Earlier, civic bodies in the state – acting upon guidelines of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) – were releasing advance subsidy to beneficiary families constructing houses under the BLC (Beneficiary Led Construction) component of the PMAY(U) to ensure fast progress of the projects.
Learning from earlier adverse experience, civic bodies in Maharashtra have now changed the pattern of releasing the subsidy under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) to the beneficiaries to ensure the money is not diverted from the intended purpose of the house construction.
Beneficiaries are now required to show the progress of the house before requesting release of funds at each stage of the construction.
Earlier, civic bodies in the state – acting upon guidelines of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) – were releasing advance subsidy to beneficiary families constructing houses under the BLC (Beneficiary Led Construction) component of the PMAY(U) to ensure fast progress of the projects.
However, this policy led to a considerable number of beneficiaries (about 20-25 per cent, as per MHADA officials) diverting the funds for other purposes, thus stalling the progress of construction. In several towns and cities in the state, PMAY(U) projects have not reached completion despite being under progress for one, two or more years.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed between March and August resulted in a drastic reduction in earnings of economically weaker families – the target demographic for the BLC component – and may have further led to diversion of the funds received from the state and central governments to ensure livelihood.
“Considering past experience, we have decided to release the subsidy amount only after progress is shown at each stage,” Karbhari Divekar, Chief Officer, Pathri Municipal Council in Parbhani district. “Previously, we had deposited an upfront amount of Rs 40,000 in the accounts of the 1,050 beneficiaries when we gave them the building plan sanctions. But about 300 didn’t commence work,” he added.
In Pathri, new 1550 PMAY(U) beneficiaries whose names appear in the latest BLC project plan, have been asked to commence the work on the homes and that they will receive the first installment of Rs 40,000 after the foundation work is done, additional Rs 60,000 when the work progresses until lintel-level and rest Rs 1.50 lakh after the work finishes.
The beneficiaries are not too enthused about this strategy. “I will have to borrow money from private sources to start the work as I don’t have money to put in. As per the new strategy, only those who are well-off or have savings will be able to take advantage of the scheme,” said Laxmikant Ambure, a beneficiary.
Central subsidy released in some towns
Following The Indian Express report highlighting the status of the work on 1,150 houses sanctioned for PMAY(U) beneficiaries in several towns of the Marathwada region, MHADA – the state coordinating agency for PMAY(U) – has released the central subsidy for some of the towns.
As per officials with Parbhani, Hingoli and Pathri municipal bodies, some central funds have been received in the recent weeks, enabling them to release the 3rd and 4th installment of the funds to the beneficiaries.
Officials with Hingoli Municipal Council said they have received Rs 3.33 crore of the central subsidy while those in Pathri said they have received Rs 5 crore. “We had to wait for long. People really suffered as the work got stalled due to unavailability of funds. We hope that in future, the central funds will be released in a timely manner,” said Divekar.
As reported earlier, the release of central funds for the BLC component has been severely delayed owing to failure of a section of the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) to submit the utilisation certificates (UC) for amounts earlier released.
Although MHADA’s Dilip Muglikar, who is in-charge of PMAY(U) implementation in the state, did not comment, officials in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) said they are still awaiting the submission of UC’s from Maharashtra.
“Of the total Rs 803 crore released, we have received the UC’s only for Rs 211 crore. The amount for which the UCs are due is close to Rs 550 crore. We won’t be able to release additional funds until we get UC’s for at least 80% of this amount,” said the a Ministry official who did not wish to be named.
(This news report appeared in The Indian Express on December 5 2020. It can be read here)
The story starts with the demarcation of ‘Muslim Zones’ in the capital to protect Muslims from violence in 1947. During 1970s, these areas are seen as ‘unhygienic pockets’ requiring beautification and are subjected to demolition drives. In the post-9/11 world, they are pushed further to the margins as ‘terrorist hide-outs’ and are subjected to frequent police searches.
INDIA’S partition in 1947 and the resultant influx and efflux of communities caused a sea of change in the demography and character of the Delhi city.
Before partition, the city was home to a big and prosperous Muslim community which comprised of about one-third of the city’s population. However, the emigration of Muslims – some out of choice, others due to compulsion of violence – reduced the Muslim population of Delhi drastically. It is estimated that around 3.3 lakh Muslim residents of Delhi left for Pakistan and around 5 lakh Hindu and Sikh refugees from riot-torn West Punjab came to Delhi.
As per estimates, the Muslim population of Delhi came down from 33.33 per cent in 1941 to a mere 5.33 per cent in 1951.
Several localities which were predominantly Muslim, such as Chandani Chowk, Khari Baoli and Karol Bagh were emptied out to a great extent with the emigration of Muslims and were replaced with Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs.
Creation of ‘Muslim Zones’
In the aftermath of Partition, Delhi was thrown into grips of anti-Muslim violence, especially at the hands of Hindu, Sikh refugees coming from West Pakistan who had suffered the loss of life and property. Between August-October 1947, as many as 20,000 Muslims were killed within Delhi in communal riots and almost all the Muslim residents – especially from mixed localities – had shifted to temporary camps that had sprung up in Purana Qila, Nizamuddin and Humanyun’s Tomb.
When tempers calmed – with efforts by Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad – the Muslims in the camps who had not migrated to Pakistan started returning to their homes. It was felt by the government that ‘mixed areas’ – where Muslims and Hindus previously stayed together – were no longer safe for Muslims to return to. The government decided to rehabilitate displaced Muslims in predominantly Muslim localities such as Pul Bangash, Phatak Habash Khan, Sadar Bazar and Pahari Imli areas which in government communications were being referred to as ‘Muslim Zones’. It can’t be ascertained to what degree the government succeeded in implementing this plan fully, but it was put in motion by the agencies surely.
“Certain largely Muslim mohallas were cordoned off, and abandoned houses there were to be kept empty by police intervention so that either Muslims could return to them or other Muslims could be moved there and provided safety,” says Vazira Zamindar her book The Long Partition and The Making of Modern South Asia.
Zamindar quotes Sardar Diwan Singh, the editor of Risalat, on how this shifting from ‘mixed localities’ to ‘Muslim zones’ happened.
“Muslims from mixed areas were asked to move to the Muslim zones. The constable stood at the street corner and they had five minutes to gather their belongings and go. Many thought this was only a matter of a few days and that they would return when the public had calmed down…”.
But, as per Singh, the Muslims did not or could not return to the houses.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru supported this policy saying if Hindus and Sikhs were accommodated in empty houses left behind by Muslims who departed for Pakistan, it would “push out” Muslims residents.
“There was a tendency on the part of the Muslim residents of the other houses, next door, to leave their houses because they felt they were being pushed out,” he said later in a parliamentary debate.
The Muslim Zones thus created soon were attached with a stigma of being “communally sensitive areas” and “zones of trouble”.
“For Muslims staying in these ilaqe (areas) was not a matter of choice; nor was these enclaves celebrated zones of culture. Instead, living in these areas became a compulsion for Muslims for safety. In a span of a few years these pockets were marked as ‘communally sensitive area(s)’- a stigma that transformed these areas in later decades from protected sites into alleged zones of trouble,” writes Nazma Parveen in her study on ‘Muslim localities of Delhi’.
Resettlements of Shahjahanabad
About three decades later, another round of creation of Muslim ghettos happened. It was due to the ‘urban beautification-inspired demolition drives’ that were held in the midst of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. The drives, executed by Jagmohan Malhotra of Delhi Development Authority (DDA), were aimed at beautification of Jama Masjid, Turkman gate areas with a plan to revamp Shahjahanabad. Thousands of residents of these areas (mainly Muslims) were forcefully and violently evicted and ‘resettled’ in localities such as Seelampur and Welcome.
As per author Ghazala Jamil, these areas continued to expand during 1980s as more Muslims from the Old Delhi areas who shifted out from Old Delhi houses due to various reason started settling in and around Seelampur and Welcome. Hindus moving out of Old Delhi would, on the other hand, shift to Shahadara, Geeta Colony and Uttam Nagar. Also, in localities where Muslim-population was greater, Hindus sold off their properties and moved out and these localities became largely Muslim.
“By the late 1980s, segregation in Delhi on religious identity lines became almost final and complete,” Jamil writes in Accumulation by Segregation: Muslim Localities in Delhi.
Migration of UP, Bihar and elsewhere
From the 1990s, Muslim migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other areas of north India started coming and settling in the localities north of Seelampur and formed the belt of largely Muslim localities in ‘trans-Yamuna’ areas ranging between Seelampur and Loni Border including Gautampuri, Chandbagh, Jafferabad, Gokulpuri and other areas where the recent Delhi riots were largely concentrated.
During the same period, Jamia Nagar saw unprecedented expansion with migration of aspirational migrants from north India and many new colonies came up. Some scholars have linked the migration of 1990s and 2000s of Muslims from UP and Bihar to Delhi’s Muslim ghettos to communal polarisation that happened during Ram Janmabhoomi Movement and 2002 riots of Gujarat.
“A very small portion of this population (residing in newer ghettos) can trace their earlier generation residing in Delhi before 1947, a vast majority being migrants from UP and Bihar. The pockets of Muslim population got consolidated (some even expanded) after each communal riot in the country especially the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in 1992 and Gujarat pogrom in 2002,” writes Jamil.
The affluent class among Muslims who did not identify with the lot living in the ghettos formed gated enclaves either within these Muslim areas or on the borders in localities like Zakir Nagar Extension, Joga Bai Extension, Joharmi Farms or housing societies like the Taj Enclave.
“Still shunned from the affluent Hindu areas they resorted to using a new group membership as a source of positive self-esteem,” observes Jamil.
‘Terror Hide-Outs’ requiring combing operations
In one of his report (June 1 1948) about the plan of ‘Muslim Zones’, Delhi’s then Deputy Commissioner M S Randhawa refers to these zones as ‘Miniature Pakistans’ creation of which is being resented by Hindu and Sikh refugees of Delhi.
In over seven decades since, the Muslim ghettos of Delhi – as those elsewhere in India – have not been able to shake off the stigma, suspicion and derision associated with them.
The situation turned markedly volatie in 2008 when the controversial Batla House police encounter happened in which two university students alleged to be terrorists were killed by police. This was followed by a scores of arrests from the Muslim neighbourhoods often without police following proper legal procedure. The incident and what followed disgraced the neighbourhood in the public sphere as a ‘terrorist hideout’.
Prof Mohamad Sayeed writes in his essay about, how Batla House incident created an environment of fear among the local Muslim residents, a fear that was different that the fear of riot or violent attack life and property.
“First, it was not the fear of a known enemy—another group or community. It was fear of an unknowable source that could cause incomprehensible damage. Here, the police had emerged as the agency that could act without caring much about the mandatory procedures. Despite doubts about the veracity of the ‘encounter’, however, it was not just the police and wrongful arrest and detention that was feared, but also the possibility that there might be actual terrorists living among them. Thus, the likelihood that the encounter was not fake was as terrifying as its converse. The event had exposed the neighbourhood to its deepest vulnerability,” writes Sayeed in his essay ‘Fear, law and politics after the police encounter at Batla House, New Delhi’ published in the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology in January 2020.
Researcher Nazima Parveen summerises the journey of the Muslim Ghettos of Delhi, which are again in the news for prolonged sit-in protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and as the areas which suffered maximum damage during the communal riots that followed, in the following manner:
“These localities were looked at differently over the period. In the 1940s they were seen as ‘Muslim-dominated’ areas that were to be administered for the sake of communal peace, in the 1950s, as ‘Muslim zones’ that needed to be ‘protected’, in the 1960s, as ‘isolated’ unhygienic cultural pockets that were to be cleaned and Indianized, and in the 1970s as location of ‘internal threat’ – the Mini-Pakistans – that were to be dismantled and integrated. In altered political scenarios of 1990s and 2000s these pockets were looked at as ‘terrorist hide-outs,” writes Parveen.
Of the 2.19 lakh homes sanctioned in Maharashtra under Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) component of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship housing scheme, only 22,000 have been completed. Most beneficiaries – including those who have finished work – await release of Rs 1.5 lakh central subsidy
Beneficiary led construction (BLC), one of the four components of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)– Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programme to construct affordable houses in urban areas by 2022– has emerged as the most popular of the four components of the scheme.
The high demand for BLC, especially in small cities and towns, is because of the comparative flexibility it offers to beneficiaries to construct stand-alone houses on their own plot. The other three components of the scheme are the Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS), Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP) and In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation (ISSR).
Under BLC, the central government provides an assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh per beneficiary for construction of a new house, with a carpet area not exceeding 30 square metres, or enhancement of 9 square metres to an existing house. Several states have also offered an additional financial assistance to the scheme, with the Maharashtra government offering an additional Rs 1 lakh per dwelling unit (DU).
The popularity of the scheme in the state can be gauged by the fact that 2.19 lakh homes have been sanctioned under the scheme since 2016 under 350 urban local bodies (ULBs) such as municipal corporations, municipal councils, and nagar panchayats, till date.
However, the initial enthusiasm of the beneficiaries of the scheme and ULBs has now replaced with uncertainty and dismay. This has been caused by delay in the release of the promised central subsidy of Rs 1.5 lakh – in whole or part – to the beneficiaries who are in the middle of construction. As a result of the 2.19 lakh houses sanctioned in the state between 2016-2019, only 22,000 have been completed.
The state and union government officials involved in PMAY(U) insist that there is no shortage of funds but their release has been plagued by the failure by the ULBs to submit utilisation certificates (UC) for funds released earlier.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged lockdown has only made the matters worse as a large number of beneficiaries are not able to contribute their own share towards the construction. The result: Over 1 lakh beneficiaries in the state have not reported any progress despite receiving the first few instalments of financial assistance.
At the national level, out of the total 67.44 lakh homes sanctioned under BLC, 36.67 lakh have been grounded and 17.08 have been completed. As many as 13.44 lakh have not shown any progress.
In Maharashtra, of about 80,000 homes that are incomplete most have been constructed till the lintel level and are standing roofless. Officials say that the future installments of the assistance will only be released for them after the roof has been cast. Many beneficiaries, however, expressed inability to do so. The Indian Express found that many beneficiaries have now given up hope and started putting old tin sheets over the newly constructed walls where an RCC roof was intended to be cast.
Officials with ULBs say that despite repeated follow-ups with PMAY(U) authorities, no solution is being found to the issue of incomplete houses although desperate beneficiaries continue to badger them with queries about the release of funds.
Desperate wait for the new house
It’s been over eight months since Mukhtar Begam’s family in Pathri – a town of about 40,000 population in Parbhani district about 550 kms from Mumbai– moved into a metal sheet shanty erected on an empty plot under high-tension electricity wires about 50 metres away from their old home. The family dismantled this kuccha house hoping to build a new two-room home, with a kitchen and a toilet, as promised by the scheme after their name appeared in the list of beneficiaries released by the Pathri Municipal Council. Since then, Mukhtar Begam has come to repent her decision.
The construction progressed until the lintel-level when the money ran out. The family has spent over Rs 2 lakh on the house, including the Rs 1 lakh they received in financial assistance, the state government share promised under the scheme. Her husband is a woodcutter who earns Rs 300 on the days he manages to find work. His income has dried up since March, when the nationwide lockdown came into effect.
“He has to travel to cut trees and during the lockdown, all the travelling came to a halt. We were struggling to survive,” said Mukhtar Begum, who is mother to three daughters and a son.
Monsoon has been especially challenging for the family. While they are used to a leaking roof, life in a makeshift shanty during heavy rain has posed some newer, and frightening, challenges. The overhead high-tension wires often snap in strong winds and fall on the tin roof of her house, turning the entire tenement into an electrically-charged unit.
“It happened thrice till now. Sometimes we rush out and other times, when it’s raining, we have to stay inside. I hold my breath and start chanting god’s name – clutching my youngest child to the chest,” said Mukhtar Begum, pointing to the wire over her roof. “I’m repenting for having demolished my house and came into the lure of having a nice RCC home for my kids. Often, I cry over this. My husband has even threatened to abandon me because of the constant cribbing over the house,” she said.
About 100 metres away, in Vilas Gople Nagar, Babarao Tambe is curses the day he picked PMAY (U) over Ramai Awas Yojana, Maharashtra Government’s housing scheme for poor families belonging to Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes which also provides the 2.5 lakh subsidy for construction of a house.
“My cousin got a house sanctioned under Ramai at the same time I got mine under PMAY. I have so far received Rs 1 lakh and have spent Rs 3.60 lakh, of this, Rs 2 lakh of I have borrowed. My cousin has received Rs 2.5 lakh in subsidy and his house is ready and he has a loan of about Rs 1 lakh to repay. I would have been better off if I had applied through that scheme,” said Tambe. He demolished his mud-house in February 2019 to build a new and shifted to an empty tenement in the neighborhood. The stay has turned out to be for over a year now. The new house looks strong and imposing but needs further work such as plastering of the inner walls, installation of doors, windows and fittings in the bathroom and the toilet. “I don’t have any money left and am waiting for the next instalments of the subsidy which are now due,” he said.
In the town of Pathri, 1153 DUs has been sanctioned under the scheme since 2018 and work started on 1050 tenements between January 2019 and January 2020. As of October 5, only 200 homes have been completed while 621 remain in various staged of incompletion. All these houses have received Rs 1 lakh in two instalments from the state government’s share– one of Rs 40,000 and then Rs 60,000 – and are awaiting further funds to complete the work. About 250 beneficiaries have reported no progress.
In Jintur, about 60 kms from Pathri, only 175 beneficiaries have completed the construction out of 1250 sanctioned homes and even they are awaiting one to three instalments (Rs 30,000 to 1.5 lakh) of central assistance. As many as 500 do not yet have a roof and in rest of the cases, the work did not start at all.
In the Hingoli town, headquarter of the neighbouring district, construction of 1098 houses was sanctioned and work orders were issued in 951 cases. Of these 448 DUs have been completed while 503 DUs are stuck at the lintel level. Most of the beneficiaries who have completed the construction have not received central assistance.
“We received Rs 11.33 crore from the state government and should have received Rs 16 crore from the central government but are in receipt of only Rs 35.40 lakh. UCs of all the funds have been submitted – not once but four times – but further release have not happened. In fact, for some of the beneficiaries we used unspent funds from the state government assistance,” said HIngoli Municipal Council Chief Officer Ajay Kurwade.
Desperation is highest in the section of beneficiaries who had moved into rental accommodations after dismantling their existing homes to construct new, better ones under PMAY(U), say local politicians.
“In Pathri, many beneficiaries are staying in rented houses and have spent a considerable amount in rent. Due to the long delay in the release of the 3rd and 4th instalments of the subsidy, many have now started to return to half-constructed houses by covering them with tin or plastic sheets because they can’t afford pay rent anymore,” said NCP leader from Pathri and MLC Abdullah Khan Durrani. The high cost of sand (at Rs 25,000 per brass) has also made it difficult for poor families to finish the construction on their own, he added.
COVID-19, lockdown hampered EWS families’ ability to invest ‘beneficirary share’
As per officials, an estimated cost of the construction work that is desired to be done under BLC (with the desired strength, size, design and finish) requires an investment ranging from Rs 4.5 to 6.5 lakh. Thus a beneficiary needs to put in about Rs 2 to 4 lakh from his own pocket to complete the house in addition to the Rs 2.5 lakh received in subsidy.
It appears that the local bodies either failed to apprise the beneficiaries that they will have to put in such an amount or the contingencies of the ongoing pandemic – prolonged lockdown, loss of wages – has deprived them of the resources that they could otherwise have put in.
“Many seem to think that PMAY is like previously implemented schemes where the government was providing all the money. In PMAY (U) you have to pitch in your own share. If they are not able to do that, the work lags,” Dilip Muglikar, Executive Engineer, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) which is implementing PMAY(U) in the state, told The Indian Express.
Naseer Shaikh is one such beneficiary who is palpably desperate to finish the work but is unable to invest more than Rs 50,000 for the construction. “I have spent Rs 50,000 by borrowing from friends and family, apart from Rs 1 lakh subsidy received, and can put in no more. I work in a bakery and due to the lockdown, my earnings have suffered in the last six months. I don’t have a penny to put in the house and the officials are telling me that I would not get the next instalment if I don’t finish casting the roof for which I will need about Rs 80,000 to 1 lakh,” he said.
Last week, municipal officials in Pathri issued notices to 250 beneficiaries whose work had not progressed satisfactorily. “Most pointed to the lockdown having affected their earnings,” said a staffer requesting not to be named. “They are also unwilling to put in money because they see that those who did are also stuck because of non-release of subsidy in the latter stages of construction,” he added.
A year ago when the scheme picked up and beneficiaries were getting subsidy amounts on time, suppliers of construction material were willingly supplying cement, steel and bricks on credit. “They knew that the money was coming –in a week or two. But now since no funds have been released for months they have grown cautious and turning away those seeking to buy on credit,” said an official from Pathri Municipal Council.
PMAY (U) officials blame non-submission of Utilisation Certificates by ULBs for delay
As per Muglikar, the factor that has caused withholding of the central assistance from the beneficiaries who have shown significant progress is the failure a section of ULBs to submit utilisation certificates (UC) of the central funds received by them in the past.
“Funds from the sanctioned central subsidy are held up because of the issue of submission of the UCs. As per the rule, the state will have to submit UCs for at least 70 per cent of the released funds to seek further release. Of the Rs 600 crore odd central assistance released to ULBs in Maharashtra since 2016, we have so far submitted to the MoHUA UCs for Rs 214 crores. UCs for another Rs 200 crore have been received from ULBs and will soon be sent to the union ministry. Once the we have submitted UCs for about 70 per cent (about Rs 450 crore) received funds our case to seek the release of next rounds of funds will be strengthened,” said Muglikar.
Officials suspect that the ULBs may have failed to submit the UCs because a section of the beneficiaries may have spent the money elsewhere. “The Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged lockdown may have played a role,” said Muglikar.
When contacted for a comment, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) did not provide an official response. On condition of anonymity, a highly placed officer said that the Ministry was aware of the issues being faced in the implementation of the PMAY(U) in Maharashtra and was taking urgent steps to resolve them. “We are in regular touch with the MHADA officials and have now written to the state government. The issue is not caused by a lack of funds. We are seeking submission UCs and will soon resolve the problem,” said the MoHUA official.
ULB officials and local politicians are not ready to buy ‘non-submission of UC’ argument furthered by the Ministry. “If some ULBs have not submitted the UCs then they should be affected. Why should the funds of hundreds of other ULBs be stopped and thousands of poor beneficiaries be left in the lurch? People are suffering terribly due to the delay and have lost confidence in the scheme. It will be difficult for us to approach newer beneficiaries who had earlier shortlisted to be included in future DPRs,” said a municipal council chief officer requesting anonymity.
(This article appeared in The Indian Express on October 9 2020. It can be accessed here)
With supplies drying down due to the halt in printing of papers during early weeks of the lockdown and continued trouble for newspaper distribution, the newspaper scrap is in short supply across the country. With increased prices, retail users such as grocers and snacks-sellers are feeling the pinch.
DISAPPEARANCE of printed newspapers during the first few weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown caused little trouble to most news consumers who picked up news from other sources including the free ePaper PDFs that they seamlessly received, read and forwarded to others on their phones. While the readers – the primary consumers of the newspaper during its short life of half a day – were indifferent, those who use the paper during its afterlife as scrap have started to feel the pinch now due to theshortage caused by the halt in printing a few months ago.
The impact of printing presses coming to a standstill during March-May – and continued trouble in printing and distributing the newspapers – is being felt by grocers, fruit vendors and snack-sellers who have to now scrounge for scrap paper which they use as a cheap and convenient packaging and serving material. The domestic paper recycling industry which generally uses waste paper cheaply imported from abroad is now dipping into the domestic supply thereby increasing demand and causing an acute shortage of paper scrap for other users.
Users such as grocers are being forced to buy newspaper raddi – at it’s colliquolly called – anywhere between Rs 20 to 35 a kilo from dealers (usually priced at Rs 12 to 15, depending on quality). The scrap collectors are in turn ready to cough up Rs 15-20 per kg and are less likely to harangue the household seller for a cheaper acquisition.
There’s no raddi
There are two types of newspaper scrap that enter the market: used raddi (bought from individual newspaper buyers) and unused raddi (acquired in bulk from publications, sales agents comprising of unsold newspaper stocks). Users of scrap paper generally prefer the latter kind as it’s cleaner, uncrumpled.
Scrap dealers say that the stocks of the both kind have dried down and they are not able to meet the demand.
“For several weeks in March-April, newspaper printing was shut, so naturally no newspaper scrap came into the market. Even now schools, colleges, public libraries, and most of the offices are not functional. These are places that we get newspaper raddi from. Also, door-to-door scrap collectors are not able to move freely in housing societies, bringing down the receipts of scrap paper considerably,” said Navin Thakkar, a dealer in Pune.
As per Anurag Asati, co-founder of The Kabadiwala, a Bhopal based firm that provides doorstep junk collection service, the major reason for shortage of newspaper raddi in the market that the pandemic has stopped international waste paper coming into India. “The Indian paper recycling industry uses 20 per cent domestic scrap and 80 per cent imported waste paper. Since Covid-19 has affected imports, the recycling industry is drawing more from domestic supply and hence is causing a shortage of scrap paper in India,” said Asati.
The afterlife of a newspaper
As per Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and Registrar of Newspapers for India, every day 70 million copies are printed and sold by 17,573 registered daily and weekly newspapers in India. Of these, 34 million copies are sold by top 20 newspapers – a club dominated by Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and English language dailies.
To print these, the presses consume about 17.1 million metric tonnes (data for 2017-18) of standard newsprint per annum, part of which is imported from abroad. As per a discussion paper published on the website of Department of Industry and Internal Trade, about 13 million metric tonne newspaper and magazine scrap enters the market every year with an estimated market value of Rs 13,000 crore. A part of this is acquired by domestic manufacturer of newsprints who complete the circle by supplying it for fresh publication. Other users such as by grocers, snack-sellers and farmers (who use it to wrap fruits to hasten ripening) leads to the paper becoming domestic trash which may end up in landfills with other degradable waste.
Major deficit in Mufassil towns and villages
In the interiors, the prices of raddi have seen a much steeper rise. This, locals traders, say is due to higher reliance on paper for packaging as compared to cities where plastic bags – which are comparatively expensive – are used. With plastic bag supply chains getting disturbed owing to the lockdown as well as bans on the use of certain kinds of plastic imposed by the government, the use of newspaper raddi has gone up recently in larger cities as well.
“Generally I sell Marathi raddi for Rs 20 and English for Rs 25 a kilo,” said Munna Ambure, a newspaper vendor in Parbhani. “My scrap fetches a better price than household raddi because mine is unread paper which is cleaner. Now the price has gone up to Rs 30/kg for Marathi and Rs 35/kg for English papers. But since lockdown, I have reduced my daily newspaper orders considerably as many people have unsubscribed owing to the fear of pandemic. I am not left with much of the scrap to sale,” he said.
Wholesaler Thakkar feels that with the flow of scrap paper will go up when schools, libraries will open and fear among the readers subsides thus leading to picking up of newspaper printing.
“With the government deciding to let the schools open by November, we are hoping that the by December things will normalise and the business will stabilise a bit,” said Thakkar.
As per Asati, with recycling industries spending more to buy raw material from domestic scrap market – than cheaply imported paper waste – the prices of recycled paper will go up thereby increasing the prices of books, notebooks and diaries in the short run.
“It’s affecting the packaging industry now. When schools open, you will find that the prices of books and notebooks will be higher than usual,” said Asati.
Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), an infectious viral disease of the cattle and bovine animals, is fast spreading in some districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, creating panic among dairy farmers.
LUMPY Skin Disease (LSD), an infectious viral disease of the cattle and bovine animals, is fast spreading in some districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, creating panic among dairy farmers. According to the state Animal Husbandry department, so far 93,252 infections of the Capripox virus, which was first detected in the state in Gadchiroli district in April, have been recorded in the state.
The virus causes the development of stiff, round, cutaneous nodules of 2-5 cm in diameter on the skin of the animal, besides causing fever, lesions in the mouth and reduced milk production. The virus strain currently active in Maharashtra is said to have about 20 per cent morbidity and about 1 per cent mortality rate. The state has launched a vaccination programme.
The virus is not zoonotic and doesn’t infect humans through consumption of milk or meat. Though it affects the cow and buffalo, however, infection in the latter has been found to be minimal.
As per the state Animal Husbandry department, Chandrapur is the worst affected with 50,419 cases, followed by Nagpur with 12,296 cases so far. Other affected districts in Vidarbha are Gondia (8,150), Vardha (3,598) and Gadchiroli (1,358). In Marathwada, the disease has been detected in Nanded (13,136) and Parbhani (2,182) in considerable proportion with a sporadic spread in several other districts.
Of the 93,252 animals infected so far since April, 67,035 have recovered following medical intervention.
Devarshi Meher, a dairy farmer from Pathri in Parbhani district, who owns a herd of about 100 cattle, said three of his cows were showing symptoms. “Two have swollen feet and can’t walk. The third one has developed nodules on the back. The milk production has considerably decreased,” he said, adding that he found privately sold vaccines expensive and was trying to contact government veterinarian hospitals for subsidised inoculation.
Dr Devendra Jadhav, deputy commissioner of Animal Husbandry (Disease Control), said the department has launched a massive vaccination programme and has so far inoculated 1.52 lakh animals with Goat Pox vaccine.
“Soon after the detection in Chandrapur, we had started a vaccination programme in Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Nagpur. We have 4.5 lakh vaccination doses available with us. Whenever an infection is detected, we are sending the vaccine to inoculate the healthy animals to contain the spread,” said Jadhav.
He added that the virus is not highly virile and the mortality rate is also not high. Owing to the spread of the virus to newer areas, an advisory has been issued to dairy farmers enlisting preventive measures that they need to take while rearing the animals.
“Since the virus spread via insects, it’s very important that the sheds are kept insect-free. The animals can be massaged with insect repellents. Apart from this, affected animals have to be kept away from healthy ones and should not be taken away for grazing. Also, once an infected animal is found, cattle in a five-km radius should be inspected and inoculated,” said Jadhav.
The latest outbreak of the disease was detected in Mayurbhanj and Bhadrak in Odisha in November 2019. In January this year, cases were reported from Alappuzha, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala.
Held in 1952, when cold war anxieties were on a high, the film festival prompted the American government to send a delegation headed by Hollywood director Frank Capra to “uncover” the conspiracy and hinder its success.
AN international film festival was still a novelty when India decided to hold one in 1952. In fact, the first International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in January-February 1952 in four (now metro) cities was the first such event held anywhere in Asia. There were only eight international film festivals in the world at that time and all of them were in Europe, including the oldest in Venice.
So, when India, then a recently decolonised “third-world” country, announced its plans to host an international film festival, it led to varied reactions from within and outside the country. Among these, and most curious of them all, was the American response.
Apparently, the US authorities suspected the festival was a “communist shenanigan of some kind” and sent a delegation to “uncover” the conspiracy and hinder its success. Those were the initial years of the Cold War and both the USSR and the US were trying to influence the non-aligned countries in their favour to nullify any political or cultural influence exerted by their rival superpower. According to film historian Amrit Gangar, both the superpowers had an eye on newly independent India and IFFI 1952 provided a useful platform to somehow influence the India’s global-political stance. He says, “Only a few months prior to IFFI, an Indian film delegation was in the USSR where it had received a grand reception in the presence of the well-known Russian filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin. Soon after IFFI ended, Indian film personalities like Nargis and Raj Kapoor were invited to the US where President (Harry S.) Truman met them at the White House.” Significantly, among the 12 visiting delegations, Russia’s was the largest, with 13 members, headed by then deputy minister of cinematography N Semenov.
The responsibility to head the American delegation fell upon celebrated Hollywood director Frank Capra, known for films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and It Happened One Night (1934). Capra biography The Name Above the Title (1971) gives us details of this “assignment” came to him and how he successfully completed it.
In December 1951, Capra writes, he received a call from an officer of the US state department informing him that the US ambassador in New Delhi needed Capra’s services and wanted him to travel to India for a few weeks.
“Frank, listen. Chester Bowles, our ambassador to India, is worried. He thinks he smells a rat in the International Film Festival of the motion pictures that Indians are holding in a week. Bowles thinks the festival is a communist shenanigan of some kind, but he doesn’t know what. Here’s where you come in,” Capra quotes the official as saying, adding that the ambassador had specifically asked for Capra as he wanted a “freewheeling guy” to take care of American interest on his own. “I want Capra. His name is big here (in India), and I have heard he is quick on his feet in an alley fight,” Bowles had apparently told the officer.
At this time, Capra was in the midst of a personal challenge as well. Only a few weeks ago, the US army had denied his security clearance to participate in a top-secret conference pertaining to warfare technologies, after finding some “derogatory information” on him. This essentially meant that the American establishment was questioning his loyalty to the country. This deeply hurt Capra, who got busy in trying to clear his name. When the proposal for the India tour came up, he proposed that he would only go to India if his name is cleared. His wish was met, and he embarked on the journey. He was to head the delegation, with Harry Stone of the Motion Picture Association of America and Floyd E Brooker, the audiovisual expert as members. All three were briefed by the US state department officials with instructions to Capra: “Just play it by ear, Frank, and report to Ambassador Bowles.”
As Capra records, for several days after his arrival in Bombay, he groped in the dark about what he was expected to do and what “the communist conspiracy” was. Since Ambassador Bowles was on a trip to Nepal, Capra couldn’t discuss “the matter” with him to get clarity. When Capra approached other US officials based in India, he found that they were as clueless: “When you find out, tell us.”
On his fifth day in India, Capra met Baburao Patel, the boisterous and boastful editor of filmindia magazine, who said something about the festival which gave Capra a “hint of what was bugging Bowles”. Patel reportedly told him that IFFI was a plot by communists in the Indian film industry to open doors to Russian films which were being kept out of the country by censors as these films were “too political and inflammatory”. “So local film Reds hatched the festival idea to ensure showing of dozens of Russian and Chinese films” in four cities as an appeal to the people of India to “breach India’s film barrier using the festival as a Trojan horse”, Capra wrote in the diary, published in the autobiography.
What Capra did not know was that Patel himself was an anti-communist worried about an imminent “communist takeover” of India. “A blind man can see that our country is going to have a Red future unless the democratic forces and institutions in the country take active and aggressive steps,” Patel wrote in an editorial published in the April 1952 edition of filmindia. Patel was also mighty displeased with the idea of the festival. Throughout filmindia’s coverage of it, he called it “International Fools’ Festival”.
Having thus received a “confirmation” from Patel, Capra gave an ultimatum to the festival organisers that in case of any “pro-commie” speech at the festival, he will “leave, taking along all the American films and holding a press conference to explain (reasons) of my leaving”. Throughout his Bombay and Madras stay, he tried making speeches asking the filmmakers to guard themselves against “totalitarian system”.
He complained about the Russians to Indira Gandhi knowing fully well that “it would get to the Prime Minister”. Capra would meet Nehru when the latter inaugurated IFFI’s Delhi edition. “Charming, simple man. Could be the most important man alive today,” Capra noted in his diary.
This anxiety about the communist ploy, sometimes, took hilarious turns.
On one instance, when the guests were to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Raj Ghat, the flower wreath that Capra and his colleagues had ordered turned out very thin. Capra was convinced that “the Reds had bought them all up”. According to his version, the American delegation then devised a plan to “outsmart” communists by taking along two of Gandhi’s grandchildren (through Capra’s recent acquaintance with Devdas Gandhi). The plan worked — the event got great publicity. That day he noted in his diary: “This should kill the Reds”.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, one of the “grandchildren” who visited Raj Ghat with Capra, was seven then. “It seems incredible that anyone could be as naive as to think, say and do what Mr Capra sets down. It all seems like something out of Alice In Wonderland,” Gandhi told The Indian Express.
Capra though, wrote in his autobiography, when Ambassador Bowles returned, he was “pleased with his report”.
This article appeared in the print edition with the headline ‘A Plot to Unravel’ on November 17 2019. I can be accessed here.
District case count has reached 1200 this week. Doctors worry the case load could be manifold higher as residents are not approaching the doctors owing to some unfounded allegations of ‘misdiagnosis’, ‘stealing of organs’ and some real fear of family members getting ‘picked-up’ for quarantine.
In Maharashtra’s Parbhani district, rumours and conspiracy theories linked to COVID19 being spread of social media is keeping potential patients away from clinics, making invisible transmission of the coronavirus difficult to detect and control. The problem is turning severe by the day with no concerted efforts from the administration to tackle the issue of misinformation.
As per doctors and local residents, citizens with COVID19 linked symptoms are preferring to stay at home and suffer than to seek medical attention owing to fear of doctors misdiagnosing the illnesses as COVID19 “to claim subsidy funds” or “are killing the patients and stealing the organs” – as claimed in viral social media messages. The fear is so strong that those suffering from other, unrelated illnesses too are reportedly preferring to stay back and suffer at home rather than see a doctor.
As the detections were very few in the district in the first few months of the pandemic (until end of June, Parbhani had about 100 confirmed infections), the prevailing feeling among the locals was that the stringent measures of the government were ‘much trouble for nothing’. With now rise in the detections – with the district clocking 1200 cases by August 12 – the narrative has shifted to “deliberately misdiagnosis”. (false) posts on social media are fuelling such feelings further.
“It’s true that residents who have Covid-19 related symptoms are not approaching the health system. They come out to us only after the trouble becomes severe and too much to hold back,” says Dr Ravi Shinde of Varad Hospital, the most popular private hospital in the town. “People here -especially Muslims – are believing all kinds of conspiracy theories against the health system. At present about two potential Covid-19 patients come to me per day. I suspect there could be about 250-300 symptomatic patients in the town but they are not approaching us. This is a potentially dangerous situation,” said Dr Shinde.
Viral social media messages terming Covid-19 pandemic as a hoax created by doctors and the government for nefarious purposes; that hospitals are interested in increasing Covid count as they are getting Rs 1.50 lakh cash subsidy per patient from the government; messages urging the citizens not to visit doctors as Covid-19 is “just a flu” or those listing medicines for home treatment of Covid-19 infections are being shared widely and very little is being done by the administration to debunk them.
“Is Corona real? I don’t believe it is,” Bajirao Jadhav, an auto-rickshaw driver who ferries dozens of passengers between Pathri and Rampuri every day. “I am having cough for two-three days but I’m not going to a doctor because doctors are diagnosing each and everyone with corona,” he says.
“The disease must have been a reality in China or America, but it doesn’t exist here. We are tough people. Even those who were taken to the hospital as Covid patients were hale and hearty. They didn’t have so much as a fever or cough,” said Akbar Khan, another resident of Pathri.
As per Dr Shinde, many of his patients were afraid to go for a Covid-19 test for fear of their relatives being taken away for quarantine or that the dead body would not be returned to them for honourable last rites.
Dr Syed Jubair, who has a clinic in Parbhani town, that the novelty of the disease and the fact that the treatment protocol for patients and potential patients and “systematic targeting of a certain community in the initial period of the pandemic” has created fertile ground for the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
“Every day I receive dozens of calls of patients who say they have Covid-19 symptoms but are self-treating themselves. They are too afraid to go to a hospital because of fear created by social media that they will be injected with poison or their organs will be stolen. Most of the patients approach doctors when their blood saturation goes down considerably – say below 70 per cent. This is pushing up the morality rate,” said Dr Jubair.
Of the 1255 residents of Parbhani district who were diagnosed with Covid-19, 63 have lost their lives. The mortality rate of 5 per cent in Parbhani is much higher than the national rate of 2 per cent and state rate of 3.5 per cent.
District Collector Deepak Muglikar, however, rubbishes these “observations” that citizens are afraid to reach out to health authorities
“There’s absolutely no truth in these claims. They are not hiding it. They are coming straight away to doctors. Apart from this, we are surveying various groups and localities and haven’t found such an indication. To reduce the fear -if any – of forced quarantine, we have adopted a policy of allowing home isolation of asymptomatic patients. We will publicise this,” said Muglikar. He said that to detect unreported infection, the district administration has launched a ‘antigen testing’ programme under which hundreds of traders, shopkeepers and others are being checked randomly. “We have checked 9500 persons in last 15 days,” said Muglikar.
WALKING 10 kilomtres to school and back is the kind of a thing that one has heard one’s parents and grand-parents complain about. Millennials, by and large, have had much easier with the opening of schools closer to homes and availability of school buses and other means of transport to reach school.
Ananta Doiphode, a 16-year-old boy from Velha taluka of Pune District, doesn’t belong to the lucky lot.
For the last three years, Ananta had to walk for four hours per day to access secondary education. He walked to school 11 km away from his home on foot and back, thus clocking 22 km six days a week. Most would find this routine tiring, Ananta did too. But he tried not to let the fatigue affect his studies.
He scored 82.80 per cent in Class X in the Maharashtra State Board results announced on Thursday.
“I would wake up at 4 am and study till 6. Then sleep for an hour before waking up and leaving on foot to the school,” says Ananta. After returning from school, he studied late into the night every day. “I knew it was an important year for me,” he says. Ananta is oldest among three siblings who reside with their mother in old, dwarfish mud-house. His father works as a waiter in a canteen in Pune and visits them once in a few month. The house is dark even during the day. There’s no fan in the house.
“I will go to Pune for junior college. I want to prepare for UPSC to become a civil servant,” said Ananta who is not happy with his performance. “I was hoping to score 90 per cent. I may have achieved that had I stayed at the hostel near my school. But we didn’t have money. Walking four hours a day tired me out,” he said.
The family stays in village Varghad in Velha tehsil of Pune District. The village is barely 60 km from Pune city but is located in the hilly part of the district that is topographically closer to coastal Konkan than plains of rest of the state. The village has a population of over a thousand but barely 50 families have stayed back, rest of chosen to migrate to cities to earn a living and have a better life. Children can study until Class VII at a Zilla Parishad run primary school located within the village. The closest high school where Class 8 to 10 education is available is in Panshet, 11 kms away. Ananta studied at this school.
He is one of the three students from the village – which has about 50 households – who walk to school every day. There’s a bus that connects Varghad and other villages on this route with Pune and can be used by children to go to the high school in Panshet, but the timings that are not suitable. In the mornings, the bus from Tekpol to Swargate (in Pune) starts at 5 am and reaches Warghad at 6.
“The bus service is not reliable. In the morning, the bus reaches Panshet very early and in the evening there’s no fixed time as it may arrive at 6 pm or 10 pm. Hence, students and others often choose to walk than to wait for the bus,” said Ananta’s mother. The students say that a lot of them can’t afford the monthly fee for the concessional pass for the bus. “The bus pass for boys is expensive about Rs 660 per month. For girls, it’s just Rs 30. Also, we need to go to Swargate (in Pune city) to make the pass, making it inconvenient and more expensive,” said Avishkar Pasalkar, Ananta’s classmate. Some days when the kids have money and if the bus turns up on time, they take the bus ride by paying cash. But that’s rare, they say.
As per Swargate Depot Manager of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), the reason they don’t run more services with convenient timings is due to lack of ‘demand’. “The buses in this area get very few passengers. The only service we run to Tekpol is suffering losses,” said D M Shinde.
Every other village in the area has the same story. Emigration to Pune or Mumbai has thinned out most of the villages in Velha as has been the case with other hilly tehsils in Mulshi, Bhor, Maval and Purandar. As families chose to move out of villages due to lack of livelihood opportunities as well as that of basic facilities, those who chose to stay behind face worse. Empty villages mean that government machinery finds providing them services, for example, a bus connection, more and more unaffordable. “The power supply is poor. It’s difficult to find a doctor. We have to struggle to get even the most basic amenities,” said Ananta’s mother.
The worst effect of the emigration has been on education of children in families which have stayed back in the area. Due to emigration, the number of students enrolled per school has gone down very every passing year. As per data obtained from Pune Zilla Parishad’s Primary Education Department as many as 60 primary schools run by ZP have been closed down in the district due to lack of students. Of the 3652 primary schools that were operational in the district in the academic year 2018-19, as many as 379 schools – mostly in the hilly talukas mentioned above – had less than 10 students; 143 schools had less than 5 students and as many as 14 schools had just one student.
“This obviously affects the quality of education imparted in these schools as most of these school are now run by a single teacher,” said an official with Pune ZP’s education department. The Zilla Parishad is mulling the idea of starting clusture schools – schools for a group of villages instead of running one in each – and making transport arrangements to enable the students to reach the school. “This idea faces some resistance from villagers as they do not want the village schools to close down, even if there are hardly any students to study there,” said the official.
At Shri Shivaji Vir Baji Pasalkar High School, Panshet – where Ananta is a student – there are many like him who walk several kilometres to school in absence of transport facility. “We have students who walk 10 kms to 22 kms every day. These are very poor people who can’t even afford the concession students passes. There are many villages which have no bus connection,” said Asha Kutwal, a teacher at the school.
Ananta’s teachers are hopeful of his future. They say – “He is the brightest student in class”. “He is an excellent orator.” And yes, he does all this despite walking 22 kms every day.
Various district administrations have imposed blanket curfews, at a time when cities and towns with much larger case counts are opening up. As reported by The Indian Express earlier, over a million migrants have returned to Marathwada between March and June.
Despite a large number of migrants returning from metro cities since March, the number of Covid-19 cases in several districts of Marathwada has remained comparatively lower than other parts of the state. This also meant that residents of towns and villages in the hinterland had an easier life owing to a few restrictions on their movement and functioning of markets.
However, since last one week, there has been a surge in Covid-19 cases in almost all districts in the region. Various district administrations have imposed blanket curfews, at a time when cities and towns with much larger case counts are opening up. As reported by The Indian Express earlier, over a million migrants have returned to Marathwada between March and June.
Barring Aurangabad, which is among the worst affected districts with 6,568 cases (294 deaths), no other district in Marathwada has gone past the three-digit mark. So far, Parbhani has recorded 142 cases (four deaths), Beed 142 (three deaths), Nanded 394 (14 deaths), Latur 425 (22 deaths), Osmanabad 264 (12 deaths), Jalna 719 (24) and Hingoli 288 cases (1 death).
In Parbhani district, where the case load is among the lowest in the state, Collector Deepak Muglikar has imposed a blanket curfew in urban areas instead of relying on notification and management of micro-containment areas, as being done in bigger cities in western Maharashtra with much larger Covid-19 counts.
The move is not going down well with the residents. In Pathri town, which saw its first Covid-19 case on Saturday, residents have gone weary of restrictions.
“There was a not single case detected in Pathri until Saturday, but due to the lockdown and restrictions I couldn’t do any business. I have exhausted all my savings and I’m not sure what will happen in future as the administration is taking more stringent measures now,” said Syed Musa (34), who earns a living by selling fried chicken at a roadside stall in Pathri.
However, the Parbhani collector agreed that imposition of curfew was a strict policy, but he said that “on and off curfews” are required to control the pandemic. He added that local residents were welcoming the measures being taken to control the spread of coronavirus.
“Curfew has been imposed only in urban areas of the district after number of cases has gone up significantly. This is a measure required to control the spread of Covid-19… The aim is not to harass people, but to avoid the spread on a mass scale,” Muglikar said, adding that many migrants coming from Pune and Mumbai and staying without informing the authorities was adding to the troubles.
He said the administration was mulling the possibility of relaxing the curfews between 7 am and 3 pm everyday while keeping a complete closure on weekends.
Similar restrictions have been imposed in Jalna city, where a 10-day curfew has been imposed under Section 144 (1) (3) of Criminal Procedure Code. In Beed city, an eight-day curfew has been imposed. In Parali, after five staffers of State Bank of India tested positive on Saturday, an eight day curfew was imposed. In Hingoli city, a five-day curfew was imposed on Sunday evening. In Kalamnuri town in the district that had recorded seven Covid-19 cases, a five-day curfew has been imposed.
In Latur, the district administration has taken a stance that curfew and continued lockdown were not essential to tackle the pandemic. Collector G Shreekanth said he believes curfew only grants a break to the administration rather than breaking the chain of coronavirus transmission.
“It’s very easy for a collector to impose curfew but we all know by now that it’s not the way to tackle the spread of the virus and is very taxing on the poor. Hence, we are not imposing lockdown in the district. We are defining micro-containment zones and focusing on their management and penalising those who are not following rules. This approach requires the administration to work more, but it does not put the entire population through suffering,” said Shreekanth.
While the project employed over 4500 workers at its numerous sites, now only 1040 workers have stayed back; contractors are desperately trying to rope in fresh lots of labourers from north India. But will they come, and when?
As the city comes to terms with the impact of the migrant exodus, one of the worst-hit projects is the city’s largest: the construction of Pune Metro. With little activity, most of the construction sites wear a desolate look, but MahaMetro cannot be sure as to when the full workforce will return.
The departure of migrant workers in the last two months has depleted 75 per cent workforce employed at different construction sites of Pune Metro and has slowed the progress to just about 20 to 25 per cent of the usual capacity, as per MahaMetro officials.
Before the Covid-19 crisis began, various contractors had employed 4,500 workers at numerous sites, where work was going on at full speed to complete the project in time. However, as of Sunday, MahaMetro said it has only 1,040 workers left. Most of the workers who left were manual labourers and majority, who have stayed back, are technical and machine operating staff.
While a chunk of workers left immediately after the outbreak of Covid-19 and the announcement of a lockdown, others left in Shramik Special trains or by making their own arrangements in the last few weeks. Earlier, Pune Metro had asked contractors to look after workers housed at 10 camps in different parts of the city during the lockdown period.
The work resumed only in the last week of April after over a month since March 24, when the lockdown was announced. When the work restarted, there were 2,843 workers but most of them have since left for their home states.
At the Shivajinagar station site, barely 15 to 20 workers are on the job; at Agriculture College field, where underground tunnelling work commenced in December 2019 and a maintenance depot is coming up, a majority of workers have left; at Swargate, where work on a station and a tunnel is underway, the situation is no different; and near Kothrud Kachra depot, where Hill View car depot is being built, barely 20 machine operators have stayed back. The viaduct work has also suffered from residual staff taking up only minor works in the absence of workers. Labour camps also wear a deserted look with barely a few compartments of massive settlements occupied.
Hemant Sonawane, General Manager (Public Relations), Pune Metro, said, “At the moment, we have 1,040 workers with various contractors. As workers have left due to the fear of Covid-19, the works allotted to various contractors are progressing at an average capacity of 20 to 25 per cent. The Metro does not directly employ workers. They are employed by contractors through labour suppliers who, now, have activated their channels and are making an effort to bring back some workers in the first week of June.”
The Indian Express spoke to a number of workers before they left for their home states, as they lined up to register for interstate transport facilities at police stations; coughed up large sums of money to obtain medical certificates; or when they left in groups to go to the station to board Shramik Special trains back home. Most of them said they were being looked after by contractors during the lockdown, but they wished to return home due to fear of the disease and owing to anxiety among family members. Those who were not lucky enough to get a seat on Shramik Special trains paid thousands of rupees to return home in trucks to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Jharkhand.
Sumit Prasad, who worked at the site in College of Agriculture, said on May 4, he queued up at Shivajinagar police station to submit an application to return home. “I have no complaints against the Metro as they are giving us food and shelter. The work has also started. But we are feeling anxious now and want to return home. Many of us speak to our families back home through video calls. Every day, the scene is the same. We cry on this side, they on the other,” said Prasad, who is from Siwan district in Bihar.
Pune Metro workers from College of Agriculture site had made applications to go home by queuing up at Shivajinagar Police Station in the first week of May 2020. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre) Efforts on to call labourers back
Contractors are making an effort to get workers from within the state and outside. “Most of my employees were from Bihar and Jharkhand. Only some of them have stayed back as I was able to convince them. Getting workers from the state to replace those who have left is impossible. First, they too fear for their lives, and second, boys from even the poorest parts of the state are not ready to do manual labour,” said another sub-contractor.
A labour contractor said he had spoken to three labour suppliers in West Bengal, who have promised to send 50 workers each, by June 10.
According to Sonawane, a group of about 25 workers from Madhya Pradesh had conveyed to contractors, a week ago, that they are willing to return. Since there are transport restrictions, Pune Metro wrote to the administration of these districts requesting travel facilitation for these workers.
Salaries deducted, delayed
According to Pune Metro officials, it has issued instructions to all contractors to pay engaged workers full salaries for the lockdown period. Workers, who have stayed back, however, have complained that contractors have deducted a portion of the salaries and have also delayed the payment.
A number of technicians and operators said the only reason that kept them from leaving Pune was the pending salary. “If my pending salary is given to me, I will leave for home immediately,” a crane operator said, adding that the NCC, which is building viaducts on Paud Road, released salary for April only in the last week of May and, that too, was heavily deducted.
“I don’t want to return home empty-handed. If they clear my past dues, I can go home and provide for my family. If I leave now, without collecting my dues, I will have to forget about the pending money,” said the operator, who did not want to be named.