Around 35 km from Bengaluru, in the Bidadi Industrial Area in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka — one of 14 designated Covid-19 green zones in the state — buses which ferry workers from surroundings areas, including red zone Bengaluru, to the Toyota Kirloskar car factory, the biggest industrial unit in the region, stood idle on Monday.
Despite the clearance for green zones to begin normal functioning, industrial areas like the Bidadi township used the first day to prepare the ground for bringing in workers over the next few days, rather than beginning full-fledged operations.
Confusion over whether Ramanagara (an agricultural district but for the Bidadi industries) is a green zone or an orange zone also contributed to the slow start.
Some companies in the area, like Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages and Bosch, began activities on a small scale, but companies like Toyota Kirloskar used the day to begin preparations for arrival of workers.
“The Toyota company has notified workers to be prepared to come into work, but did not start operations Monday. They used the day to sanitise the factory and carry out maintenance work. Other companies started on a small scale,” said a 28-year-old employee of a firm located in the Bidadi Industrial Area.
“The companies are opening up bit by bit,” said Kemparaju, the owner of a small hotel frequented by cargo truck drivers and industrial workers in the Bidadi industrial township.
“Toyota Kirloskar Motors has decided to start preparations at the plant beginning tomorrow so as to be able to support resumption of production. These operations are currently mainly preparatory in nature so that we can provide our workforce an adequately safe environment to work in and resume production,” a Toyota Kirloskar spokesperson said.
“We have developed certain crucial changes in guidelines for enhanced safe operations in all areas of work, which would mean that the first few days will be spent on training our members on the new guidelines as well as ensuring safe materials and working environment. Hence, operations at our plant will resume in a phased manner, most importantly keeping in mind the needs of ‘social distancing’ and sanitization,” the spokesperson said.
The Toyota Kirloskar Motors factory at Bidadi, spread over 432 acres, employs around 6,500 people and can manufacture up to 3.10 lakh vehicles. The two plants at Bidadi manufacture the Innova, the Fortuner, the Toyota Yaris and the Camry Hybrid.
A number of companies in the Bidadi Industrial Area continued with work from home measures for employees who are not required to be at the plants. Apart from red zone Bengaluru, workers at the Bidadi area in Ramanagara also hail from surrounding green zone taluks like Channapatna and Ramanagara Town itself.
“Companies must also take into consideration local concerns over bringing in workers from areas that are designated as red zones in Bengaluru,” said Puttanaiah, an elderly resident of the Byramangala village located near the industrial area.
While the Ramanagara district has reported no COVID-19 cases, there was a political furore in the region after a group of people accused of a crime in Bengaluru were lodged in the Ramanagara prison and five of them tested positive. The state government was forced to shift the prisoners to Bengaluru.
When the colour-coded zoning of districts was carried out on the basis of the incidence of the coronavirus, Ramanagara had been classified as a green district by the Karnataka government on April 28, but industries located in rural regions of the district were not granted permission to open, unlike other green districts.
“This is because a lot of the industrial workers in the Ramanagara district commute from Bengaluru, which is a red zone district,” Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar had stated at the time.
Ramanagara was classified as a green district by the Union government in its notification on May 2.
In order to allow free movement of people between the red zone Bengaluru Urban and Rural districts and the surrounding green zone districts like Ramanagara and Kolar and the orange zone district of Chikkaballapur, a direction was issued by the state chief secretary on May 3 to treat the five districts as one consolidated district.