Back home in Jharkhand’s Daltonganj, Anil Gupta, 32, is a relieved man — for now. A worker at a Metro construction site in Bengaluru, Gupta recently received his dues of Rs 40,000 for two months from a sub-contractor. For him and others who received the payment — after protests, “threats” from the employers, and intervention from authorities — the money is a silver lining amid the pervasive gloom of a harsh lockdown that has dried up their sources of income.
“There is so much relief. It will help me navigate through the uncertainty for some time. I will buy provisions, pay for my children’s education and save for the future,” he said over the phone from his home.
Gupta and several others received the payment on Thursday. He hopes to return to the southern city, 1,900 km away from his home, once more after the lockdown ends.
He has been lucky. It took a trade union body and Karnataka labour department’s intervention to get him his pending wage. Others, came empty handed. The Indian Express spoke to ten labourers across several states, and found that only one of them received pending wages preceding the lockdown. During the lockdown period, none got paid — none expected to either. All they hoped for was to get the pending wages for the time that they had worked.
Hard-pressed owing to the loss of work, Rustam Ali and two others, who worked at the same construction spot in Bengaluru as a driver and cleaners, respectively, are waiting for dues of up to Rs 1.35 lakh. Ali took a loan to come back to Darbhanga, Bihar, and is currently at a quarantine centre. “My brother is earning in Tamil Nadu and he sent Rs 3000 from which my family is currently buying monthly ration. Our phone calls have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
Pinkesh Yadav, 20, who worked at a thread factory in Gujarat, hasn’t received payment for 42 days of work. Pressed for payment, the management brushed off its liability, he said.
It also made Yadav and nine other workers sign a letter before leaving. “Hum sab apni marzi se chhor ke jaa rahe hain, agar hume kuch pareshani hoti hai, uske jimmedaar khud hain aur management ki jimmedaari nahi hogi (We are leaving on our own volition, if something happens to us, we are responsible for it, not the management).”
After walking and hitching a ride, he reached his hometown in Devghar, where he is currently quarantined. “We are not even counting the lockdown period, but we should get the money of at least the period in which we worked,” he said.
Dinesh Hembrem of Jharkhand’s Godda district paid Rs 3,500 to a truck driver to return home. Hembrem worked at a construction site in Ullas Nagar near Mumbai in Maharashtra. The Rs 3,500, which he took as a loan, haunts him. “Two months of wages — more than Rs 30,000 — are due. Should I forget this amount?” he asked.
Similar stories — of indebtedness, desperation and an uncertain wait for dues — abound everywhere.
According to data available with Stranded Workers Action Network, which has been responding to the migrant crisis, 83.3 per cent of 25,345 people who reached out to it did not receive payment during the lockdown.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines