Unable to Pay Salaries, Okhla Industrialists Scared to Open Shop

“When we have no income sources how are we supposed to pay salaries,” an industrialist told The Quint.

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“When the lockdown was announced on 22 March, they said that for the sake of humanity we should pay our workers salary up to 31 March.  A notification was also issued. We gave it. However, since April we have had no income source. So how will we give them salaries? ,” Amit Chawla, who owns a printing press in Okhla, told The Quint.

In a discussion regarding why most industries in Okhla are still shut despite the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines that allowed for industries to open if they followed prescribed guidelines, we interviewed industry owners and representatives in Delhi’s Okhla industrial zone and found that the biggest barrier to opening under lockdown was confusion.

The lanes of Okhla, generally buzzing with activity all the time are not silent.
The lanes of Okhla, generally buzzing with activity all the time are not silent.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

“So the 4 May guidelines that have come from the Ministry of Home Affairs and have been given to us by the Delhi government, it is not clear if we can resume work in our factories or not. Another issue is, that the guidelines issued by the MHA were of 11 points, but the South West district magistrate issued guidelines of 36 points. Similarly, the North Delhi magistrate has issued guidelines of 33 points. We are not able to understand that if each sub-divisional magistrate keeps issuing their own version of the guidelines, then it will get very difficult for us,” Chairman of Okhla Chamber of Industries Arun Popli said.

‘How Do We Pay Salaries?”

Elaborating on the issue Popli said, “Some people who could give salaries are giving. However, there are many factory owners who already have a loan from the bank of Rs 1 crore, Rs 50 lakh or Rs 2 crore. Now the government has told them to pay salaries, but where will they pay this salary from? This no one is telling us.”

Vijay Goel, who works in the essential services, as his company provides material to pathology labs said, “We paid our salaries up to March, but considering the situation we will not be able to pay any more salaries.”

Similarly, Mukesh Gupta, who work in the ready-made garments industry said that it was very hard for him to pay salaries. “It is very hard for us to pay salaries. We have paid salaries for March and are trying to see how we can help the labourers for April and onwards,” he said.

Industrialists complain that they can not afford to pay salaries to workers when they have had no earnings.
Industrialists complain that they can not afford to pay salaries to workers when they have had no earnings.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Scared of an FIR Being Slapped Against Them

Another big issue for them is the fear of having an FIR slapped against them.

“ I provide report papers for pathology laboratories, which is an essential item. I am not able to resume my operations as the government guidelines are very strict that if there is someone with COVID-19 in our factory, then there will be an FIR registered against the owner of the company and everyone be sent to isolation. I do not want to do that and hence I have not started work,” Vijay Goel said.

Amit Chawla, who has attended the meeting of Delhi Industries Minister Satyendra Jain, asked this pressing query during a zoom call. “We also asked that if we start our factory and one of our workers contracts COVID-19, then what action will be taken against us. Will there be an FIR or will the factory be sealed, or will there be a case lodged against us? Regarding that as well there was no clarity on the subject,” he said. Chawla works at a printing press in Okhla.

Popli said there must be safeguards as industrialists were taking huge risks to open their factories.

‘Unfeasible to Provide Labour Stay and Food’

Industrialists complained that they are not only scared of an FIR being slapped against them but also about how they will provide shelter and food to the labourers.
Industrialists complained that they are not only scared of an FIR being slapped against them but also about how they will provide shelter and food to the labourers.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Speaking about the ability to provide labour stay and food, Gupta said, “When we talk about Okhla, our factories are very small. Covering an area of 100 yards, 200 yards or 500 yards. Where is the place for us to keep labour inside these premises? In what manner will we keep them we are not able to understand.” Popli said that even if factory owners could provide this it would raise their costs. “If costs increase, we will not be able to sell our products. It will be very hard to afford these expenses,” he said.

Goel said he had tried to reach out to the labourers but they did not agree to moving in. “They are saying we will daily move in and out of our homes. They are complaining about not being able to meet their families. What do we do in this situation?,” he said.

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