Smoking chimneys of plywood manufacturing units dot the skyline of Perumbavoor and they typify the lives of migrant labourers living within and outside the units.
Most of the plywood units employ labour from West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Bihar. Skilled and unskilled migrant labour flock to the town, catering to the needs of plywood industry that has been thriving in the area owing to the traditional foothold on wood trade.
The arrival of labourers from north India to Perumbavoor and other cities of Kerala started with domestic labour crunch in the State. As the plywood industry boomed, more of them came to the hinterland to eke out a living. With a compulsion to save maximum of earned money, the workers are forced to live in shacks or crammed rooms.
The tenements are mostly located close to the plywood units. Scattered around residential colonies, these units with unhygienic surroundings pose health hazards to the occupants as well as those in the neighbourhood. The well in a house compound, situated a few feet away from such a tenement at Kuttypadam, has become dirty and the water is not potable. There were scores of such instances across the plywood belt, said Paulose, a resident of the locality.
Many of the plywood units have shanties attached to them where workers can rest. No separate kitchens or latrines are provided in such shelters. Workers bathing in the open is a common sight in the vicinity of such shanties.
At Rayamangalam, a plywood unit has its enclosed extended residential facility bordering a drinking water canal. The waste water outlet from the enclosures that had been opening into the canal was closed after the residents opposed it recently, said Ayyappan Pillai, a resident of the locality.
Pollution in the air, land and water makes life hell for the residents while the hapless migrants exist with the hope of earning money despite mounting difficulties. The labourers find employment with the help of a third party agent who looks after their affairs. It works well with the company owners who prefer to keep labourers on a temporary basis, without giving their due. There are minors among them. Only a small percentage of the migrants are regularised, enabling them to enjoy provident fund and other benefits.