Workshops cum living spaces on different floors of different buildings, occupied largely by migrants from Bihar and Jharkhand — the lane in which Sunday’s fire took place was a hub of small-scale manufacturing work, with each structure resembling the one next to it.
“Only 2-3% of the rooms here are occupied by local families. The rest have ‘factories’ — some do diary binding, some make schoolbags, caps, tiffin boxes, leather jackets, and so on,” said Krishan Kumar Goyal, president of the Anaj Mandi Residents’ Welfare Society.
However, none of the other buildings and manufacturing units in the lane are as large as the one in which Sunday’s fire took place. While that building was five-storeys high and had an area of 500-600 square yards, Goyal said most of the others are between 25-50 gaj in area and a storey shorter. Locals estimate there are 100-140 workshops in this lane alone.
Most buildings which house these workshops have different manufacturing units operating on different floors, and usually employ people who come from Bihar or Jharkhand and live without their families in the capital.
Muhammad Tabrez (30), from Pothia village in Bihar’s Katihar district, works in one such workshop which produces caps. “I have been working and living here for over 10 years. The ‘factory’ is run by someone known to my family in Bihar. He offered me work in Delhi, so I followed him here. There are 40-50 men from my village itself who are working in this lane in different ‘factories’,” he said.
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The workshop Tabrez works in operates out of the first floor of a three-storey building in the lane. Nineteen other men work with him in that space, and they get paid Rs 9,000 per month. The workshop operates from 10 am to 11 pm, with each man working a nine-hour shift. Once work for the day is done, the men lay down a mat on the floor and pull up a blanket provided to them by their employer.
According to residents of areas surrounding the lane, it has not always been a manufacturing hub. The area got its name because of a pre-Independence grain market, along with a dozen flour mills and a pulses mill. During the 1990s, the mills started fading and gave way to factories. Now, no mills remain.
“This very lane used to be a residential area occupied by the families of landowners. They were mostly merchants and businessmen, and the houses were one or two storeys high. However, they began either selling their houses or renting out property. In the meantime, the new entrants began vertical growth of these buildings. Since Sadar Bazar is located nearby, the workshop owners see what is in demand there, get that made here and sell it,” said Mohammad Ammar, who has been living in a nearby lane for the last five decades.