Lockdown has Panipat’s migrant workers in a tangle

Mohammad Faisal

"There are a lot of people who do not have any money," a worker said. (Express photo/Representational)

The lockdown is proving to be more fatal than the coronavirus itself for the daily wage earners and migrant workers in the textile hub of Panipat. With some of them having landed in the city in search of work just this Friday, the workers are stuck without accommodation or food.

“Some people arrived here around Friday. Before they could get work, the lockdown was put in place. There are a lot of people who do not have any money. Shop owners are also refusing to provide ration on loan, instead, they have increased the prices of grains and other essential items,” said handloom worker Altaf Hussain who lives in a rented room with his family of three.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had announced direct money transfer of Rs 1000 per week for people hit by the lockdown, including labourers and street vendors. To get the benefit, daily wage earners need to register with the deputy commissioner of the district on a portal that will be established by March 27.

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“Nobody needs to move anywhere to register for the portal, we will go from door to door to take registrations and provide assistance directly to these workers,” said Hema Sharma, Deputy Commissioner, Panipat. The DC confirmed that the daily wage earners mentioned by CM Khattar include these weavers and other such migrant workers and they will be provided assistance as per the guidelines prescribed by the state.

But the money might not be of much use. “Vegetable rates are now four times the normal. Tomato that used to sell for Rs 10 per kg is now retailing for Rs 40 per kg. Since the hotels are also closed because of the lockdown, chhade (single people who don’t rent a room, instead, live in the factory and eat at hotels) are forced to sleep on an empty stomach even though they have some money on them,” Hussain explained their plight.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 21-day-long lockdown of the country on March 24, 2020, to stop community transmission of the coronavirus but there was already a lockdown in place in different parts of India including seven districts in Haryana.

Panipat is a hub for handloom workers where thousands of people come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to work as weavers. With the announcement of lockdown extension, many weavers are now contemplating a long walk back home to Uttar Pradesh, over 600 km away.