Walking with a hint of a swagger along a near-empty street in Madhya Pradesh’s sprawling Mandideep industrial estate, Munna Kumar is not unduly bothered about returning to his native Araria in Bihar.
The shortage of labour, caused by distressed workers returning in droves to their homes, has ensured that he has not been without work since the estate in Raisen district limped back to life over the last few days.
Munna, in his early 20s, is getting paid nearly three times more for the same work. A previous factory he worked gave him only 80 paisa to lift a sack. Now, he gets Rs 3 per sack and earns between Rs 500 and Rs 600 a day.
Several other workers, however, have not been as lucky—a large number of units continue to remain shut in the estate, located in an orange zone, despite it being allowed to reopen with limited staff and labourers.
The reason: Its proximity to Bhopal, which in the past was an advantage. The capital, with more than 900 positive cases, has been a red zone for weeks, restricting the travel of managerial staff and some workmen to Mandideep.
Ramsevak Rana, in his late 30s, lives in a shanty in the estate. Even though he is ready to do any work that will earn him wages, the painter has not been lucky. “No one lets us inside the house. Everyone is scared,’’ he says.
Not far from Rana’s accommodation, Reena Bansal and Shagun Bansal live close to a unit that makes sanitary napkins. The women get Rs 250 for an 8-hour shift in its packaging department. They have have tried knocking on the unit’s doors for work—in vain.
Less than 400 of the units located on the 750 plots in the estate are running. More than 300 have permission to work with limited staff, but the estate gives the impression that it’s not even operating at half its capacity. Some are not running due to lack of raw material, others for lack of labour.
“Many staff live in Bhopal and getting travel permission is a big problem. Many units are not able to run because of this. We have not been allowed to operate buses,’’ says Rajeev Agrawal, president of the Association of Industries in Mandideep. Association vice-president N K Bose said Raisen district did not have many Covid cases, but the estate suffered because of Bhopal, from where over 5,000 people commute to work.
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