Gurugram, the glitzy neighbour city of Delhi known for its expensive condos and villas, is facing a crisis as the surrounding villages and low-cost housing societies, and even the mid-end private guest houses are lying vacant since migrants and business visitors have fled the ‘millennium city’ due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown.
Dharambir Singh, a resident of Dundahera village in Gurugram, said he had rented all his 10 rooms to labourers, and the fixed monthly rental was a good source of income for him. Based on this, he planned his monthly expenditures, like school fees of his children, ration, milk, conveyance, newspapers, and entertainment, besides other expenditures.
Dundahera shares its boundaries with Delhi near Kapashera on one side, and with Udyog Vihar, an industrial township of the city, on the other.
All was well almost till April end as he had been helping the workers out of his own pockets by providing them food – sometimes dry ration and cooked as well. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs had extended the lockdown from May 3 to 17, and announced that it would provide transports to ferry the migrant workers willing to return home by buses and trains.
“After this news that the government will provide them transport free of cost and they can go home, they became restless and were unable to control their desire to reach home as early as possible. The government’s decision in this regard filled their inside with fear – they could lose jobs, COVID-19 is deadly infection and their dependency for food on others,” said Singh. “This is harsh reality and we landlords are now facing its adverse impact.”
Of the 10 rooms owned by Singh, seven are lying vacant since May 3 as the tenant-cum-labourers had left for their home-states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Two of the tenants had informed Singh before vacating, while five others didn’t and, had fled, locking the rooms, in his absence.
Singh said the average size of his rooms was 10 by 12 sq ft, and their rental value was ₹3,000 per room per month. It is a huge and direct loss of ₹21,000 that he suffered in May, and uncertainty still looms large of the returning of these labourers, who had left their rooms locked, uninformed.
“I am in touch with them. But how will they return as trains are still not running as usual, and their jobs still uncertain. I cannot break the locks in their absence as they can lodge police complaints. Police are strict against landlords during the lockdown,” said Singh.
“If I ask for rent for April and May, or if I break the locks, I will have to face police action as per the order of the local administration,” said Singh.
Dundahera houses nearly one lakh labourers and its proximity to Udyog Vihar makes commuting easy for the workers.
Bhim Singh, another landlord in the village, said around half of the rooms in the village are currently vacant. “There is no exact survey, but we can say, for sure, that 50 to 60 per cent rooms are vacant currently in the village, and the exodus of labourers has hit our fixed monthly income from the rents,” he said.
“In April, we landlords spent a good amount on helping them, to convince them to stay here, but May 3 onwards, they began fleeing the city. Besides the money we spent on providing them with food, we also compromised with the rents for April and May. And now, there are no takers of our rooms,” he added.
Gurugram is the economic capital of Haryana. The state earns more than 50 per cent of its revenue from this millennium city which houses 250 Fortune 500 companies, and an odd 11,000 industries – mostly the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). It is the automobile hub of north India, and over half of the country’s garment sales take place from this township.
Animesh Saxena, president of the Federation of Indian MSMEs, said the exodus of labourers had badly affected the garment and automobile industries.
“We are trying our best to call them back. More than 70 to 80 per cent labourers engaged in industries and corporate offices in the city hail from states outside Haryana, and they are the lifeline of industries and a good source of income for the landlords as well,” he said.
Dundahera, Maulahera, Chauma, Rajiv Nagar, Narsinghpur, Kasan, Manesar, Muhammedpur, Jharsa, Naurangpur, Garhi Harsaru and many other villages have a huge concentration of labourers who stacked themselves — at least three to four of them — in one 10X12 room and share the rent.
Like Dharambir Singh and Bhim Singh, landlords across the city who are facing such situation, are now lowering the rents by ₹500 to ₹1,000, depending on the size of the rooms. “That is the only option available to us,” said Ashok Kumar of Maulahera village.
“Many landlords have put out boards outside the buildings and at places, to lure the workers currently living in Kapashera, Bijwasan, Samalkha (all in Delhi) and working in Gurugram factories,” said Kumar.
Manesar houses an odd 2,000 industries and the labourers or employees engaged in these units live in PGs at Sector 1, Manesar, and nearby villages.
Shashi Pal Singh, president of the residents’ welfare association (RWA), Sector 1, Manesar, said there are more than 200 PGs in this sector, and over 70 per cent of them are lying vacant. “The tenants did not pay rent for two months and fled for their homes. Most of the PGs were leased out to Oyo by the house owners. For many house owners, income from renting was the only source of livelihood, and now, many of them are reducing the rental value,” he said.
Gurugram’s proximity to the national capital and the international airport earned it the tag of ‘millennium city’, prompting the top MNCs of the world to step up their offices here, and make way for the skyscraper buildings, which led to job opportunities in the city.
As per the labour welfare fund data, around 12.27 lakh labourers are working in Gurugram, which is marginally a huge figure, and it is perhaps one of the most concentrated cities in India in terms of employment of workers, said a welfare official.
Sombir, a resident of Manesar village, said, “Labourers’ exodus in large number during the lockdown has caused irreparable damage to landlords, mainly whose income was only from rent.”
The Haryana government’s online portal registered more than five lakh migrant workers willing to return to their home-states May 3 onwards.
“The migrant workers are the real asset of industry. They live in villages on rent around the factory units, and they buy their daily needs from grocery shops. After their departure, we all have been badly affected. We initiated a drive to stop them in May end, but it was too late. The pandemic has devastated the landlords and industry owners equally,” said Pawan Yadav, president of the IMT industry association, Manesar.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his deputy, Dushyant Chautala, had appealed to the migrant workers to stay back, and not leave in fear and uncertainty.
“We repeatedly appealed to the migrant workers, assuring them that our government is capable to take care of their livelihoods, their jobs and their safety from COVID-19. Their exodus is a huge loss to the state,” said Chautala.