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Migrants on the move, industry in Punjab stares at fresh trouble

May 02, 2020 05:43 AM


Migrants on the move, industry in Punjab stares at fresh trouble
EXODUS: Lakhs of migrant workers, who have kept state’s industrial engine running for decades, are preparing to return home as they have been without work for weeks and have run out of money

Of the 2.52 lakh registered industrial units in Punjab, only 1.65% have resumed production with limited capacity so far and several others are working on getting permissions to reopen. Gurpreet Singh/HT

Navneet Sharma & Aneesha Sareen Kumar

CHANDIGARH/LUDHIANA : Ravaged by the six-week long national lockdown, the industrial units in Punjab have been struggling to rev up after the Centre eased the restrictions to reduce economic pain.

Of the 2.52 lakh registered industrial units in the state, only 4,188 (1.65%) have resumed production with limited capacity so far and several others are working on getting permissions to reopen. But they are now headed for more trouble as lakhs of migrant workers, who have kept the industrial engine in the state running for decades, are preparing to return home to be with their families. The first clear indication of exodus of migrants, who have been without work for weeks and exhausted their meagre savings, was given by none other than chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh who on Thursday indicated that 10 lakh workers, including 7 lakh from Ludhiana alone, would need transport to go back to their home states. A majority of these workers are from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

The spectre of mass movement of migrants has left the industry shell- shocked.

PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry mentor RS Sachdeva said that entire industry, including those units which have reopened to manufacture essential goods or provide such services, would be hit severely.

“There is contradiction in what the government is saying and doing. They are telling industry to reopen and then seek special trains to send workers to their homes,” he said.

In the state’s industrial hub of Ludhiana, it is being seen as a further setback to the cycle, hosiery and auto parts industry. “Units manufacturing bicycles, which are around 4,500 in number, will start operating from Monday. We will be functioning with 50% labour as per government guidelines. We are already battling financial crunch and now fear that the labour that was available will also go away. The decision is certainly not to our benefit,” said DS Chawla, president, United Cycle and Parts Manufacturers Association (UCPMA).

For the labour-intensive hosiery industry with 15,000 knitwear manufacturing firms (small and medium-scale) across Ludhiana, the months of May and June are the peak season when they manufacture stuff for winters. “Once the labourers go away, they will not return any sooner. It will be a matter of survival for us and the government should have thought before taking such a decision,” said Vinod Thapar, chairman, Ludhiana Knitwear Club.

But not everyone feels this way as restrictions are not likely to be removed fully and factories will not be allowed to work full steam until the virus spread is stemmed. Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Patiala, home to 50% of the registered industrial units in Punjab, have been classified as red zones where limited activities and relaxations have been allowed by the Centre with strict restrictions.

Rahul Ahuja, chairman, CII Punjab, said industry would be hit but not much. “There are many who are planning to reopen. I think 65% industrial units will restart operations in coming weeks. Therefore, it does not make sense for workers to go back. Also, it is unhealthy to travel in present situation. The returnees from Nanded are a case in point,” said the industry leader.

Upkar Singh Ahuja, president, Chamber of Industrial and Commercial Undertakings, and an auto parts manufacturer, said there would not be much impact on auto parts industry as market was shut. “Even if we start manufacturing, we have 50% labour and a number of factory owners are finding it difficult to pay wages to the labour,” he said.

The state authorities are hopeful of getting the industries back on track sooner than later. Industries director Sibin C said industry was apprehensive about workers going back but all-out efforts were being made to facilitate resumption of industrial activities as per the norms. “If they do not start operations and give them work and wages, we cannot keep workers here. There will be labour unrest,” he said

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