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Govt should set up subsidized low-cost eating places at labour chowks in Delhi

By Bharat Dogra* 

A large number of daily-wage workers gather every day in Haiderpur (Delhi) on a side of a busy road. They wait here till a contractor or other employer comes to hire them. This daily wait may be for several hours. The workers come here in all seasons, in shivering winter and in blistering summer and during the rainy season as well. Yet no one has thought of constructing a shelter here. There is no sign of a toilet or any other basic facility. A worker said—even in rain we keep standing here in the open getting drenched. There is not even any proper place for them to sit.
A little distance away there is another labor gathering point at Siglepur. Here nature has provided a tree under which the workers can gather to get some protection from heat or lesser protection from rain. Only recently after a lot of efforts a drinking water arrangement could be set up here.
In most cities and towns of India there are similar gathering and hiring points of daily wage workers where a significant number of workers gather every morning. Many of them keep waiting here for hours. These are frequently referred to as labor chowks in several cities, although there are likely to be other local names. These labor chowks must provide at least some comforting conditions for workers.
Firstly, there should be a shelter to provide them some protection from weather extremes. There should also be some sitting space here for workers. Secondly, there should be a clean drinking water facility. Thirdly, there should be a toilet.
Regarding those labor gathering points where the gathering of daily wage workers is quite high, the government should also consider setting up some subsidized and low-cost eating places close to these gathering points.
The provision of these facilities will be very helpful for workers. At present often they become too tired even before they are hired for work because of absence of any facilities at gathering places. When they are exposed to weather extremes in the absence of shelters, then their health suffers badly.
Hence a national level program for construction of such sheltered gathering places with the necessary facilities is certainly needed. It will be a good idea to implement such a program in a highly decentralized way which can provide for consultations for those workers who will be using these facilities. Instead of a top-down approach insisting on only one design everywhere, it may be possible to achieve better results at lower costs by consulting the potential beneficiaries regarding what the workers really need, regarding the location and local conditions. In fact it will be ideal to involve the beneficiaries themselves in the planning and construction work.
If some state governments or urban agencies have already implemented such a program then it will be proper first to get details of this, not to copy such an existing program on a bigger scale but to try to learn from its experiences. Such a program can fulfill a long unmet need, providing an example of meeting the neglected requirements of the poorest urban people by involving them and securing their cooperation.
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The writer has been associated with several programs of daily wage and unorganized sector workers as well as with shelter programs for homeless persons

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