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Monday, September 27, 2021

In Goa, migrant workers left with no money asked to leave rented houses

Across Goa, volunteers and government staff on field are recounting stories where house owners have started asking for rents to be cleared.

Written by Smita Nair | Goa (panjim) |
Updated: April 15, 2020 1:05:05 am
coronavirus, goa migrant workers, coronavirus Goa, COVID-19, coronavirus outbreak West Bengal workers, stranded and afraid of losing their rented shelter. (Express photo: Smita Nair)

Since lockdown, Saha Alam Sarkar has done everything to get attention. He has stood in relief queues, gone out to ask for food, made SOS videos and sent it back to his village in West Bengal with instructions to “forward it till it reaches Didi”.

Now a new issue has cropped up, something he fears most of the migrant workforce will face.

“Our landlord has asked for rent, failing which we will lose rooms. Har room main lock maro bola (lock every room, he said),” says Sarkar.

The cluster of rooms in Calangute in which he lives has over 50 men from West Bengal sharing rooms with rents ranging from Rs 3000 and Rs 8,000. Theirs is not the lone case. Across Goa, volunteers and government staff on field are recounting stories where house owners have started asking for rents to be cleared.

In the last 10 days, Sarkar’s family back home at Nabagra, has started scouting money lenders to lend him money. “It’s tragic. I came here to make money and now my family is struggling taking loan with a high interest rate to pay for my living here,” said Sarkar. Another in his camp Shablu Sarkar, 35, has a similar story, with no money and supplies, his family back home will not survive for long. “Please understand I worked here and lived with that pride. I sent most of my daily wage back home after paying rent to the landlord here. Now there is no food, and the supplies from volunteers keep us alive. There is nothing left here and no one is allowing us to go back home. Even to buy a train ticket we have nothing.”

Even as Goa governments announced relief camps for labours, this is one aspect that stops many workers from reaching these camps, as they fear their rented spaces too will be gone with no shelter after the lockdown deadlines.

The story repeats, at Betim, at Pernem where clusters are building infrastructure and private homes, at Indiranagar which has homes of those working as tailors, house helps and carpenters.

At Siolim, many house helps working in homes have not been paid their monthly salary making them too vulnerable to rent payments.

At Arpora, Jiten Kumar, 30 is from Orissa and been working with a restaurant for two years. “Now there is no clarity if the industry will survive this hit, and our future. These rooms we live in are paid with a portion of our salary. The food has been a trickle—and we mostly miss the cooked food by the government as the timings keep changing. The two days we ate it was half boiled. We are too afraid to complain about that as our biggest fear is losing the shelter,” he adds. “Please write we are ready to go home if no one wants us. We will only return if there are jobs.

This has been painful.” Another worker from Madhya Pradesh, Nilesh Singh says “we come with a certain skill set and it will only be advisable to use us in the interim. The state will benefit and we will have a pay. Now, its mostly locking ourselves like others in a room which is packed with other workers. With no information or any communication on the government on when they plan to send us back home. The rent will be asked, and now most of us are keeping silent on our food needs as else people will say migrants are nagging.”

Damodar Kochkar, President of the Goa State Industrial Association says, the contractors have been asked to pay the labourers. “But even now the bigger issue is of rokda labour or the daily wage worker who has no such security. We keep getting calls from them saying they are facing threats of being evicted as the daily wages are gone, with no rent to pay. We have been directing them to state helplines to ensure no one evicts them.”

Senior Officials at Goa Government say they are aware of a huge labour force who are “willing to work” but at very limited avenues available. With most not registered workforce, it amounts to a new set of issues. AT the State Executive Committee the brief continues to be full adherence of the MHA guidelines dated March 24, 2020 which directs, “ any landlord is forcing labourers to vacate their premises they will be liable for action under the Act.”

Government officials also added while the are getting complaints no one is coming forward to make an official complaint. “We too want to make an example out of this situation, as the fear is spreading,” said a senior official.

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