‘We Won’t Last 21 Days,’ Rue B’luru Drivers, Daily-Wage Workers
“We have been told by the BBMP officials that we are not allowed to put up our stalls for the next 2 months. My earnings have come down to Rs 60 daily in March. I have a Rs 50,000 loan on my head too,” says 65-year-old Subbramani, a street vendor working near the Kadugodi bus stand, selling masala peanuts and other snacks.
Along with thousands of other unorganised workers in Bengaluru employed in the gig economy or self-employed, Subbramani has no idea where his next earning will come from. He is the sole breadwinner for his family of three, including a visually challenged spouse.
According to an interim report prepared by various labour unions on how Bengaluru workers are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, a Karnataka government survey of 2016 reportedly claimed that more than 70 percent of the workforce was from the informal sector while various reports stated that around 43 percent of Bengaluru’s population lived in ‘multi-dimensional’ poverty’.
With all commercial establishments and non-essential services out of business for the next three weeks at least amid COVID-19 pandemic, the future for a majority of unorganised workers in Bengaluru is uncertain.
Taking cognisance of the aforementioned report on food and income security of workers in Bangalore, Karnataka High Court on Thursday, directed the state government to look into it.
No Food, Crushing Debt & Rising Expenses
Kapil* (name changed) who has been working as a food delivery agent for the last 2 years, said that the number of trips had reduced from 25 per day to 1-2.
“The orders have totally dropped. We tried working but the delivery distance is too long as only a few places are open. Additionally, some of our boys are also getting targeted by police and abused. I live in Nagawara, and had to travel nearly 14-18 kms to deliver something to Shivajinagar. After spending on petrol, there is nothing left for us, the amount we get is not enough to get by,” he said, adding that on average, he was able to earn Rs 2,000 per day.
“All of us are discussing about how the orders have totally reduced. Even from the company, they are asking us to be safe about coronavirus but stepping out but we didn’t any masks for them, nor are we getting any ‘minimum guarantee’ for at least working the shift (sic),” he said.
Mary, a widowed construction labourer with four children, said that she had not gone to work in many weeks.
“Ever since this coronavirus has come, they told us not to come to work. One of my children is disabled, I used to carry her to my workplace everyday. I am not getting widow pension either. Without my earnings, there is nobody at all to care for them or me,” said the 30-year-old.
Ostracised and Ignored
“People are reluctant to give us work when they hear where we work. Only some of us get work, others don’t. Here, people are mainly auto drivers, or daily wage labourers including construction labour. Some of us are managing to buy things, but others are relying on the mercy of their neighbours,” she rued.
According to the interim report, while 87 percent mentioned some preventive methods, no respondent mentioned self-quarantine or home isolation in case a person develops similar symptoms. As many as 94 percent of the respondents said that no personnel from the state had reached out to them to provide information on dos and don’ts in crowded, poorly-serviced residential localities.
“Only the poor live here. Coronavirus has made our lives worse. People are not able to go out for work. People are worried that we may give them the virus, just because we are coming from outside. So apartment work is ruled out, auto drivers are also not having work. People are hesitant to even talk, much less travel by auto. Sometimes we get work, sometime we don’t. some of will live, some won’t (sic),” said Sagya Mary.
While income has dropped to zero for many of the workers, they still have to account for rent payment, buying ration, school fee and interest on informal loans.
A driver with a popular cab aggregating platform said that they had not got a trip in the last few days due to decreasing demand.
“The company told us that there is nothing they can do, as people are not taking cabs. Now, they have suspended the services. If you worked hard, you could make even Rs 30,000 per month, this month I have only earned Rs 6,000. How will I pay back the loan on the car which is almost Rs 16,000 per month?”Cab driver
Companies asking their employees to work from home, has caused a huge drop in demand for cabs and autos.
Chinraj, an auto driver, said that even if he and his family did not eat, loan sharks would not leave him alone. “Even if there is no money for food, we will have to pay up the interest. They won’t leave us alone,” he said.
Faizal* (name changed) has been selling socks out of his small shop outside St Mary’s Basilica in Shivajinagar for the last 20-odd years.
“The police did not let me set up the shop. From Sunday, there has been no business, actually there has been no crowd since 1 March itself. I have earned some Rs 300-400 this month, whereas I used to make over Rs 10,000 for my family of 11,” he said.
Commenting on PM Modi’s recent speech, Faizal said the PM should have thought about the plight of footpath vendors too while announcing the 21-day shutdown.
Will FM’s Package for the Poor Help?
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced a financial aid package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore to help India’s poorest and most vulnerable families through the coronavirus crisis.
However, activists were unimpressed with the allocation, adding that there was nothing in it for the urban poor, save free gas cylinders, Rs 1,000 for three months to the old, widowed and disabled, and Rs 500 for three months for women having Jan Dhan accounts.
“It will help marginally. But there is nothing else for the urban poor. How will people survive with Rs 500-1,000 for months? Even the CM’s allocations of rations is not enough. We need concrete steps and a s special task force,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, a member of the stret vendors’ association in Bengaluru.