Fifty days into the nationwide lockdown, demand for cooking fuel, drinking water, food and cash has topped the list of dire requirements of migrant labourers working in the unorganised sector in three states, a study has found.
In all, 592 labourers – 341 from Maharashtra, 200 from Gujarat and 51 from Rajasthan – were included in the joint study led by Shruti Tambe from Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), the Centre for Labour Research and Action (CLRA) in Rajasthan, INHAF-Habitat Forum and Mashal in Pune.
The researchers conducted telephonic interviews of the labourers from April 23 to May 1. As part of their study, the researchers sought responses from labourers on their wish to return to their home state or remain at their work place, the help given by government agencies, NGOs and labour unions, availability of ration and cooked food, ownership of any bank account, particularly the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan account and possession of Aadhar card, among the others.
The research findings revealed that at least 95-97 per cent of labourers possessed Aadhar cards, while less than 60 per cent had a valid or operational ration card with them at their place of current residence in either of these three states. Some of them said they were ineligible for ration while a few said they had not purchased any commodity with a ration card in recent years.
Last month, the Union government had proposed to credit Rs 500 to women Jan Dhan account holders after many of them lost jobs and livelihood. However, the study found that of the 592 participants, only nine per cent from Maharashtra and 12 per cent from Gujarat owned Jan Dhan accounts.
“While most of the labourers did not have any bank account, let alone Jan Dhan accounts, we recommended direct cash transfer,” said Tambe, who heads the Department of Sociology at SPPU.
Except the workforce from Rajasthan, the other labourers had received some wages before the lockdown was announced in March. This included 64 per cent and 44 per cent from Maharashtra and Gujarat, respectively.
With labourers in Rajasthan mainly working in brick kilns where payment is done at the end of the season in June, no wages have been provided yet to the 41 labourers here.
“This is also the reason why workers from Rajasthan preferred to stay back and get cash in hand as compared to those working in Maharashtra and Gujarat, many of whom expressed willingness to return home. However, they were all local labourers,” said Tambe.
Along with 51 per cent of local workers, the labour force in Maharashtra is mostly from Uttar Pradesh (23 per cent) and Jharkhand (8 per cent). Most of the labourers in Maharashtra were employed as construction workers (25 per cent) followed by domestic workers (22 per cent), daily wage earners (11 per cent), other industries (8 per cent), sex workers and textile industries (6 per cent each). Here, 61 per cent participants were male and 39 per cent females. At least 47 per cent of workers said they did not benefit from any government help till the end of April, when the study was conducted.
In Gujarat, 26 per cent of workers were employed as sugarcane labourers, followed by textile and farm labourers (21 per cent each). Workers from Uttar Pradesh (16 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (9 per cent) along with locals composed Gujarat’s labour force in the informal sector. Here, most workers were male (97 per cent). Among the participants from Gujarat, 37 per cent said they did not receive any help from the government during the study period.
Though the Union government, since last week, started running Shramik trains especially to send these workers home, the researchers recommend that the government also support them with cash required for travel and return to their home states