When Mandeep Singh bought a car last year in October, little did he know that the vehicle would one day turn out to be a bread-winner for the family. The 46-year-old who works as with a Ludhiana-based wedding planner firm, had things going the way he wanted till the time coronavirus pandemic struck.
As government ordered a nationwide lockdown, Mandeep was forced to look for options to sustain his family.
“My employer has been giving me a part of my salary, but that is not enough for my family. I have a wife, a son who studies in class 11 and an ageing mother too look after. I also needed to pay instalments for the auto loan I took. With things becoming difficult, I decided to run my car as a taxi.I have circulated my phone number. As flights have started landing, I hope to land customers pick and drop till airport,” says Mandeep.
A man who worked with the DJ in the firm will work as the driver. “This way, he will also get some income. our Gurus have taught us `Kirat Karo’ (earn an honest living ). I am doing that that only,” adds Mandeep.
Mandeep and his taxi driver are now part of the gig economy that has cropped up in Punjab and elsewhere where people are taking up short-term contracts or freelance work mostly in abscence of permanent jobs.
Somewhat similar is the story of Suraj Rana. A kitchen supervisor at a Delhi-based five-star hotel, Rana had had returned home in Mansa after government ordered the hospitality industry shut much before the lockldown was implemented.
Though he is getting salary, he saw a business opportunity in the lockdown. “I have started home delivery of a few dishes within the city. My father buys fresh vegetables every day in the morning and then I prepare select few Chinese and Thai dishes, which is then delivered to the customers by my father. All the cooking is done from within our house’s kitchen,” says Rana who first created a small menu and circulated it online in social media groups.
In his late 20s, Rana does not know when he will be called back at work. “We were 15 people in the hotel kitchen. As of now, only Delhi-based employees have been called back,” he adds.
While Mandeep and Rana took up work to make some extra money, a woman lawyer in Amritsar took to selling vegetables in his locality, but for a different reason. The lawyer said that during the lockdown, local vendors had started selling the vegetables at inflated rates and hence she decided to buy the greens from the wholesale market and sell it at no-profit, no-loss basis to residents in her locality.
Another person who has started putting up a vegetables stall is Mansa-based Tinku, who used to put up mocktail stalls at weddings for which caterer Dwarka Das (also of Mansa) used to take contracts. “It hurts at times but there is no harm in working hard,” says Tinku.
Another member of Dwarka Das’s catering team, Pawan Kumar, who used to set up stalls of fast food items at weddings, now makes pakodas, samosa and jalebi at home to earn a living. “Residents of nearby areas to buy the items I prepare as they know it is home made. Weddings aren’t taking place and I don’t want to die hungry,” says Pawan.
Dwarka Das says that he used to move with a team of 200 people for catering at wedding functions in Mansa, Sirsa and other areas. “Now the government has fixed the limit of 50 for wedding functions. For such functions, I don’t need more than six or seven catering staff. Many people who used to work in my team were from UP, Bihar and Nepal, have now gone back,” he said while urging Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to extend some support to caterers.
As per Dwarka Das, many youngsters who used to work as waiters or band wallahs, making upto Rs 1,500-2000 per wedding, took up odd jobs at mandis during wheat harvesting.
“Wheat harvesting season saved many of them. Some filled wheat in the gunny bags, others took up loading-unloading work. Some even took to driving the transport vehicles. They filled in for the migrant labour who had left for their native states. They managed to earn Rs 700-800 per day,” a mandi board officer told tThe Indian Express.
Gurlabh Singh Mahal, a Mansa-based advocate and social activist, told the Indian Express about a typist who was attached with a lawyer. “As there is hardly any work at the courts now, the typist was rendered jobless. He used to earn around Rs 25,000 a month. Now, he is working part time as driver for a doctor where he is getting Rs 6,000 a month.”.
When contacted, the typist refused to be quoted in the print. He, however, confirmed taking up the driver’s job. “I am having a tough time and I am trying to earn an honest living. I only hope that the courts open soon so that I may get back to my old job,” he said.
Contacted, Dr SS Johal, renowned economist and Chancellor of Central University of Punjab, said, “Covid is going to stay with us and we need to take all precautions. Economy, however, needs to be opened up. Negative growth is bound to happen and unemployment is going to increase in the times to come. So, people are doing whatever they can do to sustain themselves.”
On people taking up freelance and other works, Dr KNS Kang, president of Ludhiana Management Association (LMA), said, “The negative growth of economy has started and its after effects are going to be seen in the times to come. These things are bound to happen and we should not be surprised. These are tough times.”
Earlier, state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal had said that government’s immediate agenda is to open economy and this will ensure that job losses are prevented. It is a macro-level issue and it requires policy- level interventions, he had said.
The opposition Shiromani Akali Dal, however, accuses the state government of not making efforts to provide relief to middle class. “Both central and state governments have a huge responsibility. I feel that state government did not make any effort to provide relief like waiving off fixed charges for electricity, sewerage, and water during lockdown period for industries, schools etc. This benefit would have been passed on to the employees indirectly,” said Daljeet Singh Cheema, the SAD spokesperson.
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