Umesh Singh, 28, who hails from Siwan in Bihar, worked as a plumber with a construction company in Zirakpur, Punjab. He has two small children and lives with his wife and children in a shed. His story gives a glimpse of how the common industrial workers, jobless after the nationwide lockdown in view of coronavirus was imposed, are surviving without work and money.
Umesh Singh had Rs 1,000 in his pocket which he used to run a tea stall after the lockdown was announced. To contain the spread of the coronavirus infection, Umesh, just like many others, was also asked to shut his tea stall. The cop who came to shut his stall also gave him two kg rice.
“Yesterday, I went to a person’s house who asked me to clear the bushes around his home. He gave me Rs 500 and some ration including 5 kg flour, 5 kg rice, 1 kg pulses and some spices. I appeal to the government if you are not giving nod to open the factories and other works, at least give them [the labourers] ration,” Umesh Singh said.
WHY INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY IS ON HOLD IN PUNJAB
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had allowed brick kilns, industrial units, sand mining, stone crushers and other activities to boost the labour-intensive industrial units like construction.
However, the growing number of Covid-19 positive cases (which climbed to 245 on Tuesday) in Punjab compelled the state authorities to limit the activities in the districts that have containment zones.
Captain Amarinder Singh has directed the deputy commissioners to not allow any industrial and construction activity in containment zones, saying the primary objective is to save lives.
“There could be no compromise on the lives of the people and the government’s priority continues to be on saving and protecting the citizens of Punjab. I can get a factory started again but cannot bring a Punjabi back to life,” Amarinder Singh said.
Mohali, where most of the housing projects are centred, happens to be a containment zone and at 61, the district has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the state.
The construction activities in this district cannot be started as the district happens to be a coronavirus hotspot.
Interestingly, the industrial activity in non-containment zones also remains a non-starter as the industrialists are fearing punitive action.
The industrialists do not want to run their industrial units also due to other reasons. First, there is a shortage of labour and second, they will not get buyers for their produce since the lockdown remains imposed in the state.
Amarinder Singh had given a conditional nod to the state’s industrialists to start the manufacturing activity, saying they will have to ensure social distancing so that their workers do not catch Covid-19.
In case, any industrial worker is found positive, action will be taken against the employers, the CM had said.
The industrialists, who do not want to come on record, are doubtful about the assurance being taken from them that their employees will not catch the coronavirus infection.
“We can ensure the social distancing and sanitise them in the factory premises but what about their lives after the working hours. How we can guarantee that they will not get an infection while living at their homes or travelling back to homes,” a Ludhiana-based industrialist said, requesting anonymity.
Meanwhile, the industrialists in Ludhiana have also expressed their inability to pay full wages to their labourers in the lockdown period.
Most of the industrialists want to re-start the production after the lockdown is lifted as this will facilitate the movement of the industrial workers besides the availability of raw material for the production.