Colonies of workers in construction, industrial, domestic and other sectors are an established facet of Delhi, but the problems these areas are mired in get very little attention in the media. Bharat Dogra visited three such settlements and collected first-hand information
Tenements of daily-wage and other workers employed in various sectors are part of the landscape of Delhi. These colonies were probably intended to provide basic amenities to the underprivileged section, but that isn’t how it has played out in reality. Funds are a major constraint. The workers in general earn only a meagre amount. Those employed in the construction and related industries are paid between Rs 300 and Rs 500 a day, and employment is likely to be available for only 10 to 15 days a month; so the workers probably make Rs 5000 to Rs 7000 a month. Petty contractors may earn a bit more. Families where both husband and wife work may earn around Rs 12,000, but it comes at the cost of neglecting their children.
Women often opt to work as domestic helpers, which has the advantage of shorter hours, but it also means that they earn less. Those who work in four or five homes to make Rs 9000 to Rs 10,000 a month end up getting home only after dark. Even industrial workers, or ‘company workers’ as the locals refer to them, earn only around Rs 6000 – Rs 7000 a month, although the working hours may be longer. Also, factories often prefer to employ younger people. From this income, transport costs and other occupational expenses, including those incurred while job hunting, must be deducted.
Such straitened financial circumstances do not allow these workers to have any savings, and any extended period of unemployment caused by illness, injury (including occupational injuries, which can be frequent), lockdown or pollution-related stoppage of work can lead to hunger and/or indebtedness, apart from reverse migration to villages by people who still have that option.
The residents of the colonies, while speaking to this writer, pointed to the increasing price of vegetables and other daily needs. The public distribution system is no doubt a help, but they say ration supplies last only for about 15 days and they need to purchase essentials at market rates for the remainder of the month. And if a family does not have a ration card, survival becomes difficult. Often, families which stay in rented homes do not have ration cards. Having to pay rent and not having a ration card are the twoworst scenarios for the workers.
Apart from the severe problems created by low and stagnant wages, the residents of the colonies highlight other pressing woes. People in Shahbad Dairy Colony A Block stress the need for better toilets, drainage system and safety measures. (Water was a big problem here, but it was sorted out a few months back.) In Bawana JJ Colony H Block, drinking water, sewerage system, drains, toilets and safety are all issues that need attention. The residents also want some check on open consumption of intoxicants (liquor and smack).
In Sector 27 (Rohini) Resettlement Colony, there is a sewer, but it is not operational yet. The people pointed out that a new water pipeline was also needed, as the old one was unlikely to be of use for long. If it isn’t repaired, the water supply can be contaminated when the sewer line is activated, they add. Here too, safety is a concern.
In fact, people in all three colonies made a strong plea for improving safety, particularly in relation to women. Worry about the safety of girl children is one reason for families insisting that they drop out of schools early. Several women workers return from work after dark. The residents of the colonies want proper lighting on the streets and at the bus stop. Are the concerned authorities listening?
(The writer is a senior freelance journalist and author who has been associated with several social movements and initiatives.
He lives in New Delhi.)