“We don’t want to work. We don’t even want the money they owe us, we just want to go home,” said Ravi Gupta, a 25-year-old construction worker building the Yellow Line on the Bengaluru Metro. From Palamau district in Jharkhand, Gupta and 900-odd workers at a labour camp in Bommanahalli have been protesting for two days, demanding to be sent home. On Saturday, as the Centre allowed interstate travel for stranded workers, workers turned up at the construction site but refused to work. They demanded they be paid their wages and allowed to leave.
On Sunday, the workers alleged that police lathicharged them when labourers refused to back down from their demands. “Police came into the camp and hit us. Workers also broke things in frustration,” said Anshuman Dwivedi, a generator operator at the Bengaluru Metro from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh.
Other workers complained of poor living conditions and irregular payments. “We have no water for two days, nor are they supplying food. We have run out of savings. We had to ask our family to send money,” said Gupta. “The contractor cannot pay us because they don’t have money either.”
Some workers from Bihar, he said, were sent home on a train after they paid Rs 1,050 as fare. “About 200 workers were sent home. The rest will be decided later,” said head constable Ravi of Bommanahalli police station. He denied reports that there had been a lathicharge at the camp.
“We haven’t got any assurance from the administration about being sent back. In this uncertainty, we would rather go home. Who knows if the lockdown will be extended” said Dwivedi, who said he had not been paid Rs 24,000 as wages for two months.
There were similar complaints of workers at other camps in the city. Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation avails of the services of 9,000 workers, who are usually brought here by contractors. A report by NGO Maraa submitted to the labour department in April said “most workers had not been paid their salaries for the month of February and March 2020”.
In a labour colony in Hulimavu, Gour Mallick, a 36-year-old construction worker from Alipurduar, West Bengal, said the contractor had cut off food and water supplies to the camp after they wanted to go home. “Yesterday, we got one cup of tea in the morning, and worked through the day. They said if we won’t work, we will be thrown out of the camp,” he said.
Mallick said all workers had been paid Rs 8,000 each for April, though many of them get at least double. “Moreover, the contractor is asking us to pay for the food they gave us during the lockdown. But we have sent all our money home. We keep hearing that the lockdown will go on. We are working but not being paid. Why stay then?” he said.
BMRC MD Ajay Seth didn’t respond to queries about the labour camp conditions and allegations of unpaid wages till press time.
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