A BUSY marketplace and a short queue of about six men outside the town’s solitary wine shop mark the entrance to Roha, an industrial town in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, an ‘orange zone’ where it has been about 10 days now since most towns were able to open shops and businesses.
The queue outside the local public health center (PHC) is much longer than those at any store, and it’s not of people who are unwell. Many men have returned from villages nearby to Roha, where the chemical factories employ over 1 lakh people.
“We’ve been called back to work — we are essential services at our factory,” said Manish Patil, a 24-year-old from Nandgaon village in Murud, who is standing outside the Ambewadi PHC, about 10 km from Roha’s Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) layout, along with two other young men who too have just returned. But before they join work — the three are employed as firemen at a unit manufacturing Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) — they will have to clear a 28-day quarantine period. Today, the three are in the queue to get their hands stamped for home quarantine as they have entered the town from elsewhere.
“We were here until March 23, and when the lockdown was announced, we decided to return to our villages. Now we’ve been called back to work,” Manish said. Most major facilities in Roha have arranged quarantine spaces for those returning to work right now.
Medical Officer Dr Rohan Nage at the Ambewadi PHC hasn’t returned to his home in Panvel since March 23, and has remained on call for 24 hours everyday.
“Nearly 900 people have come in the past few weeks to get screened for quarantine — many of these would be people who have returned home from Mumbai or other cities where they work, and there would also be a large number who are returning to Roha to work here,” Dr Nage said.
Roha itself has zero Covid cases until now, but Mangaon nearby has one positive case and so, screening and quarantining measures are strictly enforced. Every quarantine candidate is screened, stamped and asked to return to the PHC after 14 days for another round of clinical examination, after which another 14 days of quarantine is recommended, according to Dr Nage. “Gram Panchayat representatives help our medical staff in keeping an eye on every one who is quarantined.”
The very slow restarting of economic activities has had an immediate and visible impact in the towns of Raigad – there are customers at garages, hardware stores, clothing stores, grocery stores, sweetmeat stores. There is a samosa wallah in most markets, through the restaurants remain shuttered as per what is currently permissible. Building construction activity has begun along National Highway 66, especially where it crosses Pen at the intersection where one road branches off to Alibag, the popular getaway for Mumbaiites.
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The Khopoli-Pali Road, the Khopoli-Pen Road and the Panvel-Goa NH 66 have all been under repairs for nearly two years, and road construction activity is underway on all three stretches, though not as fast as motorists would like.
In the towns of Wadkhal, Pen, Jite and Roha, women from nearby coastal villages are lined up either in a separate enclosure or along the main market road with fresh pomfret, surmai (kingfish), rawas (Indian salmon), shipmate (mussels), bangda (mackerel) and bombil (Bombay duck) from the morning’s catch.
Of the 44 industrial units in Roha’s Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) layout, 36 have resumed work over the last 10 days, said MIDC Deputy Engineer Maloji Nimbalkar, though most are functioning at about 40 per cent of normal capacity. At least one, Varun Breweries, which makes Pepsi, is waiting to get orders to restart business – the lockdown and the shutdown of hotels and restaurants have affected the demand for fizzy drinks and other packaged beverages.
“We’re sensitive to the fact that factories restarting is central to the overall economic resurgence, and we were careful not to shut down water supply or other amenities for even one day. So when the first unit resumed work, our filtration plant was ready and supplying immediately,” Nimbalkar told The Indian Express.
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The largest unit at Roha is run by Sudarshan Chemicals, India’s top manufacturer of paint pigments, and their airy, manicured facility has introduced a series of safety measures that will now remain for the foreseeable future, from social distancing and staggered timings in the canteen to twice-a-day screening of every single person on campus with a contactless thermal instrument.
“We use 90 litres of disinfectant daily to clean all areas, washrooms are disinfected twice daily, there is 100 per cent use of facemask and hand sanitiser,” said Ranjeet Singh, the administration head at the Roha facility.
B N Kadam, associate vice-president (Works), said about 100 migrant workers stayed back at the facility where living arrangements have now been made for a percentage of labourers, with free food and laundry facilities.
With about 900 contract workers at the facility, in addition to the 600 on rolls, some workers from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar are still keen to return home once restrictions are lifted, but the company does not foresee a labour shortage. “On the contrary, local people from nearby areas will be recruited. We have already met them and trained them, so a ready waiting list of workers is available,” Kadam said.
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