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Migrant Construction Workers and Covid-19 Pandemic

Migrant Construction Workers and Covid-19 Pandemic
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Ground Report | New Delhi: Migrant Construction Workers; India with a population of 139.46 crore people with 65.50% from rural areas as per an estimate by the UN in 2021. Among the rural population most work in the unorganized sector in the form of migrating workers, gem cutters, construction workers, daily wage laborers, etc. 

Mohammed Rafiqul Islam is one among the many migrant construction workers who are facing a survival crisis daily especially after the pandemic started. Hailing from a small village Gauapara, Sadar Nasipur in Lalgola, Murshidabad district of West Bengal he agrees to share his story. Rafiqul Islam (47) has been in this profession since childhood after dropping out of school in class 6.

He works as a mason on a contractual basis. In his words, “I have a family of 5 including my wife and 3 sons. I have ensured that all my children get proper education since I couldn’t get it due to my circumstances. I was the sole earning member of my family then. Our work starts from 8.am till 6.00 pm. (Migrant Construction Workers)

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All the workers you see here are between the age group of 18 to 45+. The payment is done on the daily basis and after a month we receive it from the contractor who handles all our work. The amount varies according to the work from 600 to 800 rupees daily. There is no sick leave and there is a pay cut for absentees. Due to our harsh and risky working environment, we get medical insurance up to rupees 1.5 lakhs from our employer.

The monthly salary of a mason goes up to 18k and that of a laborer to 12k though it’s not being enough due to the rising costs after the pandemic. Our main problem is huge transportation cost as trains are not running properly and we have to hire buses and cars for coming to work.

The govt is also not helping us in any way. There are no grants or help extended in any way for us. Surviving the 1st year in lockdown in 2020 was extremely difficult. Now the situation is worsening and we are facing a life crisis. Our children are not getting proper food to eat forget about education. For this reason, there are many dropouts in rural areas.” 

We also interviewed 2 young boys who were working at the site as laborers, namely Saribul Sheikh and Manzur Alam aged 15 and 24 years respectively. Saribul is from a place called Ullorah in  Birbhum District in West Bengal while Manzur is from Lakhikhantapur near Diamond Harbour which is part of the South 24 Paragana.

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Saribul says, “I am the youngest member of my family of 6. I don’t go to school as my family needs my financial help. My father, elder brother and I are the only working members. Therefore we work and contribute to the total income to sustain ourselves. I am here for a month now and this is my first time as a worker in Kolkata. As the pandemic started we were badly hit by the after-effects as all our income sources were closed for the time being. It was a very tough time for us and survival was on the brink”. 

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Going next to Manzur we got a different answer in relation to the pandemic and in a more elaborate manner. He says, “Our family and locality both have not been affected that much by the virus healthwise as we live in the village area but the work was stopped and we had to suffer financially. (Migrant Construction Workers)

The only problem is the time taking process of the vaccination drive and the lack of vaccines in the hospitals. I have still not received it as there are some fraud cases going on where the vaccines are not given properly and the state government is doing nothing to stop this nuisance. It’s safe to take it in a private hospital.” Being asked about his education qualification he adds, “I have passed class 12 from wbse board in Gour Mohan Sachin Mondol Mahavidyalaya and took admission in college but dropped out of it in the first year due to the lack of funds and family constraints. My father and I are the only working members of our family. He works as a carpenter in a furniture shop. Covid has taken its toll on us also. We hope that this situation improves soon and I can continue my studies.” 

To verify all this information we interviewed the co-owner of BBC Enterprise Mr. Milan Chatterjee (Building Developer). He states, “We give contracts to the labor contractors and supply all the materials. It is their duty to construct and finish the buildings within the time frame. We give group insurance and living quarters in the construction site to all the workers. Our situation is also not good due to Covid 19 effect. Our complete projects are vacant and there has been no sale since 2020. We have incurred losses of up to 5 crores rupees till now. There has not been single help extended by the government. In this case, our situation matches with the workers.” 

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Judging from both perspectives of the mason and the owner we tried to get someone from the govt for an interview to know the actual situation. Mr. Tarun Seal of 131 number ward of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation agreed to share the information in this matter.

He states, “The Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool state government of WB has taken issues like health and social security by bringing out Swastha Sathi health insurance card which gives up to rupees 5 lakhs cover per person to people belonging to backward classes.

The central government had also started a similar scheme but I don’t know its effectiveness in West Bengal. Added to this the state government had started a pension scheme for all BPL class people where the people paid a quarter of the premium and the rest was taken care of by the state government, but after the pandemic, it was totally waived off.

There is also a free rationing system for the underprivileged (BPL Class) where they receive basic essentials and commodities and a subsidized one for other cardholders (APL Class).” 

After all these interviews we still find out that the migrating workers and building developers are in trouble, especially after the pandemic, facing life-threatening situations daily whereas the political parties go on with their usual fights. We hope that the situation changes for the better soon for all and our youngsters like Manzur and Sabirul can excel in their respective fields of choice of studies.

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