When Harish Chander called his home in Ayodhya on Sunday evening, he told his wife he wanted to come home at the earliest. However, she told him to stay put as he would be placed under 14-day quarantine even if he managed to reach his hometown.
Harish is among around 250 labourers and workers, who till last Sunday had been working at a multi-storey flats project for several sitting and former Punjab MLAs and MPs in New Chandigarh area near Mullanpur, but now have nowhere to go.
Politicians pooled money and formed the Punjab Legislators Cooperative House Building Society to get this project executed after purchasing land from the Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA). Follow Coronavirus in India LIVE Updates
The labourers and workers are living in a temporary accommodation at the site.
“There are only ten toilets. A few of these are not functional,” said a labourer, adding that they had been left to fend for themselves at the site.
“As far as accommodation is concerned, there are generally 3-4 people in one room and even 7-8 in others,” lamented another labourer, as mandatory spatial distancing looked a far cry under the given conditions.
“The contractor today told us that he would provide help on Monday as we have run out of money. But no one approached us today. There is no work, so we are not earning anything. We have been told that whatever amount is being given to us will be deducted from our salaries when the work will resume. So, we are not earning, only spending to live,” said Harish, adding that he had been working at the site for 7-8 months.
“The in-charge here gave us Rs 1,000 each on jumme wale din (Friday). That money has almost been spent. We are getting food items at an astronomical price. No government official has visited us to provide us any relief,” said Sanvarul, a resident of Mahila village, near Katihar in Bihar.
“We want to go home. There are people who are going home on foot. But for me it is a long journey. Even if I decide to go on foot, the police stop me. So there is no other option than staying here unless government makes some transportation arrangement for us,” said Sanvarul, who had been working at the site since November.
Another migrant labourer, Bhagwat Kumar, said, “We did not get a chance to leave, otherwise we would have left for our homes. It would be safe to live with family. Kisi tarah se nikal jaayen yahan se (If only we could get out of here somehow).”
Sanvarul said, “When the work was on, the contractor would deposit our wages in the bank accounts of our families back home, giving Rs 1,000 out of our wages to us about every week for food here.”
“Labourers get Rs 250 per day,” he added.
Mohammad Shaukar from Purnia, Bihar, said, “The price of atta has also gone up.”
“Vegetables too,” said Pawan Kumar from Ayodhya.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had in an order on Sunday directed state governments and union territories to ensure that migrant labourers who have moved out to reach their home states/hometowns must be kept in the nearest shelter with quarantine facilities after proper screening for a minimum 14 days as per standard health protocol.
The MHA also directed that states/union territory governments will ensure adequate arrangements of temporary shelters, and provision of food etc. for the poor and needy, including migrant labourers, stranded due to lockdown measures in their respective areas. The order also said that all employers, be it in industry or shops and commercial establishments, shall pay wages to their workers at their workplaces on the due date without any deduction for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown.
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