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Monday, March 01, 2021

The Budget Connection: ‘Only hope from Budget, more infra projects that will provide us employment’

It has been a tough year for the 30-year-old small labour contractor engaged in infrastructure projects in Bengaluru, who saw many of his daily-wage workers return home during the lockdown.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru |
Updated: February 2, 2021 10:58:05 am
Durjoy Debnath, 30, Bengaluru: Durjoy, a labour contractor, had no work, and pay, for two months. (Express photo by Kashif Masood)

DURJOY DEBNATH will fly to Agartala two days from now – his first visit home since the pandemic broke out last year.

It has been a tough year for the 30-year-old small labour contractor engaged in infrastructure projects in Bengaluru, who saw many of his daily-wage workers return home during the lockdown. For two months, there was no work and no pay. Whatever money he got was spent to survive, not sent to parents in Tripura.

Months he wished never existed.

Finally, having endured them, things have started looking up. Work has started coming in a steady flow in the form of the government-funded Bengaluru Smart City project. It has helped Durjoy earn a tidy packet of income to make a four-day visit to his parents after more than a year.

The Budget Connection

A push to affordable and rental housing, together with a massive infrastructure push, will generate demand for companies in core sectors such as cement and steel. This, in turn, will create job opportunities in the construction sector.

“I have been working in Bengaluru since 2006. I came as a novice and was paid Rs 60 per day as a helper at construction projects. I learnt my work on the job and became a head workman who employs 8-10 workers for infrastructure sub-contracts. I try to go home at least once a year but last year I was unable to make the trip due to the corona disruption,” says Durjoy during his lunch break outside a set of shacks in central Bengaluru where he lives with the workers. Durjoy is among several labour contractors who provide migrant labourers – from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, north Karnataka – to sub-contractors employed by Amrutha Constructions Pvt Ltd, one of the main contractors for civil and road works in the Rs 2,000 crore Smart City project.

“During the lockdown, all contractors and workers involved with Amrutha Construction projects in Bengaluru were accommodated in a large facility near the railway station. They provided us food and shelter through the two-month period. There was no work, so no pay. I had around Rs 1.5 lakh as backlog, which was paid during the lockdown. I was unable to send money home but I had funds for myself,” says Durjoy.

With no money to fall back on, his workers set out for home — by foot or whatever means of transport they found. Most have not returned yet.

“It was difficult to convince many of my workers to stay back with the promise of work starting again,” Durjoy says.

Since lifting of the lockdown, work has gradually increased, he says. “Initially after the lockdown was lifted around May-June, there was work but not enough to employ all my workers. So they used to work in rotation. Now with payments in the Smart City project being dependent on the length of work done each day, there is a lot of work and money to earn.”

“Before the lockdown, there were multiple projects and demand for labour was high. Now it is not at the same level,” Durjoy says. “If there are several infrastructure projects happening, we will be employed through the year. Many of the workers work for me for only three or four months and then return home and a new batch of workers take their place. I have access to 300-400 workers from different parts of the country,” he says.

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