June 6, 2020 7:11:09 pm
Having remained unemployed for over two months during the lockdown, Hasmukh Vankar (35) has been coming in search of work to the Akhbar Nagar Kadia Naka or labour market in Ahmedabad city since Monday when the lockdown opened. However, he is yet to find work.
“I have been coming to this kadia naka for the last five days, but I am yet to get any work. Even if I want to wait a little longer to see if I get picked up, the police do not allow us to wait here after 9:30 am due to the pandemic situation,” says Vankar as he tightens a piece of cloth wrapped around his face, doubling up as a mask.
Vankar has been coming to the labour market that convenes on the roadside near the “kitli circle” at Akhbar Nagar in search of work. He is currently borrowing money from his neighbour to feed his family of five which includes three children.
Akhbar Nagar is one of the largest kadia nakas or labour markets in Ahmedabad city where daily wage earners gather early morning hoping to be picked up for work that usually involves hard or skilled labour like plumbing, masonry or painting.
As he sips a cutting chai, Vankar is joined by Babu Makwana. “Did u get any work?” Makwana asks Vankar. It is already 9 am and Makwana feels that he will have to return home without work.
“If we get work one day, then it might happen we have to return home empty handed for the next two or three days. People are scared of the disease and they do not allow us to enter their homes, so most of the works available are in open spaces. Only those who have an emergency work to be finished come in search for daily workers like us. Most people avoid,” says Makwana as he squats on the side of the road. Labourers say that Akhbar Nagar labour market usually sees 400-500 workers congregate every single day before the lockdown. “Now, as you can see there are hardly about 100,” says Makwana.
Vankar and Makwana do jobs like digging and so on at construction sites.
According to a Majur Adhikar Manch, a labour union of construction workers, there are an estimated 100 labour markets or kadia nakas in Ahmedabad alone. “The biggest are those at Thakkar Nagar, CTM crossroads, Juhapura, Akhbar Nagar and Ghatlodiya. Though there has been an en-mass migration of such labourers from Ahmedabad, those who stayed back find it difficult to get work. To add to their difficulties, the temporary food stalls which used to serve one time meal at Rs 10 under the Gujarat government’s Shramik Annapurna Yojana have not reopened after the government shut it down during the initial part of the lockdown. So there is no access to easy food for them,” says Mina Jadhav, secretary of the union.
At a similar labour market about seven kilometers away at Ghatlodiya, Gova Rabari stands near his cycle smoking a beedi. A building contractor who takes up small and big construction work, Rabari says, “The flow of work is not the same after lockdown. In last one week, I have earned just Rs 5,000 from a toilet repair work that I got. Though most of the migrant workers have gone home and there are only some locals and tribals left in the labour market, employment is still hard to come by.”
Nearby, Vikram Rathva, a mason, waits for a vehicle to take him to Paldi to complete an under construction bungalow that was left incomplete due to lockdown. “For me work has been smooth so far. I am earning Rs 600 a day. But I am not sure if I will get more work after the one at the bungalow finishes. If the situation improves, people like us will continue to remain employed,” says Rathva as he adjusts a black mask on this face.
“The biggest fear for us is getting infected by the disease (Covid-19). There is no social distancing at this labour market and at our workplace. This mask is the only protection I have. We cannot remain at home. We have families. It is better to work, get infected and die rather than wait at home and remain hungry,” he adds.
The state government, which closed 119 food stalls being operated under the Shramik Annapurna Yojana on March 20, said it will restart 68 of them within a week. “We will be restarting 68 centres outside the containment zones within a week’s time,” said Vipul Mittra, additional chief secretary, labour and employment and chairman of Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. These stalls provided subsidised food to workers at Rs 10 once a day.
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