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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Amid new Covid wave, desperation grows at Gr Noida’s labour chowks

🔴 With the onset of the third Covid wave and related restrictions, labourers have again grown more desperate as jobs have started to dry up.

Written by Amil Bhatnagar | Greater Noida |
Updated: January 16, 2022 6:53:57 am
Greater Noida, coronavirus, coronavirus latest news, labour jobs, covid wave, omicron, Noida latest news, covid restrictions, indian expressSanjeev Kumar is among several workers who gather every day at the labour chowk in search of a job. (Express Photo)

Every time a vehicle slowed down at the roundabout in Greater Noida’s Delta area on Friday morning, a group of at least 10 people began to run alongside it. From the tiny gap in the window, they asked the passengers if they needed labourers for any work.

With the onset of the third Covid wave and related restrictions, labourers have again grown more desperate as jobs have started to dry up.

Nearly 3 km from Pari Chowk, more than 5,000 workers gather every day to find jobs. They offer a variety of services — lifting sacks of cement, building stone walls, painting, and assembly work in a factory — to both individuals and organisations.

Labourers said this way of seeking work has been in place for several years and that it used to be a smooth process. But successive waves of the pandemic have meant many have gone without daily wages for weeks at a time now.

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Among them is Ram Charan Singh (60), who lost vision in his left eye over the years, and visits labour chowk daily. His three sons, also engaged in daily wage work, have been unable to make money during the pandemic.

“I have been a labourer all my life. Work was better earlier and we got by. Since the new wave hit, it has virtually stopped. At my age with my disability, no one wants to hire me. But I cannot stop trying because expenses are piling; even getting two meals a day is difficult these days,” said Singh, who hails from Aligarh.

Most labourers live in Greater Noida localities such as Kasna and Surajpur in one-room homes and pay rent between Rs 2,500-Rs 5,000. Some walk nearly 8-10 km every day since they can’t afford public transport.

Standing in a corner of the chowk was 60-year-old Chanda Devi. A widow with two sons, she used to take up odd jobs like gardening to help bring in additional income. Prior to the pandemic, she would earn nearly Rs 300-Rs 400 every three days. In the last month, she was hired only thrice.

“With the lockdown in place, fewer people approach us. Even though we are vaccinated, everyone thinks interacting with us will give them Covid. But all we need is work. There are no policies in place for us. If the big industries hire us, they deduct half of what they are supposed to pay on some pretext or the other. Should we start begging now?” she said.

Some labourers said that long-term fixed contractors, who would get them jobs in housing society construction sites, have not paid them their dues for months. Curbs on construction to check pollution and a fresh spike in cases have also affected employment opportunities, they said.

Many workers said they will refrain from voting in the upcoming Assembly elections. “The government says people should work from home. Where do we figure in this? I have five children and most of them cannot go to school anymore because I cannot afford their fees. LPG prices have shot up, even making one meal is tough. If this continues, we will not be able to survive. Debt and expenses, not Covid, are the biggest crisis,” said Sanjeev Kumar, a worker who lives in Surajpur.

Assistant Labour Commissioner of Gautam Buddh Nagar, Shankar, said the labour ministry is running a portal for labourers, where they can register to avail benefits: “We are constantly carrying out registrations of labourers. As per the policy, they will be given an allowance of Rs 500 per month as part of measures during the pandemic. This is applicable for both construction workers and those in the unorganised sectors. Once they register on the portal, they can avail benefits.”

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