The sight of thousands of migrants walking home on rail tracks or cycling their way on the highways in the scorching summer with their minimal belongings has moved all.
While 2,818 Shramik Special trains were pressed into service by the railways to ferry over 37 lakh migrants and construction workers since May 1 throughout the country (and more still on the way), it is anybody’s guess what forced them to leave their host states.
When it comes to Telangana state, chief secretary Somesh Kumar has been quoted by the media saying that the government has facilitated the travel of 1.70 lakh migrants through 128 special trains as on May 23.
Stop the Exodus
In a mass pandemic like Covid-19, the trust, assurance of economic security, and safety must take precedence.
This is possible when their basic needs are taken care of by their employers at worksites that will go a long way in dissuading them from the exodus.
Though providing them food and free train rides to their native states sound humanitarian, failed steps that force them to migrate during lockdown relaxation period would only prolong the real estate market crisis in the long run.
In fact, V Rajasekhar Reddy, general secretary, Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), Telangana chapter has underscored the risk factors posed by migrants on the move.
“When they come back to work after a month or two, we do not know if they would carry the virus,” he is quoted as saying in media reports.
There’s truth in it as recent Telangana experience with migrants returning to their home state during lockdown has shown.
It turns out that over 118 migrants – who returned to Telangana from Covid-19 hotspot states like Maharashtra – have tested positive for coronavirus by 22 May.
The daily bulletin released by the Director of Public Health and Family Welfare, Telangana shows that the spate of migrants returning to Hyderabad having tested positive is only increasing by the day.
Rs 45,000 crores at stake
There is more reason for builders and developers in Hyderabad to prevent the exodus as it is estimated that Rs 45,000 crore worth of projects are now at stake.
This may only get aggravated if there is a severe shortage of skilled and unskilled construction workers in the coming days.
One way that can enable the Hyderabad real estate market to overcome the Covid-19 labor exodus is when the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare (BOCW) Cess Act, 1996 rules are implemented in letter and spirit.
Known to be a pro-labor law, BOCW makes it mandatory for every employer using skilled and unskilled workers to pay a cess of 1% of the cost of construction to the government.
In Telangana, these funds are collected by the Telangana Building and Other Construction Workers (TBOCW) Welfare Board. The collected are supposed to be utilized for the welfare of the construction workers for a wide gamut of purposes.
These welfare schemes include marriage gifts, maternity benefits, fatal accident relief, disability relief, disability aids and appliances, natural death relief, hospitalization relief, funeral expenses, and skill development training.
The benefits – which also include meeting natural calamities and exigencies like the Covid-19 pandemic – have to be passed on to the construction workers registered with TBOCW Welfare Board as per law.
In all, around 14 lakh workers are registered with the TBOCW Welfare Board, which has already started rolling out several relief measures to help them battle the Covid-19 crisis.
This includes its Rs 936 crores contribution to the Telangana government for providing Rs 1500 cash benefits and 12 kg rice for registered workers at work sites.
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) too used TBOCW Welfare Board funds to provide Rs 5 meals at select work sites for construction workers in Hyderabad.
When the TBOCW Welfare Board has enough funds to take care of registered construction workers, the Hyderabad real estate market stakeholders need to act together to ensure all the benefits reach out to them at the ground level.
It will go a long way if the real estate builders in Hyderabad travel the extra mile to make construction workers aware of their rights under BOCW Cess Act, 1996, and extend economic and moral support in this hour of crisis.
By: Prabeer Sikdar