How Do We Operate Without Workers? Ask Bhiwandi Power Loom Owners
No workers, steep power bills despite shut businesses: Lockdown hits Bhiwandi’s power loom sector hard.
About a month ago, when the Maharashtra government permitted power looms to reopen, the textile sector in the state heaved a sigh of relief. This especially spelled good news for Bhiwandi in the Thane district where lakhs of people depend on power loom units to earn a living. However, one month on, the Bhiwandi power loom industries are yet to recover from the COVID-19 lockdown.
“When the lockdown was imposed, about 30,000-35,000 units were running in Bhiwandi. Today, there’s hardly 1,500 to 2,000 industries running. Everything else has been shut. The biggest problem that people who are running operations are facing is that they are not receiving any payment, as a result, their goods are stuck. There’s a problem with public transport as well,” said power loom owner Hanif Nathan.
Jigar Savla and his family own about a 100 power looms. But due to the lockdown, business has dipped by almost 70 percent in the last three months.
“We own 100 power loom machineries. An average power loom unit which comprises 24 looms needs eight to nine workers to operate on machineries and one maintenance man and a checker for the unit to run smoothly. Since the lockdown, many migrant labourers chose to leave for their hometowns and show no signs of coming back in the near future. Our workforce has reduced to 30 percent and our production capacity has reduced to 30 percent as well.”Jigar Savla, Power Loom Owner
No Workers to Run the Power Looms
Since the lockdown was imposed in the last week of March 2020, lakhs of migrant have left Mumbai through various means. Some had no choice but to walk back hundreds of kilometres to their home states and others left by special trains arranged by the state.
Most of the workers operating the looms in Bhiwandi are migrants from the states of UP, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, and Karnataka. With looms out shut and no work in sight, a large section of this workforce chose to leave through special trains between April and May.
“My workers were waiting for two months and all of a sudden the government started trains for them to go back and they also started the industry. Everyone went back to their villages. Somehow, we managed to stop a few of them and right now the main difficulty is they are not ready to come back. It’s almost been one-and-a-half months. We are providing them transportation facilities but nobody is willing to work right now,” said power loom owner Harsh Haria.
Some workers, however, chose to stay back. For Neeraj Kumar Giri, who hails from Odisha, losing his job was not an option. With a family to take care of back home, Giri continues to work in Bhiwandi. “I don’t see too many workers here. My friends are at the village. They are scared to return. This is my only source of income. What will I do if I return home? I have been working here for eight years now.”
Guddu, who also works at a power loom industry in the area was one of the fortunate ones to leave the city and reach home before the lockdown was imposed. Guddu left for his hometown in Gorakhpur in February. But with no job or source of income in hand, he chose to return to Bhiwandi in June.
“I went back home in February but when I was supposed to return, the lockdown began. That’s why I couldn’t come back. My employer sent me a ticket and then I was able to return. This is my only source of income. I didn’t have the money to return but I came back after my employer paid me to come back.”Guddu, Power Loom Worker
‘Forced to Pay Power Bills During Lockdown’
Labour problems is not the only challenge, loom owners claim that they are forced to pay power bills despite no business activity during the lockdown.
“Billing charges are unjustified and extortionist to be charged to the consumers as there is a huge mismatch between demand and supplies. Pre-COVID-19, there was a drop of 22 percent in demand and post-COVID there is a drop of 50 percent in demand as we don’t see a rise in demand as early. The power companies charge us FSEs, TOD tariffs, everything. Which is not at all possible to maintain in this given scenario,” said power loom owner Hiren Nagda.
Loom owner Hanif Nathan requested the government to intervene in the matter.
“Steep power bills have been handed over to industries who are not able to pay for it. The government has not yet waived these bills. There has been no solution to this yet. We want the government to do something about this and at any cost, provide some relief to the power loom sector.”Hanif Nathan, Power Loom Owner
Already reeling from the blows of demonetisation in 2016 and GST in 2017, the textile sector appears to have been dealt a sucker punch by the lockdown. Some industry experts believe that the only way to revive the ailing textile units of Bhiwandi would be by setting up a textile park. This would help create jobs and boost the industry.
“Right now, textile industry can provide maximum jobs. That is what the economy needs and this way we can develop Bhiwandi’s textile industry also wherein we can bring a in a huge textile park where a lot of jobs can be created over the next two years and develop the textile industry along with it,” said Industry Expert Punit Khimasiya.
But for now, the focus is solely on survival.
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