“Since the lockdown began, everyone has forgotten about us. We are told to ‘adjust’. Can anyone survive on one small packet of food a day? Would the government like us to starve to death?” Maraa, an arts and media collective, quoted a daily wage labourer in its report titled ‘Lack of Political Will’ dated April 23.
Maraa, a Bengaluru-based group, had released a survey report on April 11 on the deplorable living conditions and hunger situation of many metro rail construction workers due to the ongoing lockdown. It pointed out that many workers have still not got any attention.
In their report, they said, “We feel the need to be brought to public attention, primarily the government’s lack of response and accountability to the migrant workers in the city.”
The report detailed the plight of many migrant workers, hailing from states like West Bengal, and from Nepal, who live in Bengaluru and have been left hungry without any help from the government amidst the nationwide lockdown.
This, despite government officials carrying out a survey of these workers. Maraa questioned if the surveys were merely a public relations stunt.
“Is this a PR exercise? As workers wait in hunger, our calls are being routed from one officer to another, each of whom are abdicating responsibility. How long does it take for a system to become responsive to the needs of workers? Or is there a lack of political will to protect migrant workers who render essential services to the city?” Maraa questioned the apathy of the government agencies.
Maraa, as part of their survey, have covered around 700 such workers who hail from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Nepal and are currently residing in Chinappa layout in Mahadevapura and Doddagubbi.
Most of these workers are engaged in construction work or work as carpenters, waste collectors and domestic help. They live in shanties in gated colonies and industrial complexes.
In their report, the group said, “We submitted the data to the revenue inspector and ward officers in both areas. After numerous calls, we accompanied the revenue inspector, Mr Ravi Kumar in Mahadevpura and the ward officer, Mr Sheikh in Doddagubbi on a survey.”
Maraa said they found that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was distributing one cooked meal a day in some areas within both localities. But the supply was erratic.
When it came to dry rations, in Mahadevpura, the BBMP distributed one round of ration, a box that was meant to last 21 days.
However, the report found, “Inside the box was 2 kgs of rice and rotten potatoes. The revenue inspector informed us that the food had gone stale in the godown because of the delay in distribution. In Doddagubbi, the government has not provided ration at all. Instead, the ward officer asked us to arrange for transport and distribute ration.”
They added, “Workers have been asked to share contact numbers and Aadhar card numbers. In spite of the repeated lists that were submitted, no ration has been distributed in either area. In the meantime, as a stop-gap measure, we had to distribute ration in both areas, with the help of civil society organizations in the city.”
Other than the apathy from the state, the Maraa report also highlighted the complete abdication of responsibility by the contractors under whom most of these workers are employed.
The report read, “Since the lockdown began, the contractors have switched off their phones and told workers to fend for themselves. Those who have been responsive, have transferred meagre sums, between Rs 4,000-8,000 for the entire period of the lockdown. Others have made false promises for the future.”
In their report, Maraa have pointed out issues that require intervention and corrective measures to ensure welfare of these workers:
> Distribution of ration that can last a minimum of three weeks for workers and their families, until their work resumes.
> Payment of wages by contractors/employers who are responsible for the welfare of workers. It needs to be ensured that money given toward ration is not cut from salaries of workers, as this goes against government orders.
> Surveys and audits across the city of Bangalore to accurately assess the number of migrant workers and their immediate needs. This needs to be done in a manner that ensures data privacy and protection of workers, given the recent cases of violence that have erupted in the course of relief work.
> Most workers lack access to masks, sanitisers and running water, which makes the health precautions under COVID-19impossible to practice.
Maraa stated while hunger is the most prominent issue now, the current crisis has exposed the government’s lack of accountability and preparedness to address the needs of migrant workers in the city. Further, they laid emphasis on the violations of labour laws across sectors with regard to wage, safety and security of workers.