Cool Water, Chilled Drinks Bring Relief To Mumbai's Naka Workers

Cool Water, Chilled Drinks Bring Relief To Mumbai's Naka Workers

The social workers felt that providing cool water to the workers could help in the torrid heat.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Thursday, May 02, 2024, 11:22 PM IST
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FPJ

With summer temperatures at record highs in the city and suburbs, the itinerant workers who gather at road junctions, or nakas, are among those most vulnerable to the intense heat and light during the day.

There are hundreds of spots in the city where the workers gather in the morning to be picked up by labour contractors and taken to construction sites. Some locations, like the one near Khar railway station, attract over 3,000 workers daily, according to social workers. There are similar pickup places at Bandra, Malwani, Vikhroli, Borivali, Gol Deval, and Mumbai Central. Those who are not picked up in the first lots spend hours in the sun without shade or clean drinking water.

A group of social workers and workers' associations are trying to ameliorate the conditions for some of these workers, most of whom are migrants from outside the city. In the last week, social workers have been distributing Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), coconut water and other replenishing drinks to the workers.

Anil Hebbar of the Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre, which has been working with other groups of social workers as part of the 'Climate Aid Project', said that during their work in helping workers to enroll for government welfare schemes, they were told about how the heat was affecting the workers. “It has been too hot this year. At large construction sites, employers make some arrangements to improve working conditions, but workers on road projects need help,” said Hebbar.

The social workers felt that providing cool water could help in the torrid heat. Providing vacuum flasks to store cool water was an idea that was discarded as not being practical. They distributed ORS for a few days but were warned that the salt in the solution could be a problem for workers with high blood pressure. The social workers then dispensed coconut water, but when this became expensive workers were served juice of the Kokum, a tart fruit used as a thirst quencher. There are plans to install water coolers at these nakas though concerns about cost, theft and safety of the water dispensers are still to be addressed. Bilal Khan of the Kamgar Sanrakshan Sammaan Sangh, which helps itinerant workers organise themselves, said that the municipal corporation is ready to provide drinking water facilities for these workers, but getting water connections at sites where the workers gather is a complicated procedure.

Akhilesh Rao of the Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre said that construction sites like the Metro and other government projects, apart from large projects by private companies, provide some of these facilities, but the naka workers are mostly on their own.

Raj Kumar who travels to Khar from his home in Sion daily to join thousands of workers seeking a day's labour said that the cold water and chilled drinks offered by the social workers is a solace in the summer days. “We have to wait in the sun for hours to get work, but we have no choice,” said Kumar.

Subash Lomte of the Maharashtra Rajya Hamal Mapadi Mahamandal, an organisation representing head load workers and farmers, said that workers in the construction sector have learned to cope with the intense summer heat. “They adjust their working hours to avoid exposure to the peak sun. But, workers are still vulnerable,” said Lomte.

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