Telangana loses its hands of toil as migrant workers go home

The state government had arranged 40 special trains per day to facilitate the return of migrant labourers to their native places

According to Telangana Rice Millers Association, almost 2,200 rice mills in Telangana depend on migrant workers for their labour requirements.

The return of migrant labourers to their respective home states has cast a shadow over multiple sectors in Telangana which is staring at severe shortage of workforce.

Migrant workers are integral to Telangana’s economy.

They account for over 90 per cent of workers engaged in milling operations at rice mills, 80 per cent of the total workforce in real estate and construction sectors and 60 per cent of those engaged in cement, steel, mining, brick kiln, stone cutting and polishing industries.

The migrants dominate the workforce in myriad sectors, be it hamalis from Bihar who are engaged in loading and unloading the harvested paddy and other produce at mills and godowns or migrant workers from Maharasthra and Odisha who pick red chilies in Warangal and Khammam districts or workers from Punjab employed in dairy and poultry farms.

The guest workers from states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha also work as plumbers, electricians, stone cutters, painters, carpenters, and stewards.

According to Telangana Rice Millers Association, almost 2,200 rice mills in Telangana depend on migrant workers for their labour requirements.

Of the four lakh-odd stranded migrant workers in Telangana following imposition of lockdown, over two lakh were engaged in the real estate sector and other construction activities.

The state government had arranged 40 special trains per day to facilitate their return to their native places.

Realty sector bears brunt

With a majority of migrant workers returning to their native places by special Shramik trains, a question mark hangs over the ₹45,000 crore worth real estate projects being in the works in and around Hyderabad.

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The builders are worried that the shortage of labour could delay their projects, leading to escalation of costs of both residential and commercial projects.

Similarly, over 2,200 rice mills across the state find themselves in a crisis. In normal times, nearly 50,000 hamalis from Bihar are engaged in loading and unloading of paddy and rice, ensuring the smooth functioning of the procurement and milling operations.

A majority of the migrants from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had approached the local administration, saying they wanted to return to their hometowns. The state government has arranged 40 special trains daily to facilitate their travel back home.

The real estate industry in Hyderabad, which saw a boom over the last year, is feeling the heat due to the return of the migrant labourers to their respective native places.

“Over 80 per cent of the workforce in the real estate sector comprises migrant workers, particularly from Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Rajasthan and MP. This en masse exodus of the workers will hamper the projects, especially those that are in the final stages of construction and more so, as the construction activities have just resumed after weeks of lockdown restrictions,” said V.Rajasekhar Reddy, general secretary of the Telangana chapter of Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), Telangana chapter.

He blamed the Centre for its hasty move in allowing migrant labourers to return to their native places amid lockdown restrictions that are still in place in some parts of the country. “It’s a risky business for everybody. We don’t know whether and when they would come back to resume work,” Reddy said.

Meanwhile, Telangana Real Estate Developers Association (TREDA) has estimated that projects, both residential and commercial, measuring around 300 million square feet, are being held up in and around Hyderabad.

Assuming that the average basic construction cost is around Rs 1,500 per square feet, around ₹45,000 crore is locked up in these unfinished projects, says R.Chalapathi Rao, president of TREDA.

C.Sekhar Reddy, convener for infrastructure and real estate wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Telangana chapter, however, pointed out that real estate ventures that are in the initial stages of completion would be hit the hardest.

“The builder will suffer massive losses due to lack of manpower, escalating input costs such as steel, cement and other materials and also an acute fund crunch,” he said.

Rao hopes that even if 50 per cent of the migrant labourers return after two months, normalcy will be restored in the real estate sector.

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“We can pool in skilled manpower from the National Academy of Construction and engage local labourers in the interim, apart from adopting the latest technology. We are hopeful that the sector will regain normalcy and buoyancy within the next six months,” the TREDA president added.

Impact on industrial sector

“Nearly 60 per cent of the workforce in the industrial sector comprise migrants working in steel, metal, induction furnace, plastic, brick kiln, cement, mining, stone cutting and polishing industries. This will be badly affected because of labour shortage,” said Ramakanth Inani, senior vice-president, Federation of Telangana Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

It would be a daunting task for the industry to retain the workforce by offering special incentives.

Over 70 per cent of over 50,000 workers from Bihar who are engaged in loading and unloading operations at rice mills have returned to their home state. However, about 5,000 have since returned to take up their jobs.

“The government has appointed a senior IAS officer to coordinate with the Bihar authorities to arrange for their travel,” an official of the Civil Supplies Department said. This is the peak season for paddy procurement and milling.

“Some of the jobs in rural areas are well-paying. For instance, the youth from Punjab come to villages here from February to June to operate mechanical harvesters and repair them and make anywhere between ₹1 lakh and ₹1.5 lakh during the period,” the vice-chairman of the state planning board B.Vinod Kumar said.

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There are an estimated 6.47 lakh migrant workers in the State. Soon after imposition of the lockdown, the government announced 12 kg of rice and ₹500 in cash to each migrant worker.

Policy on migrants

The coronavirus-induced lockdown has brought to fore the crisis of migrant workers across the country. “The time has come for political leaders and policymakers to draw lessons from the situation and revisit the policies to focus big time on training youth in vocational skills,” Vinod Kumar said.

“The migrant workers have not only filled the urban labour vacuum but also penetrated the rural Telangana in significant numbers taking up even farm-related jobs,” he said.

It is time for the governments to sensitise the society and emphasise on dignity of labour and empowering the youth with vocational skills, the planning board chief said.

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