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India: Talk of extension in lockdown unnerves laborers

UN body estimated that 400M people serving India’s informal sector may be trapped in poverty

Shuriah Niazi   | 10.04.2020
India: Talk of extension in lockdown unnerves laborers

NEW DELHI

The current nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 has hurt India’s poor and workers in the informal sector.

Describing the COVID-19 crises, most terrible since World War II, the International Labor Organization has estimated that nearly 400 million people working in the informal sector in India may be trapped in poverty.

What is unnerving the laborers and daily wage earners is that the government is thinking of extending the 21-day lockdown period, which was scheduled to end on April 14, because of the fear of the pandemic outbreak in the community.

Rahul Vishwakarma, a waiter at a restaurant had stayed back in Delhi, while his friends had left for their villages when the lockdown was announced.

“I live in a single room apartment along with my wife and two children. I belong to a small village in Mathura district in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. Many of my friends returned to their villages. But I stayed back in the hope to get some work,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Millions of daily wage earners like Vishwakarma in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai, are running out of money and food. Largely from rural areas, they come to work as cleaners, roadside vendors, garbage collectors, security guards, factory workers, rickshaw pullers, and domestic helpers. But the lockdown has rendered them jobless.

Ghanshyam Das in his mid-thirties had come to work at a construction site in Delhi from a small village in Rajasthan’s Churu district.

“I have run out of money and cannot buy groceries. We are getting free meals once a day. But we need money for other things as well. There will be fewer jobs even after the lockdown is over. I think returning to work will not be easy,” he told to Anadolu Agency.

Like Rahul and Ghansyam, most workers in the informal sector in Indian cities earn between 100 rupees ($1.3) and 300 rupees ($3.9) a day. They do not earn enough to save money or even to cover the expenses of their families.

Ashish Kol, 40, lives in Porsa village near Morena in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. He returned from Mumbai after the lockdown was announced.

“There is no work in the villages as well. It is expected the government will ease lockdown restrictions in the coming days at least in rural areas to allow farmers to harvest the crops. Then I hope to get some work,” said Ashish.

Most hit sectors

According to the Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency, the sectors like hotels, restaurants, tourism, auto dealerships, ceramic tiles, gems & jewelry, will take a major hit.

To avert a possible socio-economic catastrophe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 26 unveiled a package worth $23 billion to hand over food and free cooking gas cylinders to 83 million families.

He also announced cash transfers of about $6.6 a month to about 200 million women for the next 3 months. But according to many observers, the help is far from enough.

Modi said the lockdown was needed to ward off a humanitarian disaster in the country, where the healthcare system has remained largely poor.

The congested population and unhygienic conditions also do not allow social distancing norms. Experts maintain that very few workers in informal sectors can afford to survive more than a few days without work and wages.

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