Video Editors: Abhishek Sharma, Sandeep Suman
"Khurja was one such city in Uttar Pradesh that provided employment to not just UP but also to Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam. Today, Khurja is in a miserable state itself, looking at other cities in the hope of some jobs, some support," said Abrar Ahmad, a ceramic factory owner in Bulandhshar district's Khurja city.
Khurja is one of Asia's largest, and India's oldest ceramic industries hub that also employs thousands of migrant labourers from across the country.
This industry is now struggling for survival. Factories are now shutting down and labourers have no work. We spoke to people in the market to understand the challenges they have been facing, with no government support, especially after the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
The first massive blow to the health of the industry was demonetisation in 2016. This was followed by the 2017 implementation of GST that troubled workers and small factory owners. The industry had barely begun to recover from this shock when the COVID-enforced lockdown hit in March 2020, and shut business after business.
"A majority of workers working in our factories were from nearby cities, villages and other states like Bihar and West Bengal. When they failed to get any work here and earn any money, they went back to their villages. Now this is another big problem we are dealing with. How do we work?"said Shadab Ahmad, ceramic factory owner, Khurja, Bulandshahr.
Factory owners who would pay their employees their dues every ten days haven't been able to pay them for over four months now. They say they can only pay their employees when they receive any money from the market, which has either been shut or in heavy losses. "When we are at the verge of shutting our own shop, how do we pay anyone," asks Shadab Ahamd.
High inflation has increased the production costs while the sales have plummeted. "CNG, needed to bake ceramic products, was Rs 30/litre earlier and has now gone up to Rs 90/litre. When our input cost increases. we have to increase the price of our goods. And the moment we do that, there are no buyers left," said Shadab Ahmad.
As a result, most of those who work in the industry are not even left with enough money to pay for proper meals for the family, or for hospital treatments and medicines. Under such conditions, even children's education has suffered, as it is now a luxury that many can't afford.