Home >News >India >Why is Mumbai seeing less exodus of its migrant workforce?
Migrants wait to board a bus to their villages during the lockdown imposed in the wake of covid-19. (Photo: PTI)
Migrants wait to board a bus to their villages during the lockdown imposed in the wake of covid-19. (Photo: PTI)

Why is Mumbai seeing less exodus of its migrant workforce?

  • A sizable portion of the labour in the city is from Maharashtra and many had left for their villages before the lockdown
  • Corporate India has been doing its bit by managing contract labourers, taking care of food and accomodation

MUMBAI: The maximum city has provided a counter-point to the tragic image of thousands of migrant workers trudging from cities to their villages and towns as the covid-19 forced lockdowns play havoc with jobs, incomes, and livelihoods.

Mumbai, among India's largest settlements of migrant labour, has remained relatively and uncannily quiet when compared with the chaotic scenes unfolding elsewhere in the country.

The reasons for this relative calm are multi-layered and complex.

The primary and the obvious reason is that a sizable portion of the labour in the city is from Maharashtra. When the state government announced a curfew, before the Janata Curfew or the subsequent 21-day lockdown, many among these workers did some pre-emptive thinking and left for their villages.

Migrant labour from some other states were also part of this mass flight.

"The main reason why Maharastra is not see an exodus right now is because many migrant workers from Bihar, Orrisa, UP and from within Maharashtra, for instance, managed to leave Mumbai before the lockdown. There were trains and buses full of such workers who left en masse. You do not see a lot of inter-state movement right now because Maharastra has sealed its borders and is strictly stopping movements," said Marina Joseph, of YUVA, an organisation working with migrant workers of Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

Even in the interim period of the Janta curfew on 21 March and the lockdown beginning on 25 March, trains leaving Mumbai's Lokmanya Tilak Terminus saw unprecedented rush. Videos of a crush of human bodies trying to find places on long-distance trains went viral, forcing Maharashtra government to impose a curfew. This was followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing a 21-day lockdown on 25 March.

Interestingly, unlike the rest of India, it all went quiet post 25 March.

Many migrant workers from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh in Mumbai have built businesses and networks which find customers even in these times of restricted movements such as, milk supply, grocery stores, vegetable and fruit vending, cigarette kiosks, private security business, among others. These businesses have continued to yield cash flows despite the lockdown and entrepreneurs are loath to abandon them.

It is also true that strong social networks have also been built in the suburbs, lubricated by robust political patronage that takes care of many unemployed labourers from the northern states. There are also a number of non-government organisations – such YUVA or Aajeevika Bureau—which have been working with these labour settlements.

Corporate India is also doing its bit by managing contract labourers. Some from India Inc have been taking care of accommodation of migrant workers and their food requirements.

Construction giant Larsen & Toubro Ltd on Monday announced that will take care of food, accommodation and wage requirement of its 1.6 lakh migrant workforce and has allocated 500 crore per month for the purpose.

Godrej group which runs Godrej Properties Ltd, in a statement to Mint, said that it is particularly concerned about the plight of migrant workers.

"As one of India’s largest real estate players, Godrej is particularly concerned about the acute problems being faced by migrant labourers. Towards this, Godrej has ensured that the company’s project sites across 8 cities are being sanitised frequently, and have health screenings and adequate food and hygiene supplies. The company has also set up isolation facilities for labour accommodation," said a spokesperson for Godrej group in an email.

Shapoor P Mistry, chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji group, in an internal letter to its employees said that it is taking care of its 1.1 lakh work force. "This is our investment in our committed workforce, also ensuring that migrant labour stays put at their workplaces and does not need to return to their homes," said Mistry in the letter, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.

The SP Group has 45,000 workers manning 430 sites in India, and 25,000 workers at 130 sites abroad. These direct workers are supported by 40,000 subcontracted workers, taking the total worker strength to 110,000.

"We have now made provisions to ensure that, for the entire coming month of April, all personnel in our camps get adequate food and water visits by trained medical staff and medicines as required. And in major camps, isolation facilities for special medical care are created if needed," he added.

Lodha group, which has one of the largest inventory of under-construction homes and properties said that they are ensuring daily wage earners are not left helpless

“Lodha Group took up this responsibility and ensured sufficient food supply arrangements are in place for tens of thousands of workers who are currently staying at their sites. Further, they also provided advance salaries for the month of March 2020 to all their employees from lower to mid management level, so that they can take care of their daily needs and families in such a scenario," said Lodha group in a press statement.

The permanent and temporary workers employed by Pune's manufacturing industry, largely automobile and auto ancillary companies, also appear to be doing better than their counterparts elsewhere.

Dilip Pawar, president of Pune-based Shramik Ekta Mahasangh, said, “Companies like Bajaj Auto Ltd, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra and others were very transparent about the incoming crisis with their employees. They had given a clear notice to all before closing down their plants. While they have paid salaries to all the workers, irrespective of the factory shutdown, they have also assured that no job would be lost during this crisis."

The Shramik Ekta Mahasangh comprises about 110 small labour unions and has about 40,000 members who are all permanent workers employed by the production plants located across Talegaon, Chakan, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune, Nagar Road, Ranjangaon and the surrounding areas.

Pawar said automotive plants located in the Pune belt employ 3-4 lakh temporary or contractual workers including trainees.

As part of the government's efforts, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) is taking care of 11,000 workers working on Mumbai’s metro project, the trans-harbour link and other road projects.

"All labourers staying in labour camps are given all necessary medical facilities including food. Sanitation in labour camps is maintained, regular health check-ups are also conducted," said RA Rajeev, Metropolitan Commissioner, MMRDA.

But living conditions in the labour camps still need massive improvement.

A quick round of labour camps in Sion, a central Mumbai suburb, portrays a grim picture of zero social distancing and visible lack of hygiene, which is an open invitation for trouble during the current pandemic.

Many workers employed in far-away construction sites continue to face hardships due to lack of food and uncertainty about their future employment. This is particularly prevalent in the multitudes of under-construction real estate projects.

These labourers have been reaching out to non-profit organisations for help through handwritten notes sent through WhatsApp messages.

Many Maharashtrian workers employed with construction sites continue to walk towards their villages, having started before the lockdown, but seem to have escaped the intrusive reach of the urban television cameras. Yet, these in no way compare with the mass exodus elsewhere that has become an unpleasant and unintended consequence of the lockdown.

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