Among the migrant workers who suffered the most during the Covid-19 lockdown were the lakhs employed in Bhiwandi’s power looms. Despite the unlocking, the workers who have returned to Bhiwandi are worried since demand for cloth is yet to return to normalcy.
The workers had gone back to their hometowns and villages after the lockdown was announced in March 2020. By November, they started trickling back to Bhiwandi on the limited trains or after their companies arranged private vehicles for their transport.
Bhiwandi, known as the power loom city, has around 6 lakh such units, besides ancillary sectors involved in sizing, dyeing, stitching, cloth processing and yarn selling, and together these employ more than 10 lakh people.
Ashish Chaudhary (35), a migrant employed in a power loom unit in the Padma Nagar area of Bhiwandi for 12 years, said he had never seen as much “damage” as during the Covid crisis.
He said he now receives “70% to 80%” of his salary and is worried about his job in case demand for cloth does not rise in the near future. Chaudhary said like most other workers in the city, his wife and children are back in his village. He lives alone in Bhiwandi.
On the other hand, Gopi Chand, another migrant, said for the first time in 12 years he was forced to send his wife and children back to their village in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, in October last year. Chand said though he misses his family, he does not want to risk bringing them back due to the rising Covid cases.
Among the migrants is a 19-year-old Kapil Dev who had arrived from Uttar Pradesh in January last year for his first job but had to return just months later. Dev recently came back to Mumbai, but soon, as cases began to rise, booked a return ticket for March 23 for UP. “I have cancelled it now since the government has not imposed another lockdown,” he said.
Meanwhile, power loom units are battling their own problems. Viren Singh, who runs a unit in Padma Nagar, said, “When the state government gave us permission to restart our units, I spent Rs 35,000 to bring back seven workers. But my orders have reduced. We are paying workers from our pockets in the hope that in future demand will improve.”
Sharadram Shejpal, spokesperson of Bhiwandi Power Loom Association, said, “Demand for cloth is only 40% of what it was earlier. To overcome the situation, the government must resolve long-pending demands of the power loom and related industries, such as controlling prices of yarn and providing power subsidy to sectors such sizing and dyeing.”
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