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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Across construction sites in Delhi, owners grapple with labour shortage: ‘Many workers yet to return from home’

The Delhi government has decided to partially lift the lockdown starting Monday, and has permitted construction work and factories to resume operations.

Written by Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
Updated: May 31, 2021 10:45:36 am
Covid-19 second wave, Covid-19 impact on jobs, households' incomes declined, Covid left people jobless, data on joblkess people due to Covid, India news, India lockdown, India covid cases, Indian expressThe unemployment rate measured by the think-tank is expected to come at 12 per cent at the end of May as against 8 per cent in April. (File)

As Delhi prepares to restart construction work on Monday, contractors and owners are grappling with a shortage of labour and said it would still take some time for workers to return from their respective states.

The lockdown was announced in Delhi on April 19, initially for a week. It was then extended every week till Monday, when construction activities and factories will restart. According to a report by the Delhi Transport Department, over eight lakh migrant workers left the capital for their hometowns during the first four weeks of the shutdown.

Kalicharan Ramsingh, a construction worker who heads a team of around 60 labourers in the city, had returned to his village in Odisha when the lockdown was announced. Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone, he said, “The construction company I work for in Delhi has given me the responsibility of calling all the labourers and telling them to return to the city. They are not sure whether they will get buses and trains back at the moment, so they will probably return as soon as the lockdown is lifted in their states.”

The labourers work on key infrastructure projects in the city on a contract basis. They are mostly from Bihar and West Bengal and get paid Rs 415 per day. Ramsingh said the rates are fixed and are unlikely to change. The contractor will pay for their return tickets to Delhi. He expects that it would take a month for all labourers to return. He too will leave his home in a few days.

Officials of the Public Works Department also anticipate a one-month delay as it will take some time to mobilise labour forces. Gaurav Sharma, director of PNSC Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, which is working on two projects with the Delhi PWD and on two projects with the Central Public Works Department, said they began making calls to labourers after the government order.

There are around 350 labourers with the company in Delhi, of whom around 10 per cent stayed back. The company will arrange vehicles from the respective states once they decide to return. Their workers are mostly from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Sharma said, “Most of them said they will come when the lockdown in their states is lifted. Once they are ready to return, we will ask them to meet at common points in their states and arrange buses or cars from there.”

Shamim Haider, Legal Director of MIA Pvt Ltd, said there are no labourers in Delhi at the moment but they are ready to restart as soon as they return. He said all of them had left in the first two weeks of the lockdown as they did not want a repeat of circumstances like last year. The contract company is working on the Chandni Chowk Redevelopment project, among others, in the city.

He said there is no way to determine how long it would take for things to smoothen but the workers are more likely to return when the lockdowns in their respective states are lifted. There are around 100 workers in the capital and most of them are from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. He said all Covid protocols will be followed at the sites once they return.

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