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In survey, seven of 10 Maharashtra industries tell govt can’t fulfill norms for reopening

On Saturday, Maharashtra conducted a snap survey seeking feedback on the viability of its operational guidelines from 115 major industrial establishments.

coronavirus, india coronavirus, maharashtra coronavirus, Maharashtra lockdown, India lockdown, Maharashtra industries, Maharashtra coronavirus cases, Maharashtra COVID-19 cases, Maharashtra coronavirus death toll, India news, Indian Express Maharashtra, India’s most industrialised state, on April 17 issued operational guidelines for restarting economic activity amid the extended coronavirus lockdown. (Express photo/Prashant Nadkar)

Seven out of 10 big manufacturing and industrial establishments surveyed by the Maharashtra government have expressed inability to provide accommodation within or near their premises for their workers. Also, three in four are unwilling to arrange transport for staffers. Both these are the conditions set by the Central government for resumption of industrial production in non-containment zones from April 20.

On Saturday, Maharashtra conducted a snap survey seeking feedback on the viability of its operational guidelines from 115 major industrial establishments. Most of the participants said they would need at least 50% of their work force to resume operation. An official said, “68% of the units said that they were not in a position to provide accommodation to the workers. Only 29 of the 115 companies were willing to invest in dedicated transport for off-site workers. Another 7% said that they lack the infrastructure to carry out thermal screening of their employees”.

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Maharashtra, India’s most industrialised state, on April 17 issued operational guidelines for restarting economic activity amid the extended coronavirus lockdown. However, many companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, indicated that some of the preconditions set by the Centre will be difficult to implement.

With 328 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, Maharashtra now has 3,648 cases, with 211 deaths, while Mumbai has 2,268 cases, with 126 deaths, the highest for any city in India.

To mitigate economic hardships brought on by the shutdown, Maharashtra, acting on the Centre’s directives, has exempted manufacturing units and other establishments in industrial estates, industrial townships, special economic zones and export-oriented units in non-containment zones from lockdown measures starting April 20. But it has imposed riders: disinfecting all areas, dedicated transport for workers and accommodation for workers, mandatory thermal screening for everyone and staggered shifts among others.

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Most industries were agreeable to the norms of sanitisation and physical distancing. Based on the feedback, the government has started a dialogue with industry representatives urging them to find a way out. A senior official said, “In cases where a unit is unable to provide housing for its workers, we are convincing them to make arrangements for the same in a neighbouring unit”.

coronavirus, india coronavirus, maharashtra coronavirus, Maharashtra lockdown, India lockdown, Maharashtra industries, Maharashtra coronavirus cases, Maharashtra COVID-19 cases, Maharashtra coronavirus death toll, India news, Indian Express Kadki cantonment area in Pune, one of the Covid-19 hotspots, was completely sealed on Saturday. (Express photo/Ashish Kale)

Many manufacturers are, however, not convinced. Neelesh Dixit, the owner of three engineering goods factories in Thane district, said, “It will be a challenge for small- and medium-scale units to efficiently implement the riders. Even if the accommodation is taken care of, where will their milk and tea supplies come from? How will arrangements be made for their lunch and dinner?,” he said.

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While Dixit’s firm, RENMAKCH India Private Limited, has a factory inside an exempted industrial estate at Atgaon in the district, Dixit, has said that he has decided to wait for the lockdown to be lifted before resuming production activity. His firm employs 90 people. “Most of my workers hail from the interiors of Maharashtra. They won’t be available. It will take about two weeks after the lifting of the lockdown to resume near normal operations,” he said.

To restrict heavy movement of people during the lockdown, the government has barred transportation of workers from outside a district. According to Dixit, most of the owners of the 140 factories inside the Atgaon industrial complex have a similar view. Incidentally, the survey found that an average 57 per cent of the workforce was local (within the same district).

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Dixit said the fear that even one worker getting infection could lead to shutdown of the entire complex was also prevalent. However, leading industrialist Vijay Kalantri had a different view, “We feel that all industries should adopt all the measures and ensure there is no violation of the government’s guidelines as they are in the interest of the industry in the long run.” Kalantri also said that the resumption of economic activity was a “step in the right direction”.

However, the biggest hurdle facing industry is lack of demand. “The consumer demand has hit rock bottom. Unless measures are taken to spur demand, production will remain below par,” said Ravi Kukreja, a garment manufacturer.

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coronavirus, india coronavirus, maharashtra coronavirus, Maharashtra lockdown, India lockdown, Maharashtra industries, Maharashtra coronavirus cases, Maharashtra COVID-19 cases, Maharashtra coronavirus death toll, India news, Indian Express 126 Bahrain Nationals were flown out from Pune airport in a special Pune-Chennai-Bahrain Gulf Air aircraft on Saturday. (Express photo/Arul Horizon)

Opening rural economy more than urban, the government has allowed all industries outside municipal limits in the state to function. According to Maharashtra’s principal secretary, Bhushan Gagrani, “Close to 70% of industrial units are located beyond municipal limits. Most of them can resume work from April 20.” Maharashtra has 36,623 registered factories. Till Saturday, only 2091 of those were functional.

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While the government has exempted most of the big industrial estates, including the ones in Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik, Pimpri Chinchwad, Thane, Nagpur, senior officials admitted that labour-intensive sectors such as textile and chemical will find it tough to resume. On the other hand, pharmaceutical, engineering and automobile units are expected to start.

coronavirus, india coronavirus, maharashtra coronavirus, Maharashtra lockdown, India lockdown, Maharashtra industries, Maharashtra coronavirus cases, Maharashtra COVID-19 cases, Maharashtra coronavirus death toll, India news, Indian Express The government has assured industry captains of streamlining permissions, banking formalities and tax payments during the lockdown period. (Express photo/Nirmal Harindran)

“We think the auto sector may operate in a single shift for now,” said a senior official.

The government has assured industry captains of streamlining permissions, banking formalities and tax payments during the lockdown period. But Vishwas Utagi, the convenor of the Trade Union Joint Action Committee representing 35 trade unions, accused the government of not taking any purposeful action for protecting the workers.

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“Industry owners must take care of the wages and medical health of the employees and the government must ensure these are followed. The government must provide a forum to the workers who lose wages and jobs. Nothing of that sort has been done so far,” he said.

First published on: 19-04-2020 at 04:04:23 am
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