The announcement of lockdown brought out the reality of India. In a matter of a few hours, informal migrant workers were on the street trying to return to places they deemed safe (mostly their villages). But there were some real estate firms that managed to convince their workers to remain at their sites.
“It was not very easy to convince the workers to stay at the site even though they were offered food and accommodation, and precautionary measures were adopted to keep them safe,” said a person involved in the sector.
But with government directives to keep them at the sites, most big real estate firms adhered to it and there were some who did that even before the government issued any communication.
One of India’s largest real estate players, Godrej group which has projects sites across eight cities are not just screening and providing food and accommodation, the group is also setting up isolation facilities in their labour accommodation. This is not easy but many firms have taken responsibility for their workers.
Adding to it, Shapoorji Pallonji Group representative said, “All staff and construction workmen have been appraised about the remedial measures to prevent possible infection of coronavirus. This is a gigantic task given the number of construction projects and the workmen involved.”
Rather than keeping these workers locked up, it is important that they are deployed, stated Assocham, president, Niranjan Hiranandani in his recent statement.
He added, “The human resource is largely still at construction sites, and instead of keeping them in a ‘lockdown’ situation, giving them some activity will also keep them occupied – as well as help avoid major economic losses as a result of the stoppage of work at sites.” He reiterated the need to resume construction work is important — not just to reduce the economic impact of the coronavirus but also to finish some urgent work before monsoon kicks in.
In addition, most of these companies also end up paying wages to these workers too. Shapoorji Pallonji Group representative said the company would be paying the labour wages despite the closure of the work sites. It pointed out that the company has to engage with workers to keep them calm and not get carried away with rumours.
As per the latest Anarock report, among the seven cities (Delhi-NCR, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune), MMR currently has the highest under construction stock with nearly 4.65 lakh units. Thus, becoming one of the cities that hire a large number of construction workers at different sites in the region.
Commenting on the situation, Kamal Khetan, Chairman and Managing Director, Sunteck Realty said, “To discourage the migrant workers from travelling back to their hometowns and make their stay comfortable, we are ensuring that they get adequate food facilities and their hygiene requirements are fulfilled at the site during this turmoil.”
Khetan added that his company has allocated an emergency fund for their site labours to combat any unwarranted circumstances.
It is estimated that real estate is the second-largest seasonal employment sector in India, after agriculture. According to an NSDC report, it is estimated that the building, construction and real estate sector employed 52 million people in 2017.
“The sector is also highly unorganised and is the principle industry employing short duration out-migrants. Of the total estimated 15.2 million short duration out-migrants, more than 36.2 per cent are employed in the construction industry alone.”
As per a Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question NO. 4603, 2013, it was stated only 32 per cent of construction workers are registered in the country, making it very difficult for any form of government subsidy from reaching them.
Ulka Mahajan from Sarvahara Jan Andolan in Raigad said, “There are a large number of unregistered workers who need help. Most of these workers are seasonal workers. It is time the private sector steps in to help. While many private sectors could have stopped the migration of workers which they did not, but now at least they can come forward to feed these hunger workers.”