Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
It was 7am. The crowd at Noida’s Labour Chowk was surging. Most of them without a mask, a must during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"“I am left with 10 rupees in my pocket, should I buy a mask or food for myself?”"
Six months ago, 23-year-old Amit Kumar had come to Noida from Rajasthan’s Bharatpur to take an exam, when PM Narendra Modi announced a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
“I was stuck here, so I rented a room but did not have any money to pay the rent. Now, I join the queue at Labour Chowk every morning, hoping to find some work to repay my debts to my landlord,” he said.
Amit is among the hundreds of migrant workers who, every morning, gather at Noida’s Labour Chowk – one of the biggest employment hubs for daily wage earners in Delhi-NCR that once was home to many medium and small-scale factories.
“I wait for 7-8 hours everyday, but mostly have to return home empty-handed,” Kumar added.
Unfortunately, Kumar is not the only one crushed under unemployment and debt. The crowd swells with every passing hour at this labour hub and so do the stories of despair.
Santosh is among the 10.4 million migrant workers who, according to the Modi government’s own data, left the city after the lockdown. He returned from his village in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur after six months.
"“I did not have any source of income in my village for the last 6 months, since I went back after the lockdown. I came back to the city in September, hoping to find a job here. But, there is absolutely nothing here either. Should we just hang ourselves now?”" - Santosh, Daily Wage Earner
The government, in a reply to Parliament, said they have maintained “no data” on the loss of livelihoods of migrant workers. But, in April, CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) had pegged job loss of daily wage earners at 91 million.
Ansari Khatoon, 32, is the sole earning member of her family. Before lockdown, she was employed at a small private firm which would pay her Rs 8,000-9,000 every month. "With that money, I could manage both food for my kids and the house rent,” she said.
How much does she earn after lockdown? “If I find work on one day of the week, I am sitting idle waiting for the rest of the week. How will I feed my family like this? I have 7 months worth rent pending,” Khatoon said.
There are many other women who gather at Labour Chowk, some of them with their kids, hoping to find a day’s work.
62-year-old Kamal Singh, a native of Madhya Pradesh’s Hussainabad, has been coming to find work at Noida’s Labour Chowk for the last 30 years. “I have never seen such a sorry state at Labour Chowk.”
"“PM Modi has pitched for Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). The government does not give these labourers any loan or langar. They have to work hard and earn their food. If Modi really wants an Atmanirbhar India, why can’t the government help the labourers in some way? Or announce some scheme that will ensure regular income and a guarantee that when you go to work, you will be paid the requisite wage.”"
According to CMIE’s August report, while unorganised sector is swiftly making a comeback, salaried jobs are still severely affected. Unemployment rate grew to 8.35 percent in August – first jump after subsequently declining since May.
CMIE data reveals that between the months of April and August, nearly 19 million formal economy workers were rendered jobless, with 5 million jobs being cut in the month of July alone.
The informal labour force has been effectively rendered jobless and for many, their survival is based on the government's flagship jobs scheme, MGNREGA, under which every household is entitled to at least 100 days of unskilled manual labour at a rate of Rs 200 per day.
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