Along the boundary wall of the 150-year-old Delhi Town Hall building in Chandni Chowk, hundreds of workers stare at cars passing through congested lanes.
As a Scorpio rolls in, dozens rush towards it in the hope of getting a day’s work. After some negotiation, a deal is finalised and five people agree to go for Rs 500 each. “They will have to go all the way to Nuh in Haryana, and work for a day and a half for just Rs 500,” said Ashok Kumar, 30, a daily wager. “Before notebandi, during wedding season, a worker would get Rs 1,500-2,000 per day. They say money has returned to the markets, but our wages haven’t returned to normal,” he said.
The Labour Chowk, at the heart of Old Delhi, sees thousands of workers from Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and other states assemble every day — so they can be hired to work in hotels, dhabas and marriage functions on a daily basis.
There is no fixed rate, but most told The Indian Express that in the past year, the average amount a worker makes per day during wedding season has gone down from Rs 1,500-2,500 to Rs 500-800.
Many of them said that once factories started shutting in industrial areas on the fringes of Delhi or neighbouring states, hundreds of workers headed to labour chowk to make ends meet. As the number of workers outgrew available jobs, the wages started dropping.
Mithilesh Kumar from Bihar, who worked at a soda factory in Ludhiana till last year, stands testimony to this fact. “After I was laid off, I went to Chennai and worked in a steel plant, but got Rs 9,000 a month. So I came here, but I haven’t got any work for the last 10 days,” he said.
Tanveer Alam (32), who worked at a garment factory in Ludhiana, said, “There, I got accommodation, food and Rs 12,000. Here I struggle to make even Rs 10,000, so I live in a shelter home.”
Similarly, the labour chowk near Fathehpuri Masjid has carpenters awaiting some luck.
One of them, Mohammed Tahseen (63), said, “In the morning, you will see thousands of people jostling in this small space. We used to get at least 20 days of work every month, now we struggle to get 15. Competition has increased but the demand has not.”
Mohammed Salman said that many employers hand out a Rs 2,000 note, to be split between four daly wagers, which often leads to a hassle. But there are also those who say demonetisation “encouraged” them to create a bank account — something that ensures their money is not stolen from shelter homes. “Some of us sleep easy knowing that our money is safe,” Salman said.