When Anupam Mishra – a skilled worker of fabric printing – returned from Varanasi to Surat after having left in April during the lockdown, he resumed work at the dyeing and printing mill he was previously employed at, for the pre-lockdown wages of Rs 350 per day. Eventually, another mill offered him Rs 500 per day and he took up the new job.
With the demand for printed fabric rising in view of the upcoming festival of Diwali along with the marriage season, the textile industry in Surat is struggling to regain its lost momentum as nearly 10 lakh labourers had left the city owing to the lockdown.
Now employed at Kirtida Silk Mills, Mishra told The Indian Express, “I know that there is a major demand for labourers, so it is good to take advantage of the situation and earn more money. In dyeing and printing mills, labourers are not permanent… The (new) company owner will also think that I am supporting them during a critical situation.”
In order to facilitate the return of labourers, the South Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry has made a representation to the Union Ministry of Railways to restart train services from Odisha and add more trains from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
President of Southern Gujarat Textile Procession Association, Jitu Vakhariya said, “At present, around 60 percent of dyeing and printing mills – out of a total of 350 mills in Surat – are running at 50 percent capacity. Some mills are running only day shifts. The major reason is the shortage of workforce. We are also receiving a good amount of orders from southern India. To meet the demand of upcoming festivals and the marriage season, we are paying textile labourers more. We give them salaries every three-four days, so that they can purchase ration and meet other expenses. Some factory owners are also providing ration kits to labourers who have returned only recently. We will also also request BJP MPs to intervene and speak to the Union Railways Ministry on our behalf.”
Currently, three to four trains run from UP to Surat per week. Three trains from UP run daily to Surat and Ahmedabad, while one train runs from Bihar via UP to Surat five times a week. Earlier this month, some textile industries got back labourers from UP and Bihar via flights to operate Jacquard looms that simplify the process of manufacturing textiles and can weave patterns on fabrics.
Labour contractor Kamran Usmani, who has a contract with five mills, said, “Textile labourers who had gone back to their native places in UP, Bihar and Odisha are ready to return as they don’t have other work, but they do not have the facility to do so. We are investing our own money to bring them back via luxury buses. I have brought labourers back from Varanasi, Prayagraj and Banda districts in UP and some from Chhapra and Gaya in Bihar via 15 private luxury buses. Dyeing and printing mill owners also share the financial burden. For a single passenger, we are spending between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,500.”
“During the lockdown, over 450 trains were run free of cost from Surat to UP, Bihar, Odisha, etc. If same the number of trains are run from such states to Surat, labourers will happily return and our labour shortage problems will also be solved.”