Category Archives: Reportage

A glimpse of the day-to-day reporting

While PMAY(U) beneficiaries suffer, state & central agencies Caught up in war of words

The correspondence between Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), obtained by The Indian Express using the RTI, shows that there has been little progress towards resolving the issue although both the agencies acknowledge that poor families are badly suffering due to the delay in release of central subsidy.

Naseem Bano, a widow from Parbhani district, is among the PMAY(U) beneficiaries who are awaiting release of the central subsidy to complete the construction of their houses. (Pic: Atikh Rashid)

As Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (Urban) beneficiaries in Maharashtra, especially those from Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), continue to suffer due to the delay in the release of central subsidy, the state and central agencies are blaming each other, documents obtained by The Indian Express under the Right To Information Act show.

As reported by the Express earlier, a total of 2.19 lakh houses have been sanctioned in the state under Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) vertical of PMAY(U), in which each beneficiary family receives Rs 1.5 lakh from the Centre and Rs 1 lakh from the state.

In Maharashtra, of the total sanctioned houses since 2016-17, only 18,665 have been completed, while construction of 63,415 is stuck in various stages owing to non-release of subsidy funds by the Centre. In most cases, the construction has reached up to lintel level and the dwelling units are standing roofless.

In the remaining 1.2 lakh sanctioned cases, no progress has been seen despite the release of the first instalment of funds. This state officials reckon, could be because of financial hardships caused by Covid-19 to the EWS families, who may have diverted the funds towards basic needs.

As reported earlier, many BLC beneficiaries in the state, who had started the construction a year or two ago, have given up hope of finishing the work, owing to the prolonged delay in the release of Rs 1.5 lakh central subsidy. They have laid old tin sheets over the newly constructed walls so they can move in. In the most precarious condition are those who had demolished an existing kutcha house and had moved into a rented home.

Express spoke to many such families in Parbhani, Hingoli and Beed districts, who have spent a considerable amount on rent and are now repenting their decision to demolish the existing house in the hope of a better house.

While both the agencies – the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the nodal agency for implementing PMAY(U) in the state – told the Express that the delay was caused by the pendency in the submission of Utilisation Certificates (UCs) by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and the issue will soon be resolved, documents obtained under RTI Act show that the two agencies have been corresponding since March 2020, but the issues causing the delay in the release of pending funds are far from resolved.

Letter from Maharashtra Principal Secretary (Housing) SVR Srinivas to PMAY(U) Mission Director Amrit Abhijat on November 2 2020.

On March 4 2020, Rishi Kumar (Director-HFA-IV) had written to Sanjay Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary (Housing), Maharashtra, informing him that senior officials in MoHUA and Finance Ministry were in favour of halting the release of central funds in light of non-submission of UCs by states for funds released earlier.

The MoHUA followed up on October 7, 2020, when Amrit Abhijat, Mission Director, Housing For All, wrote to SVR Srinivas, Principal Secretary (Housing), Maharashtra. “So far, an amount of Rs 803.55 crore has been released to Maharashtra against which we have received UCs for Rs 127.16 crore only. As per General Financial Rules, UCs for amounts released prior to 31.3.2019 have become due and without the receipt of these, further release of funds is held up,” wrote Abhijat.

In his response dated November 2, Srinivas blamed the MoHUA for not following PMAY(U) guidelines, and releasing only a part of the amount it owes to the state towards the first instalment of houses sanctioned under BLC and AHP (Affordable Houses in Partnership) and ISSR (In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation) components in the state. He said that since ULBs were busy in Covid-19 management for the better part of the year, they should be given time to submit the pending UCs.

As per him, with a total of 7.40 lakh dwelling units sanctioned in the state under BLC, AHP and ISSR components of PMAY(U), the state should have received 40 per cent (Rs 4433 crore) of the total subsidy amount for these DUs as the first instalment.

“Contrary to the PMAY (U) guidelines, instead of releasing the entire first instalment of Rs 4,433 crore which is due to the state, the MoHUA has insisted the utilisation certificates for the 70 per cent for the partial amount released from the first instalment,” wrote Srinivas.

He said that the state government has been receiving demands from ULBs for release of pending funds and delay in the release of funds has caused “unrest among the beneficiaries”, especially those from EWS sections.

On December 18, Abhijat wrote back, reiterating that the state government will have to submit UCs worth Rs 324.87 crore to MoHUA before further funds are released. By this time, the UCs received by MoHUA had gone up to Rs 211.94 crore (from Rs 127 crore in March 2020). In this letter, Abhijat raised several other fresh compliance issues, including AADHAR seeding of the beneficiaries into the PMAY(U) portal, action taken report on the recommendation of the third party quality monitoring agencies, geo-tagging of the current stage of the constructions, among others.

“Therefore, I would request that all thus compliances may be done as soon as possible and come up with the proposal to release further funds to the state,” wrote Abhijat.

When reached for a comment, officials with MoHUA and MHADA, requesting not to be named, said that they were working to resolve the issues at the soonest.

Financial troubles, tiny houses: Why many PMAY allottees rejected the home offer

In October 2020, PMC had alloted affordable houses being constructed under PMAY(U) to 2,918 poor families but only 731 of them claimed them. Now PMC has announced names of 2,187 fresh allottees urging them to book the unclaimed homes.

ATIKH RASHID

In August 2017, Babaram Bhagne (53), a helper at an automobile spare parts shop in Nana Peth, was among the 40,000 hopefuls from economically weaker families who had given applications to claim low cost homes being built under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) in Pune city.

In October 2020, he was among the happy club of 2,918 applicants who were declared ‘winners’ to get the homes being built by Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) with assistance from private builders at five different locations in the city.

Two months later, he is one of the 2,187 individuals who have decided to let go of this ‘opportunity’. On Monday, PMC’s PMAY (U) cell posted a list of new ‘winners’ from the waiting list who will now have a chance to lay claim over the homes that remained unclaimed in the first round.

“On the day our name was announced in the lottery, we were told to pay up Rs 1.02 lakh (10 per cent of the total price of the apartment) within a month. I had no income from March to October 2020 as the automobile shop I work for was shut due to the lockdown. It was extremely difficult for me to arrange the sum within such a short time,” said Bhagane, who presently stays in a rented home in Sukhasagar with wife, a son and a daughter. He said that getting a housing loan for payment of the total cost (pegged at Rs 9.67) lakh was difficult due to break in employment.

But that wasn’t the only reason he let go of the home offer. “At 350 square feet carpet area, the apartment is too small for my family. My son has finished his graduation this year and very soon we will start thinking about his marriage. Once our family expands, this house will be too tiny for us. Hence, we thought and decided that instead of taking a loan to pay for this small flat, we will wait for an opportunity to buy a bigger home once my son starts earning,” said Bhagane.

The houses are being built for economically weaker sections (EWS) under Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP) component of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban). Under this component, the central and state assistance is provided to housing projects where 35 per cent homes are reserved for EWS customers and are made available to them at an affordable rate.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) had announced eight projects under AHP in August 2017 and has also invited applications from EWS families. Of these, five projects progressed and in October 2020 PMC drew lotteries to determine the beneficiaries who would get the opportunity to buy low cost 2,918 apartments from the pool of 40,000 applications that it had received.

The five housing projects are located in Hadapsar, Survey No. 106A (340 homes), Kharadi (786), Vadgaon Khurd (1108), Hadapsar, Survey No.89 (584), and Hadapsar, Survey No.106A12 (100). Each dwelling unit is a 1BHK (bedroom, hall & kitchen) apartment with a carpet area of about 350 square feet.

As per officials at PMC’s PMAY(U) Cell, not all allottees who didn’t lay their claim over the homes found the offer unattractive or were not able to pay up the booking amount. “We had accepted the applications in 2017 and the lottery was drawn full three years later in October 2020. Many may have changed the contact numbers and did not get our messages. Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, many may have also moved out of the city and did not see lists of the winners published in the newspapers. We were receiving calls and personal visits of such people after November 23 but we could not consider their requests as it would have been unjust to those in the waiting list,” said Dinesh Rokade, Joint-Director for PMAY(U) implementation in PMC areas.

Financial incapability, however, remains a recurring theme among the allottees, including those who have laid a claim and paid up the first installment. “It’s beyond my comprehension why they had to make the allottment in the thick of the lockdown,” said Satvashila Bhosale, a domestic worker who stays in Yerwada area. “My husband who worked in a Titan shop lost his job during the lockdown and now banks are refusing to give us a loan. We are in a big trouble since we don’t want to lose the money we have already paid,” she said.

To help the allottees secure a bank loan, the PMC has set up home-loan stalls in its premises where housing finance companies and loan consultancies are guiding the allottees with loan procedure and accepting applications if they find them eligible. “Problem with most of the allottees is that they already have borrowed from banks and have unpaid loans on their accounts. Most have very poor credit history. In fact, some of them availed personal loans to pay the first installment for PMAY home which reflects poorly on their financial health. This makes them very weak loan candidates,” said a DSA (direct selling agent) present at the spot.

Rokade said that the PMAY(U) cell at PMC is learning from its mistakes earlier and the future AHP projects (five of them are being planned) will take into accounts the issues faced by the allottees and make the allottment process quicker and more accessible to the EWS families.

Grocers miss what readers didn’t during the lockdown: the printed newspaper

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.

Newspaper raddi is widely used as a convenient and cheap packaging material by grocers and snack-sellers.  (Photo: Atikh Rashid)

ATIKH RASHID

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 the shortage 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

Once the newspaper starts circulating as scrap, it acquires a life of its own. The peculiar logic of printed information unintentionally passed from one hand to another is adeptly manipulated in cinema where it often becomes a device to deliver plot-twists. For instance, in Gadar-Ek Prem Katha (2001), Sakina accidentally comes across a scrap paper informing her of father’s wellbeing across the border in Pakistan. 

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. 

In Maharashtra interiors, farmers hit by fast spreading cattle virus

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.

The virus strain currently active in Maharashtra is said to have about 20 per cent morbidity and about 1 per cent mortality rate. ( Photo by Hasib Shaikh)

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.

Misinformation Epidemic: Conspiracy theories, social media hoaxes keep suspcted COVID19 patients in Parbhani away from doctors

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.

ATIKH RASHID

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.

Misinformation epidemic

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.

Misinformation and rumours propagated through social media is proving to be a big headache for health workers in the interiors. (Photo: Atikh Rashid)

“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.

Amid Mission Begin Again, Marathwada feels the lockdown heat as cases surge

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.

First Covid-19 positive case was detected in Pathri, a town of about 40,000 in Parbhani District, on Saturday following which civic employees sealed the locality. (Credit: Shaikh Haseeb)

ATIKH RASHID

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.

Migrant workers gone, Pune Metro grapples with shortage of labourers; work speed down to 20 %

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?

Like at all other sites, work at Swargate site of Pune Metro work has slowed down with the departure of migrant workers. Credit: Ashish Kale. (Express photo: Ashish Kale)

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.

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)

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.

If we don’t get food, we will leave for home again, say migrant labourers stranded in Pune

Around 150 people – comprising migrant labourers from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, started their long journey home, about 1,000 km away, on foot, They were, however, intercepted by Pune police only two hours after their journey.

ATIKH RASHID

A group of around 150 people — comprising migrant labourers and their families, staying in and around Katraj area of Pune and natives of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, started their journey home, about 1,000 km away, on foot. Their journey was, however, cut short by the police even before they could cross the city limits Wednesday morning. They had walked for two hours carrying just the bare minimum needed for the journey, when, around 3.30 am, the police stopped them and gave them two options: either go back to their rented houses in Katraj, or stay in a government shelter for migrants.

There are 60-70 families of migrant daily wagers from Damoh and Jabalpur districts in MP and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh who stay in tin-houses in Babaji Nagar, Anjali Nagar, Sachhai Mata Mandir, Sund Mata Mandir localities of Pune near Katraj and Wadgaon Budruk areas.

Most of the daily wagers had arrived in Pune two-three months prior to the announcement of the nationwide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. They said whatever money or saving they had was exhausted. They said they were largely dependent on food packets being distributed by social workers in the area and that no help has been offered to them from the government.

“The food packets distributed are not enough for us. They give one small packet each for adults and kids. We couldn’t go on like that and hence decided that since the 21-day lockdown was to close on April 14, we will leave that evening to go home on foot as we didn’t have money for fare,” said Chhote Lal, a labourer in his 40s. They said they were not aware that the lockdown has been extended till May 3.

Guddu Pal, another daily wager, said that after the police intercepted them they had no option but to return. “They had taken us to a school in Kondhwa where there was no space. They asked us to stay in the open. We decided to return here,” says Pal. According to him, the police had promised them that they would be provided food twice a day and would be given no reason to complain.

“We didn’t leave for fun. We prepared ourselves and our kids to walk 1,000 km because we are suffering. If we don’t get enough food, we will leave again,” said Pal, patting his belly, adding, “Even if that means getting beaten up by the police.”

One of the women brought out a food packet she had saved to eat later to show the size of the helping. “This is how much we get per person. Is this enough for even a small child?” she asked.

The younger labourers said they were aware that the lockdown is on but felt they couldn’t continue to stay on in Pune as they were facing trouble getting food and there was no end to the lockdown in sight. “Can you tell for sure that lockdown will end on May 3?” asked Bhagchandra Pal, who hails from Damoh, MP. “We left our homes to earn some money. We can’t work now and don’t have enough to eat and don’t know when things will normalise. So what’s the point of continuing to live here like this!” Pal said they had estimated that they will reach home in 15 days if they walked only during the nights (to escape heat).

Police Inspector Vinayak Gaikwad, in-charge of Kondhwa police station, detailed how the police spotted the group. “When they had reached Khadi Machine Chowk, our team stopped them around 3.30 am, about two hours after they had started from Katraj. We convinced them that there was no way they could be allowed to head for their native places and that arrangements for their food and shelter will be made by the government. They were taken to Darekar School in Kondhwa, which is a designated shelter camp. But they said they will prefer to go back to their homes in Pune.”

‘Green Maharashtra’ initiative: 38 out of 59 participating govt agencies fail to submit survival report for a single sapling

According to the plan, the survival reports of seedlings planted between July 1 and September 30 last year were to be uploaded to the portal launched by the state Forest department to monitor the drive.

ATIKH RASHID

FIVE months after the erstwhile government headed by Devendra Fadnavis announced achieving its goal of planting 33 crore saplings in the state within three months, 38 out of total 59 government agencies that were involved in the drive have not submitted sapling survival reports.

According to the programme, the survival reports of seedlings planted between July 1 and September 30 last year were to be uploaded to the portal launched by the state Forest department to monitor the drive. These 38 agencies had reported to have planted 5.5 crore saplings during the drive but were silent on whether these survived.

In case of 14 other departments, survival reports have come from only three out of the total 36 districts.

Only Social Forestry, Forest department (Territorial), Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra and Forest Wildlife Department have diligently reported survival numbers on the portal. According to the portal, a total of 34.47 crore saplings were planted as part of the Green Maharashtra drive last year, of which 15.68 crore have been reported to have survived. Most of these were those planted by forest agencies.

The non-Forest agencies — mostly state government, central government and local body offices, which had planted a total of 16.97 crore saplings — have submitted survival reports for only 3.41 lakh saplings, leaving the fate of the rest (16.94 core) to imagination.

In 2016, the state government had launched the ‘Green Maharashtra’ drive under the leadership of then forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, with an aim to plant 50 crore trees across the state. The previous government claimed it planted 19 crore saplings between 2016 and 2018 and then additional 33 crore between July 1 and September 30, 2019.

To monitor planning and implementation of the campaign, a special portal was created to upload plantation numbers, photographic and videographic evidence of plantation drive as well as survival reports after conducting inspection in October and May every year.

As The Indian Express earlier reported, the non-forest agencies, which were reluctant to take part in the humongous drive stating they neither had expertise nor financial resources to do so, had claimed to have achieved plantation targets, but in a majority of instances had not uploaded the photographic evidence.

The portal shows that although gram panchayats reportedly planted 8.64 crore saplings during the drive, survival reports have been submitted only for 2,46,226 in Chandrapur district. Gram panchayats from no other district have submitted their reports. Similarly, the state Agriculture department had claimed to have planted 1.9 crore saplings. But positive survival reports have been submitted only by one gram panchayat (Mhatroli) in Alibaug taluka of Raigad District for 340 saplings.

While Vivek Khandekar, chief conservator of forest (Pune), did not comment on the issue, other officials said the forest department had no mandate to force compliance from non-forest agencies. “You would see that most of non-compliance is from non-forest agencies and we can’t do anything about it,” said an official.

All hat, no cattle: Goa promise to build IFFI Village before 50th edition still on paper

Over the last few years, the state’s successive chief ministers have been promising to ready ‘IFFI Village’ before November 2019 when the 50th edition of the festival is scheduled. Information obtained by The Indian Express using RTI shows that there has been little progress on ground.

ATIKH RASHID

FIVE years after it announced a plan to build a permanent complex to host the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and with the event’s golden jubilee just a few weeks away, the Goa government is yet to award a contract for the Rs 1,100-crore ‘IFFI Village’ project, according to information received by The Indian Express in response to an RTI query.

Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), the state government body which is a co-organiser of IFFI and has recently been entrusted with the IFFI Village project after another government body (EDC Limited) failed to make significant progress, has said it can start work on the project only after IFFI is over.

Over the last few years, the state’s successive chief ministers have been promising to ready ‘IFFI Village’ before November 2019 when the 50th edition of the festival is scheduled.

While organisers have said they are expecting over 10,000 delegates for IFFI’s golden jubilee edition, it’s not clear where they will be accommodated as the existing infrastructure has a capacity of 2500. Also, the availability of the biggest venue, Kala Academy, has come under a cloud due to structural issues. The state government is now looking at the possibility of hiring single-screen theatres near the venue.

The 50 acre plot allotted for the project in March 2016 has seen no work since.
IFFI Village, a convention centre planned to be built on DBFOT basis (Design, Build, Finance, Operate, Transfer), was touted to end the trouble delegates go through due to inadequate seating capacity.

The 50 acre plot allotted for the project in March 2016 has seen no work since

IFFI, the oldest film festival in Asia, started in 1952. Until 2003, it was hosted by different cities every year. It finally found a home in Goa after the festival was organised there in 2004. Goa was made IFFI’s permanent host in 2014 and as per an MoU signed between I&B Ministry and the state government, one of the key responsibilities of Goa government was to “develop and construct a permanent festival venue having a seating capacity for around 12,000 delegates/invitees and other support facilities for organizing opening and closing functions including film screenings”.

Soon after a permanent venue was announced, the Goa government said potential locations for ‘a new convention centre to host IFFI’ have been identified. On March 31, 2016, the state cabinet allotted a 50-acre plot in Dona Paula. In September 2017, then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar appointed EDC Limited, a state government undertaking, as a special purpose vehicle for the project and set IFFI 2019 as the deadline.

Documents inspected show there has been little progress since.

The request for proposal for the project was prepared only in December 2018 and presented before the ‘Empowered Committee’ headed by then CM Parrikar. A tender inviting bids was floated on January 28, 2019, only to realise that there was a legal glitch in the contract as the state’s Additional Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni pointed out that in the current format, the government may end up losing ownership of the land to the prospective concessionaire. This led to issuance of several corrigenda — six till July 2019 — with the last one pegging the bid opening date at October 28, weeks before the 50th IFFI.

In September, the Empowered Committee under current CM Pramod Sawant decided to take away the project from EDC Limited and hand it over to ESG, the government body set up for organising IFFI in coordination with Directorate of Film Festivals, Government of India. This led to EDC withdrawing the request for proposal.

As per the request for proposal, the project is to be undertaken in two parts — the first comprising mandatory deliverables such as theatres to screen films, multi-level car parking and other facilities. The second includes setting up commercial buildings such as hotels. While the first part is expected to require an investment of Rs 350 crore, the second is estimated to cost Rs 750 crore.

The project plan includes a total of 11 auditoria in the ‘IFFI village’ with a total capacity of 8600 seats which will comprise of one large multipurpose hall of 6000 square meter area with a capacity to host 5000 persons, a multiplex with six multipurpose auditoria having a total 1500 seats, one large cinema theatre with 1000 seats, another theatre with 500 seats, two more with 250 seats each and a virtual reality (VR) cinema hall with a capacity to host 100 persons.

At present, IFFI infrastructure in Goa has a cumulative seating capacity of just 2,539 seats at three venues namely Kala Academy, Inox Multiplex and Maquinez Palace. With an average of over 5000 delegates registering every year to attend the biggest film festival in India, this often causes a lot of trouble, disappointments and ruckus during the event as delegates have to wait in long queues to get into the threatres. Kiran Ballikar, Managing Director of EDC Limited said, “It has been decided by the empowered committee to hand over the project to ESG. They will take the project ahead.”

Subhash Phal Dessai, BJP MLA and Vice-Chairman of Entertainment of Society of Goa (ESG) which is responsible for logistical side of IFFI, said that the delay has been caused due to EDC’s lack of experience in handling such projects.

“The state government asked EDC to implement the project as ESG was seen as a cultural organisation with no expertise to implement such a big project of over Rs 1000 crore. However, EDC is a financial institution and also doesn’t have the relevant experience to implement such a project which is essentially a construction project. They don’t have a team of engineers. This lack of competence and interest in the project on part of EDC has delayed it,” said Phal Dessai.

He said that the ESG is presently busy in oganising the 50th IFFI and any work on ‘IFFI village’ project will only be done after the festival is over.

When asked about the plans to deal with problems that organisers may face due to delay in completion of ‘IFFI village project’ and additional footfall of delegates and invitees that 50th IFFI is expected to attract, Phal Dessai said that ESG is planning to increase auditoriums to accommodate more delegates.

“We are in touch with three additional theatres and if the need arises we may use them as well during IFFI 2019. Of these, two are close to the existing venue and one is slightly far. We will make a decision regarding engaging these for IFFI in future meetings of the steering committee. Although there are some structural issues with Kala Academy, the Chief Minister has reviewed the situation and we will ensure that it’s safe enough to host IFFI screenings,” said Phal Dessai.