As with all other major urban centres, Pune’s daily wage earners are among the worst hit by the Coronavirus lockdown. As Pune grew in size and developed as one of Maharashtra’s major economic hubs, the city became home to lakhs of migrant workers, all of whom are today struggling to make ends meet due to the sudden loss of all income, as construction work and factories closed down overnight.
While a few did manage to return home before the countrywide lockdown came into force, most who are stuck in Pune have no access to basic needs like food and shelter. “I was asked to go home on March 21,” said Chandrakant Mehtre, who works as a driver. “I do not even know if it is a paid or an unpaid leave. I cannot afford to stay idle without any income.”
The other segment of the city’s population facing serious problems from the lockdown are senior citizens and other dependents who are finding it tough to deal with the self imposed quarantine.
One heartening development in all this has been the response of volunteer groups and social organizations across the city who have come forward to help those suffering the consequences of the lockdown. Helping daily-wage earners stay afloat is Sarhad, a city-based NGO which is providing free meals to sanitary workers and poor students at different locations, Laxmi Road, Dynaeshwar Paduka Chowk, Poona Merchant Chambers and Dandekar Bridge. Commenting on the initiative, Sarhad founder Sanjay Nahar said, “We have been providing food packets daily to at least 5000 people who could not go back to their hometowns and are in dire need of help.”
The National Student Union of India( NSUI), the student wing of the Congress, has also started a similar initiative. “After the State Government order to close all shops and restaurants, we have been providing free packed meals near Ahilaya Library on Shastri road,” said NSUI member Manas Pagar.
City-based Annapurna Group is similarly helping daily wage workers and those dependent on messes, tiffin services or restaurants with paid as well as free meals. “We started accepting registrations from people who are willing to provide food and those who needed meals,” said Nandu Phadke from Annapurna Group who pioneered the initiative. “About 750 people registered with us to provide food which is distributed to the poor registered with us.”
Aid for senior citizens and other vulnerable sections
To support senior citizens who are in distress, local resident Sonali Rasal has started a WhatsApp group that provides groceries and other items to the aged across the city with the help of volunteers. “There was a senior citizen in our area who needed help and that’s when we realized there could be others like her,” said Kiran Pawar, who is helping the old and the differently-abled with the help of social media outreach. “It has been less than a week, but the group has added several volunteers. Elderly persons are at a greater risk of getting infected. Many senior citizens live alone, have restricted mobility and need care and support in this period. So, I decided to help out.”
City-based social organisations such as Action for Pune Development (APD) are also helping senior citizens and others who have nowhere to go at this time. Commenting on their work, Aakash Shah, a volunteer with APD said, “Whether groceries, medicines or other essentials, our volunteers will try to deliver them.We have provided masks and gloves to our volunteers for their safety. We have also requested people who can donate essential items to send us a list.”
Domestic workers form another segment that is in difficulty. The Pune District Home Workers Association, a union of domestic workers, has written to the Divisional Commissioner and Collector of Pune, requesting that domestic workers be paid for all days they are required to remain absent due to the coronavirus pandemic. They also requested that the government should provide families with 25 kg free food grain, regardless of whether or not they fall below the poverty line (BPL). “Workers should be allowed stay at home with full pay without deductions. We also want them to be provided with basic necessities such as masks, soap and sanitizers,” said association president Kiran Moghe.
Additionally, companies like the Tata Group and Bajaj Auto who employ a big chunk of migrant workers have assured all help to their workers. Real estate developers’ body Credai-Maharashtra too said they will give one-month ration to construction workers staying at their sites across Maharashtra.
“During this time of crisis, our group companies commit to ensuring full payments to the temporary workers and daily wage earners who are working in our offices and at our sites in India for the month of March and April, 2020, even if these workers are not able to work due to either quarantine measures, site closures, plant shutdowns or other reasons,” said N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons. State Credai president Rajiv Parikh added, “With 3,000 Credai members in the state and another 1,000 developers registered under another body in Mumbai, small allowances and ration will be provided for a month to construction workers.”