work. “The number of labourers at this chowk has increased,” says Babu Ram, who lives in Sector 52. “I have not earned much during the last one month.”