Coronavirus | Workers face heat, hunger as lockdown is extended

Construction labourers and families face more uncertainty

Updated - April 14, 2020 10:37 pm IST

Published - April 14, 2020 09:58 pm IST - New Delhi

Hard times:  People standing in a queue to collect food on the banks of the Yamuna on Tuesday.

Hard times: People standing in a queue to collect food on the banks of the Yamuna on Tuesday.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the countrywide lockdown by another 19 days, there is only one question resonating among the 300-odd construction workers living in sheds in the shadow of under-construction luxury apartments near the Noida Expressway: why couldn’t the government arrange transport for them to return to their homes?

The workers haven’t been paid since the one-day Janata Curfew of March 22. Their days stretch empty between arrival of the vehicle that delivers food — once around 1 p.m. and then at 7 p.m.


“It’s the government’s wish, to extend or end the lockdown, we really don’t care. The least they could have done is to take us home instead of leaving us here to slowly roast in this kiln,” says Shanktula, a worker, pointing at the tin roofs of the labourers’ sheds. She holds a plate of rotis and a steel bowl of watery dal. “Who do I feed this to — to my children or my husband or myself,” she asks.

Next to her, Halki Bahu, from Damoi, in Madhya Pradesh is also carrying food back to her shed. As we speak, the rotis wrapped up in the pallu (end) of her saree fall down; she picks them up, dusts them and tucks them back into her saree. “This is all the food that my children will get today,” she says. “How can I throw it away?”

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Children from the workers’ colony run towards the rare car that passes by on the Expressway, hoping that it is someone bringing food. When the car drives away without stopping, they still linger on near the entrance to the construction site till the security guard herds them back into the shanties with his baton.

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The two meals have been arranged by the builder. The labourers complain that they haven’t got even a kilogram of food grains promised by the government.


“He [the Prime Minister] announced notebandi (demonetisation) just like this one fine day. He stands at a pulpit and lectures. He says stay at home, I will stay here locked up under this tin roof for three months if he provides food for me and my family,” says Tahir, who hails from Katihar in Bihar.

A supervisor at the site, who didn’t want to be named, said the builder had been providing food hoping that the construction activity would resume from Wednesday as the lockdown was to end on Tuesday. But now he is not sure how long the builder can continue providing for the workers.

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