COVID-19 lockdown: Labourers from unorganised sector in HP stare at uncertain future

Dharmendra Joshi

Shimla, Mar 26 (PTI) Bilal (22), a porter at Mall Road here, has been cooped up in a small room at Jama Masjid for days now, stepping out only buy food from a dhaba within the mosque complex.

Amid the spiralling number of COVID-19 cases in the country, tourism in Shimla, like other parts of the state.

Future appeared more uncertain for Bilal when the Himachal Pradesh government announced a complete lockdown across the state on Monday to contain the spread of COVID-19. Then came Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement on Tuesday of a 21-day nationwide lockdown starting midnight to break the chain of transmission of coronavirus.

A native of Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district, Bilal has been spending most of his time worrying how he will manage to make ends meet when his savings run out.

'I used to earn Rs 500-1,500 daily but I have not earned even a single penny for the last 10-12 days. Work had started drying up days before the Himachal Pradesh government imposed a lockdown,' Bilal, who has been working at Mall Road for five years, told PTI.

'I had some savings which I am using now to buy food and other eatables from a dhaba located in the Jama Masjid complex.

'I don't know how I will buy food after I run out of money in the next few days and there is no possibility of getting any work at least till the 21-day lockdown ends on April 14,' he said.

Bilal is not the only one facing an uncertain future. There are many other labourers in the unorganised sector across the state who are sailing in the same boat.

In Hamirpur district, Jagat Ram, a native of Bihar, is worried that his dream to build a better life for himself and his family will be cut short if he is unable to find work soon.

'It will be a very grim situation for me and my family,' Ram said.

Mantran Devi and Simrto Devi, labourers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively, are also living off their savings from the past six months.

When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Harikesh Meena said, 'There is no shortage of essential commodities in the district and if need be all sorts of help would be provided to the people.” On Monday, the Himachal Pradesh government announced a one-time financial assistance of Rs 2,000 each to about 1.5 lakh labourers registered with the Building and Construction Workers Board.

It also announced a Rs 500-crore relief package for the poor but did not announce any help for labourers in the unorganised sector.

Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri has sought the creation of a Rs 1-crore fund for deputy commissioners of all 12 districts in the state on the lines of Punjab to meet any eventuality.

He has also demanded that arrangements be made to provide meals to labourers in unorganised sectors at Rs 20 as done by the Kerala government.

CPM MLA Rakesh Singha has said food items should be provided to labourers in unorganised sector at their doorsteps after identifying them in this time of crisis.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 649. Himachal Pradesh has reported three cases so far, according to the Union health ministry. PTI DJI DIV DIV