The unavailability of train tickets is preventing construction workers from going back to their workplaces.
Arpan Roy, a civil contractor from West Bengal, informed The Observer: “Site managers are calling now and then, but the unavailability of tickets is making it difficult for labourers to travel.”
Along with his 30 workers, Roy returned home in May from a construction site at Hubli by a Shramik Special train. All his workers have been jobless since then. “I have been trying to arrange tickets for the past one and a half months, but tickets are unavailable up till December.”
The Indian Railways initially suspended all its trains because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Later, they announced the resumption of 230 trains in the first phase and announced another set of 120 trains on September 1 to augment passenger services. But the demand for tickets is so high that most trains show a waiting list up to December-end on the IRCTC website.
Rahul Bauri, a construction worker from West Bengal, returned from his workplace nearly eight months ago. “Obviously, I need a job but this scramble for tickets has left me in a dilemma. Even if I reach the site somehow, I may have to return home any time as my wife is pregnant,” he shared. But he needs a job to take care of his family.
Mohd Izhar, a resident of Bihar’s Katihar district, has a team of approximately 300 steel fitters from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. But he is presently working with only 27 people at a site in Indore because he was unable to book tickets for all. “Two months ago, I made small groups and asked them to do several break journeys in tandem to reach Indore which amounted to an extra Rs 3,000 for each worker,” he said.
Prashanta Panda, a labourer from West Bengal, works under Roy as a concrete maker. Since his return, he has taken up jobs like farming and vegetable vending to earn money. Rest under a tree, he informed The Observer that all his savings have dried up. Working in a paddy field gives him just Rs 150-180 per day, which isn’t sufficient to run his family. “If I were there, I could have earned about Rs. 500 per day (including overtime). But there is no way until my contractor gets tickets.”
Civil contractor Chandan Patra said he returned home in West Bengal on February 25 after the completion of a project in Bhatinda. All his 60 labourers are jobless since then. “For the past two months, I have checked IRCTC’s website almost every day. It either shows accommodation unavailable or a few seats are available. Now I am thinking of dividing my team into small groups as per the availability.”
Achintya Bauri, who returned to West Bengal from a site in Bhatinda before the lockdown, said he is working in paddy fields to earn some money. His family members have got weary of his joblessness. “I have contacted the contractors several times. They said that sites are open in different cities but railway tickets are unavailable.”
Pavitra Kumar, an administrator of a site of Shapoorji Pallonji Engineering and Construction Company in Hyderabad, said they managed to get 1,000 workers in the past couple of months whereas they need at least 1,000 more to attain the same progress they had before the lockdown. “We are trying to mobilize workers from different rural areas by arranging buses for them,” Kumar said.
Subhash Chandra, an assistant supervisor of Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC), who is currently assigned to a site in Bhatinda, said they gathered labourers from different places by sending buses. The company had to pay a huge amount every trip.
Brajesh Kumar Mandal, a civil contractor from Madhepura district of Bihar, is working with 150 workers in Rajasthan under VRC Constructions Pvt Ltd. The site manager called him three months ago and asked him to gather labourers. “The company sent two buses to bring my workers here.”
Chandra said right now they do not need more workers at the Bhatinda site, but they will need a huge number of workers for their upcoming site in Indore. He hopes the railways will increase the number of trains by then.