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Daily wagers being 'dragged' into miserable situation, their options are drying out

By SN Surajbhan*
While the whole world is applauding the dedication and commitment of the doctors during the current pandemic, there is little concern for people like Afroz Kotwar, who has lost his job since the commencement of the lockdown. The restrictions imposed by the government may be a clinical procedure for containing the virus from spreading, but it has also brought a halt in the life of the daily wage labourers, many of them migrants.
Sparing them from their daily wages has raised questions about the government’s intentions regarding the alternative it has for them. While their savings are drying up fast, they are indirectly being dragged into a miserable situation where their options are running out. Amidst the developing situation, one wonders: What’s next for them?
Afroz, 25, belongs to Gumla city of Jharkhand. Before the announcement of the lockdown, he was working as a labourer in the stone crushing plant of Mysore. The work provided him with Rs 10,000 per month for his five-member family along with free lodging and food. It wasn’t enough to satisfy all his needs but he was able to run his family.
But since the outbreak of Covid-19 after the Government of India declared lockdown, he was forced to return to Gumla. As the lockdown continued he was forced to stay indoors even though his savings had almost exhausted and he was in desperate need of a job.
Data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) suggest that about 122 million people lost their jobs in India during this crisis, out of which 75 percent consists of small traders and daily wage labourers. It is a huge number for the Indian economy, drastically affecting common people. 
About 122 million people lost their jobs in India during  the lockdown crisis, 75% of whom are small traders and daily wage labourers
Employment numbers have reduced from about 404 million in 2019-20 to 282 million in April 2020. 
The situation for Afroz has changed so much that he was not able to buy necessary medicines for his mother sick at home. His efforts to find a job in his city also has showed no hope. 
In a lingering threat to see his family tear apart, he is forced to once turn into a migrant worker because some lockdown restrictions have been lifted. But he won’t be able to earn the same as he used to earlier.

Government hand

The government on its part has tried to solve several of the problems which have aroused during the pandemic. But the problem which has persisted for months now is the issue of unemployed labourers, who met their needs through their daily wages.
No doubt, the government is offering jobs throughthe Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS). But official statistics show that about 90 percent of the workforce in India is involved in the informal sector, and the 40-day initial lockdown turned out to be a big jolt for both the workers and the economy.
“A large and comprehensive re-skilling programme for those workers whose jobs may be at risk, including informal workers, workers in malls, cinemas that may not open for some more time, is needed to prepare them to work in other sectors, such as e-commerce,”, admits a government official.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a Rs 50,000 crore employment scheme for the workers who have returned to their home due to the Covid-19-induced lockdown. To boost the overall morale of the returned workers, he also activated the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan in mission mode for 125 days in 116 districts of six states i.e. Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan.
Yet, this is failing to help large sections of workers. Lack of a bridge between the people and the government, a key to tackle the situation, has not helped workers like Afroz, who aren’t able to fulfill their needs. Indeed, while the crisis has engulfed the entire world, India is one of the worst affected on the ground.
A collaborative effort is the need of the hour. Casting aside migrant wage earners isn’t going to help. A strong, decisive power centre needs to take shape which can connect the government with the workers.
---
*Bhubaneswar-based writer

Comments

Naba said…
Nicely narrated
Unknown said…
Very good article. All have to think about the lower and middle class people, who suffered much during the pandemic. lets hope for best. Thanks to the writer.

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